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Translating the Postcolonial in Multilingual Contexts

 | 
Judith Misrahi-Barak
, 
Srilata Ravi

Translating Islands

A Kumara by Any Other Name: Literary Translation in and of the Polynesian Pacific

Jean Anderson

Résumé

Looking at examples from works by indigenous writers from the Polynesian triangle (New Zealand and French Polynesia), this article examines the complexities of literary translation from English to French (Patricia Grace) and from French to English (Chantal Spitz) for an extremely diverse readership (not merely Pacific-based but European and American as well). Examining a number of concepts from Paul Bandia’s recommendations concerning postcolonial African fiction and its heteroglossic practices, the author suggests that there are other questions we should be asking, in addition to whether to smoothe the heteroglossic into homogenised translations.

How does the translator make decisions? Who will be reading these translations? How might the translations contribute towards forming—and informing—a ‘community of readers’, with shared cultural awareness? While this knowledge is to some extent already available to certain Pacific readers, and while the translator has a number of strategies at his or her disposal to provide greater clarity, it is likely that anyone outside the region will benefit from added information.

Texte intégral

  • 1 ‘Moi, créole américain, je me découvrais plus proche de n’importe quel Caribéen anglo ou hispanopho (...)

As a Creole of the Americas, I found I was closer to other English-or Spanish-speaking Caribbean people than I was to someone from some other country around the world who, like me, happened to speak French.1 Patrick Chamoiseau

  • 2 The Pacific has seen migration and settlement by many peoples over several millennia: by ‘indigenou (...)

1Like the Caribbean, the South Pacific region is inhabited by peoples on whom colonisation has imposed more than one settler language, predominantly English and French; and like the indigenous2 inhabitants of the Caribbean, South Pacific islanders clearly share a number of experiences under colonisation. When Chamoiseau wrote the above words in 1997, however, the notion of island cultures in the Pacific region having commonalities worthy of exploration was in some senses already passé. As Keown has pointed out (2007: 117), the tenets of the very broadly conceptualised ‘Pacific Way’, based on a shared respect for the land and its peoples, had been deeply shaken by Fiji’s political upheavals in 1987—two coups d’état—which led to the Melanesian nation’s expulsion from the Commonwealth and highlighted racial tensions not just in Fiji but in other Pacific countries. Some similarities can be seen in the unrest in New Caledonia in 1988 that put it on the path towards a referendum on independence; anti-nuclear riots in Tahiti in 1995, on the other hand, had relatively little political impact in the longer term.

  • 3 This is of course a major focus of other works, Éloge de la créolité, for example.

2Despite these divisions, the historic fact of Polynesian settlement into the ‘Polynesian triangle’ that stretches from Aotearoa/New Zealand in the south to the Marquesas in the north, and from Hawai’i in the west to Easter Island in the east is still a reminder of a shared ethnic and cultural inheritance over a large area of the Pacific. Chamoiseau’s assertion of inter-island resemblances can readily be transferred to this part of the southern ocean, where linguistic hegemonies resulting from opposing colonisation endeavours act as a barrier between peoples with a similar cultural background, dividing them (beyond their first languages) into francophones and anglophones. Curiously, Chamoiseau makes no mention here of the role of translation in facilitating awareness of these connections, nor does he specifically refer in this context to the fact that his own writing in French is in some respects also a translation, from his first language of créole.3 While scholars have gone on to research some of the similarities and differences between writers and literary cultures within the overarching framework of so-called emergent (island) literatures, including those of the Pacific, there have been relatively few developments in the important area of translation, let alone its theoretical implications, particularly in the context that interests us here, the translation of English- and French-language indigenous-authored texts of the Pacific. The literary corpus is limited in the first place, since only a small percentage of the works are translated; and translators rarely comment on their processes. Apart from my own reflections, as a translator from French into English and a co-translator from English into French, the only other practice-informed critical study published to date explores the complexities of translating Kanak/New Caledonian author Déwé Gorodé’s novel L’Épave into English (Walker and Ramsay 2010).

3Beginning with a brief survey of existing translation initiatives for the region, both practical and theoretical, I will then move on to a discussion of the complex issues of readership for these translations and, by way of a number of examples taken principally from my own work, illustrate some of the necessary compromises that result from these complexities. Considering the distinction made by Paul Bandia between homogenising and heterogenising approaches to postcolonial translation—essentially a reformulation of Venuti’s and Berman’s ‘source versus target’ distinctions—, I argue that extreme flexibility in translation decisions is necessary in attempting to anticipate the needs of, or indeed to construct, what I will refer to as ‘a community of readers’.

  • 4 Alan Duff and Sia Figiel (Actes sud) and Kirsty Gunn (Christian Bourgois) are notable exceptions to (...)

