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French 4101

Translation and Comparative Stylistics

"Traduttore, traditore": the Italian expression suggests that translation is always a betrayal of the original. The following example, taken from Jean Delisle’s La traduction raisonnée (Ottawa, 1993), suggests some of the reasons why effective translation is so difficult; compare the English original and the French translation closely, looking for differences in the way the thoughts are expressed:

The role of translation is bound to increase, because the world is growing smaller, and the links ever more closely bound. International activity is on the increase. To avoid world wars, world starvation, world epidemics, and so on , international bodies have been set up, and the very word ‘international’ has become international. I judge that the part of artistic translations will decline, and that of scientific translations will increase, speaking relatively, of course. La traduction est appelée à jouer un rôle de plus en plus important, car le monde rétrécit, les liens entre les hommes se resserrent et les relations internationales s’intensifient. Afin de prévenir les guerres, les famines, les épidémies et autres fléaux semblables qui menacent la planète, des organismes internationaux ont vu le jour. Le mot « international » est lui-même devenu international. Selon moi, le volume de la traduction d’œuvres artistiques diminuera, tandis que celui de la traduction scientifique augmentera, toutes proportions gardées, bien sûr.

It is immediately obvious that the French translation is substantially longer than the original; a closer look reveals that it contains 15% more words (85 vs.74). Much of this increase is the result of important differences in the ways that English and French express ideas. The study of many of these differences is the object of this course, and belongs to the field of comparative stylistics. Here’s one simple example: the second sentence of the passage repeatedly uses the noun "world" as an adjectival modifier ("world wars, world starvation, world epidemics"): in French, this construction is impossible, and so another solution has to be found. Because of essential intrinsic differences in syntax and vocabulary, translators must constantly make difficult choices about how to render expressions. To appreciate fully the art of translation, you need simply look at examples of various computer translation programmes. If a computer translation of an original text is then translated back into the original language, the result is usually close to unrecognisable: if you’re interested in becoming a translator, you’ll be happy to know that a computer cannot yet replace you. The same is even more true in the case of interpretation, whether simultaneous or not!

Course Content

The content of French 4101 will depend to a large extent on the instructor, but the course will focus on a comparative study of English and French usage, on a mastery of French idiom and on the rudiments of translation.


Students registering for French 4101 must have completed French 3100 and 3101.


Choice of textbooks will depend on the instructor.


Will depend on the instructor.


4101 is offered at least once each academic year in either the Fall or Winter Semester.

Together with and after 4101

Students registering for French 4101 may also wish to take French 4100 (if offered) or other 4000-level courses in French. They may also register for 3000-level courses not previously completed such as the courses in literature and civilisation. Students who have completed French 4101 and who are interested in further language study may subsequently complete 4100 and one or more of the special topics courses in language, if offered (French 4120-4129).