Translating fiction: dialogues, tenses
Thread poster: BOLDXPRESS

BOLDXPRESS
Canada
Local time: 02:21
English to French
+ ...
Nov 25, 2015

Hello,

English-French translation
I am wondering what would be the options when translating an english fiction ( actions and dialogues happen in 2020 but the author speaks in the past tense) Ex: I was driving my new car... water had become so expensive that..
1-In the source language even though the past tense is used to describe actions happening in the future what tense would you use in your french translation? I am thinking of using the past tense as well but not sure.

Thanks all for your input!



[Edited at 2015-11-25 04:34 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:21
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
The same tense as the source text Nov 25, 2015

I do not see a big reason to alter the tenses chosen by the author. In my opinion, changing the tenses based on your own punctual (today's) perception of time would be overtranslating.

By altering the tense of some sentences you might end up having severe coherence problems later on, as the references to time in the different moments of the action/thoughts/intentions depend on each other.


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:21
German to English
change if linguistic convention, leave if matter of style Nov 25, 2015

There was recently a conversation about using present tense to narrate historical events, which is a rare convention in written English and a very common convention in many other languages. In that case (unless the linguistic convention is so interwoven with the form and content of the text that "translating" it will end up sounding less natural than keeping it), I think that it is clearly appropriate to adapt the text to conform to the target language. Authors' and texts' idiosyncrasies should be preserved (or an appropriate substitute should be found to parallel them); languages' idiosyncrasies should be translated along with the words.

The situation you are describing seems entirely different. Within the fictional construction, future events are being narrated from a point in the more distant future - why would you use anything but past?

However, if the issue is not really the setting in the future, but the standard tense used by first-person narrators in English and French, then that could be a good reason to change tenses: In English, it would be strange to narrate a story with "I am driving my new car ... water has become so expensive that ...". That is possible and might be unremarkable under very specific circumstances, but using it throughout a narrative would mark a very clear and deliberate stylistic departure from the norm.

If the situation is reversed in French, and first-person narrators typically use present tenses, then translating the text should involve switching the tenses (= converting the source convention into the target convention).


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 08:21
German to Serbian
+ ...
Context. Nov 25, 2015

If I got it right, your setting and characters are set at a certain point of time in the future. They are talking and feeling from that starting point. So your reference point is that time (you shift yourself there). So I don't understand why you wouldn't use Past Tense to refer to an earlier day or month or hour in 2020. If there is Wednesday and Friday of the same of week in 2020, of course you will use Past Tense on Friday to refer to an event on Wednesday.

The reference point of your character is not the same as your own point. So I would suggest using the same Tense, unless there is a major Tense Reference difference between the two languages (as far as I'm aware there is not).

Off topic: Native English speakers keep saying how historical present is rare in written English. So I'm just curious: jokes are usually told/narrated in Present Tense (he comes to xy, he opens the door, he sees xy). Would you make a difference between telling the joke in person and writing the joke in an email (would you change the Tense choice?).


 

BOLDXPRESS
Canada
Local time: 02:21
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
To Lingua 5B I see your point Nov 25, 2015

Lingua 5B wrote:

If I got it right, your setting and characters are set at a certain point of time in the future. They are talking and feeling from that starting point. So your reference point is that time (you shift yourself there). So I don't understand why you wouldn't use Past Tense to refer to an earlier day or month or hour in 2020. If there is Wednesday and Friday of the same of week in 2020, of course you will use Past Tense on Friday to refer to an event on Wednesday.

The reference point of your character is not the same as your own point. So I would suggest using the same Tense, unless there is a major Tense Reference difference between the two languages (as far as I'm aware there is not).

Off topic: Native English speakers keep saying how historical present is rare in written English. So I'm just curious: jokes are usually told/narrated in Present Tense (he comes to xy, he opens the door, he sees xy). Would you make a difference between telling the joke in person and writing the joke in an email (would you change the Tense choice?).



 

BOLDXPRESS
Canada
Local time: 02:21
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
To Lingua 5B I see your point Nov 25, 2015

Hello,

Yes I see your points. The issue I had with that author is that he is writing in the future but setting scenes in the past tense. I don't seem to see the point of using past tense while describing hypothetical events. He is talking about how the world will be in 2020. Why didn't he use conditional instead?


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 00:21
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Not interesting Nov 26, 2015

BOLDXPRESS wrote:

Hello,

Yes I see your points. The issue I had with that author is that he is writing in the future but setting scenes in the past tense. I don't seem to see the point of using past tense while describing hypothetical events. He is talking about how the world will be in 2020. Why didn't he use conditional instead?


The author is setting the scene from the point of view of people living in the future. You have to step in their shoes and imagine that you are one of them, looking back on events in 2020. That is what gives 'life' to the story. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it was written the way you suggest. Maybe literary translation is not your 'thing'?


 


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Translating fiction: dialogues, tenses

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