4Such a community is currently restricted in its choices by the small number of texts available. Where New Zealand is concerned, few authors have been extensively translated. Exceptions to this, until recent times, would be Katherine Mansfield and the romance writer Essie Summers. The invitation extended to New Zealand for the 2006 season of the Belles Etrangères literary festival, which motivated the translation of work by several writers, has resulted in new projects for just one author, Fiona Kidman. Other featured authors, indigenous or otherwise, have by and large not been pursued.4

  • 5 Duff’s works to date with Actes sud are: L’Âme des guerriers (1996), Nuit de casse (1997), Les Âmes (...)
  • 6 As is also Francine Tolron’s 2003 translation of Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider, despite the publicity (...)
  • 7 Rather than refer to ‘French Polynesia’, I will use the term Tahiti, although this is technically o (...)

5Indigenous Pacific writers have not on the whole been picked up by métropole-based publishers, with the exception of Alan Duff and Sia Figiel, both of whom have several works published by Actes sud.5 In summary, prior to 2006 there had been few attempts to bring New Zealand writers, let alone indigenous ones, to a French-speaking audience. The translations of Witi Ihimaera’s Tangi in 1988 and Patricia Grace’s Potiki in 1993, are both long out of print.6 Some increase in interest can be observed beginning in 2005, in the build-up to the Belles Étragères. Two issues of the French short story review Brèves (79 and 80, 2006) brought a range of Anglophone Pacific short stories to the French market. The most notable translations of indigenous Pacific literatures into French are found in the series of texts entitled ‘Littératures du Pacifique’ launched by Christian Robert of Au vent des îles (Pape’ete) in 2005, with New Zealand Māori or Samoan writers Alice Tawhai, Albert Wendt, Rowan Metcalfe, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace in translation alongside French Pacific Mā’ohi authors such as Flora Devatine, Chantal Spitz and Moetai Brotherson. This collection now numbers over 30 works, with New Zealand/Aotearoa-based writers accounting for around a third of the total, and including the curious case of Australian-domiciled Tahitian7 Célestine Vaité’s ‘Breadfruit’ trilogy, written in (French- and Mā’ohi-inflected) English and translated into French by the inventive Henri Theureau for her home country readers.

6Where translations of Tahitian writing into English are concerned, there has been even less activity: other than my own translations of Chantal Spitz and Moetai Brotherson there have been only a small number of crossings of this particular divide, mostly in the form of short, anthologised pieces. Mention should be made of the anthology in English of Tahitian writing, Varua Tupu (Stewart et al., 2006), and a further anthology entitled Writing the Pacific (Webb and Nandan, 2007). But this intercultural initiative is still, even in 2016, in its beginning stages and needs concerted effort and funding to develop.

7While some of these works contain brief remarks about the process of translation, there are, as noted, very few scholarly articles by practitioners (Walker and Ramsay, 2010; Anderson, 2010; 2013a; 2013b) that deal with the particular challenges of translating literature from this region. Keown (2014), while not herself a practitioner, provides useful discussion of the decision-making processes and strategies adopted by translators (multiple annotations, glossaries, and so on) by drawing extensively on interviews with them.

  • 8 Although some of the functionalist approaches (eg. of skopos theorists) do tackle readership, such (...)

8A number of questions arise automatically and inescapably in relation to the act of literary translation, whatever the context. One of the thorniest and (perhaps understandably) least discussed8 is indisputably the issue of readership—who reads the translations, and how might translators’ or publishers’ perceptions of these readers influence decisions made during the translation process? In light of the above recent developments in facilitating transpacific cultural accessibility and the increase, albeit limited, in the number of translated indigenous-authored works appearing, it seems timely to reflect on some of these issues, both general and particular.

9In a recent study, theorist Paul Bandia maintains that postcolonial literature has evolved over time and that a ‘homogenizing’ approach (2012: 419) is no longer suitable (if it ever was) for the translation of such texts. Bandia does not specify until near the end of his second page that his examples are taken from African literature, thus raising the interesting question of whether his argument might also (be intended to) apply to other corpuses, for example, the indigenous-authored Polynesian Pacific literature (New Zealand and Tahitian) of interest to us here. The Pacific might, after all, be seen to share the ‘linguistic miscegenation’ (English, French and indigenous languages) that so marks contemporary Cameroonian writing.

  • 9 This seems a disparate selection: Nganang (b. 1970), Beti (b. 1932) and Beyala (b. 1961) are from C (...)

10Bandia’s main point is that postcolonial writers are no longer solely engaged in ‘talking back’ to the métropole, and (referring to Fanon) that ‘it would be misguided to reduce the complexity and ambivalence of postcolonial existence to a mere binarism or opposition between the colonizer and the colonized subject’ (Bandia 2012: 420). He goes on to claim that ‘the new generation of writers is transnational and shaped by the effects of globalization, such as migration and exile, interracial marriages, and advances in communication technologies’ (420–421). This transnationalism is, notably, reflected in increasingly heteroglossic works (he cites as examples Patrice Nganang, Alain Mabanckou, Calixthe Beyala and Mongo Beti)9 that demand new translation solutions.

