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Why my approach to translating the Van Houtte Family story?


In my last post I addressed my approach for the translation of the Van Houtte Family story.

This post is about why. The ‘why’ is about how my mind is wired!

Those that know me well will understand: my mind is fully bilingual (French and English).

This bilingualism is not about how well I write in either language, but rather how my mind connects to each language.

Some facts about my language development:

– from birth, language at home and with family has been French
– from age 5/6 school has been English
– from 11 street talk has been mostly English
– from 15 to 17 work was French; I got the job because I could speak English
– from about 15 my sister and I mostly speak English
– at 22 I barely knew how to properly write in French and I counted in English
– due to the political context in Québec…I educated my self to count in French (I now do both effortlessly)
– I taught myself as best as I could to write in French
– since then, my career has been a mix of French and English, my friends are both
– my mind searches for the most appropriate word, which means I can switch between two languages multiple times in one sentence
– I know less than a handful of people I can talk this way with

Is all of the above good or bad? Make me better or worse? Not the point – this is mind set, not ego, not culture, not snobbish, just the way it is.

I believe people learn some words only at home, some only at work and others only on the street. If you are predominantly of one language, you’ll never know. My view is the mind has many subconscious dictionaries, but consciously only one. For me, there are many conscious dictionaries.

– I know the name of some vegetables (or home items) in French and struggle to remember what they are in English (words learned and used only at home)
– I know some guy stuff in English but not in French (learned and used on the street with English speaking friends only)
– I know some work vocabulary in the language of the work environment.
– reverse is true in all situations

For the book and approach. Example going back to my Québec City days.

– since my mind switches between dictionaries, when in a French or English only environment, it sets on that language and uses the respective dictionaries.
– when my French speaking friends in Québec would tell a joke with an English twist, I did not understand it (they’ll certainly remember situations). My mind would listen in French and pull my French dictionary; when there was a play on words referring to English, the dictionary drew a blank.
– over the years, I’ve adapted and learned to decode; in a mixed cultural environment, I detect interpretation by others due to language barriers (more some other time).

So for the book!

When I translate for work, personal or other, I tend to do word for word translation first (in either language). I then reread and correct. Once a text is in a language, my mind then uses the appropriate dictionaries and I write more effectively.

This is why I will attack the translation with raw instinct first to have on English only document, even if horrible. I can then take the English raw material and tackle content. My mind will be focused on English, my dictionaries and references will be in English. Then methodology can shape the raw material for:

– grammar, syntax
– flow of content
– accuracy on historical data
– etc.

Ultimately, a better book for the family archive and more pleasant for reader.


From → Van Houtte Story

One Comment
  1. Helene Van Houtte permalink

    You explain how my mind works Erick Sweet 😉

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