  • 10 On the particular issues of translating ‘camfranglais’ literature, see also the work of Peter Wuteh (...)

11These writers are working ‘in a context where languages coexist in a rhizomatic relationship’ (423): this context then presupposes a multilingual readership, able to negotiate the mixing of these languages, since together they constitute ‘a strategy to represent the language of the masses as opposed to the ruling classes’. In ‘homogenizing’ translation, however, ‘the ideal reader is monolingual’ and the text must be smoothed into comprehension (423).10

  • 11 He also refers repeatedly to the concept of the Global South, again a construct that is problematis (...)

12Bandia refers several times in his discussion to ‘the postcolony’ (419, 420, 425, 430) and to ‘contemporary postcolonial society/literature/fiction’ (420, 423, 425, 429, 430)11—a use of the singular that would seem to imply that his discussion of African literatures (already a generalisation) might be further generalised to cover other postcolonial literatures. This is, as we shall see, highly problematic in the case of the southern Pacific region, for a number of reasons.

  • 12 See Spoonley (1987), Peters and Marshall (1990), Came (2014).

13Tahiti, as its official name of French Polynesia proclaims, is administratively an ‘Overseas Collectivity’, and is to a very large extent under direct French rule and therefore arguably a colony. While Aotearoa/New Zealand can be described as a postcolony, no longer under direct British rule, it nevertheless maintains a number of colonial features. Institutional racism, or inequality of access to essential services such as healthcare, education or even employment, is an acknowledged problem.12 Whether these kinds of power structures can be called neo-colonialist is a matter for debate: what is clear however is that they differ dramatically from Bandia’s African examples, where social divisions are said to be based more on class than on race.

  • 13 Heteroglossia in this group of writers is generally limited to relatively infrequent code-switching (...)
  • 14 Her aim has been expressed from the beginning as being ‘to show who we are’ and to create authentic (...)
  • 15 I do not wish to imply that Polynesian cultural practices are identical throughout the Pacific, but (...)

14While it is unquestionably true that technological advancements such as television and the internet have given even relatively isolated island populations a new perspective on globalisation, the heteroglossic features described by Bandia have limited application in the two Pacific literatures focused on here. Compared to the heteroglossia represented by camfranglais, Polynesian writers generally make use of more standardised versions of their chosen narrative language.13 Applying Bandia’s argument, indigenous writers in this region should still be ‘talking back to the métropole’. A number of them would deny this, insisting instead that their aim is to talk to and about one another, not just nationally but internationally, as in the scenario indicated by Chamoiseau. This is something that Patricia Grace has stressed many times in interviews.14 Her desire to tell stories that reflect Māori values and experiences means that there is less ‘talking back’ and more ‘talking to’. When the question of translation is brought in, this ‘talking to’ takes on transnational but still arguably intercultural dimensions.15 The ‘community of readers’ is extended though the act of translation. In addition, however, the two translation languages under consideration here are both world languages, which means that texts will be expected to make their way in a European and/or American market as well. This multiplicity of destinations is highly problematic for the translator.

15Nothing is easier than to criticise a literary translation. Whereas in the past most of the debate was centred on the degree to which it was faithful to the original on the semantic, syntactic or stylistic level, critics today are more likely to focus on issues of cultural sensitivity, or of the implicit power relations involved in an act which is essentially, necessarily, a ‘speaking for’ the original author. Venuti’s position (1995), that the translator’s invisibility is in fact an undesirable and even scandalous pretence of objectivity, led him to propose a strategy of resistant translation or ‘abusive fidelity’, whereby the original text’s cultural Otherness might better be transmitted. Yet along with this openness, more damningly, translators are increasingly aware of the possibility of distortion and betrayal:

Translators are never ‘innocent’. They have the power to create an image of the original which can be very different from the original’s intention insofar as the original textual reality can be distorted and manipulated according to a series of constraints: the translator’s own ideology, their feeling of superiority/inferiority towards the language into which they are translating; the prevailing ‘poetical’ rules of the target culture; the expectations of the dominant institutions and ideology; the public for whom the text is intended. (Dimitriu, 2002)

16Critics of the Venutian approach, notably Robinson (1997), have accused its proponents of producing academic translations which are unlikely to appeal to the bulk of readers and are thus equally a betrayal of the original author’s intentions. Other theorists have proposed a special case for postcolonial texts and their translations (see, for example, Tymoczko, 1999; Salvador, 2014). Despite such attempts to reflect on overarching principles for postcolonial translation, I would propose that no two postcolonial literatures—and potentially no two postcolonial texts—, should be automatically treated the same.

17In the case of trans (Pacific) oceanic literary translation, where issues of cultural representativity, faithfulness or betrayal, the negotiation of and representation of meaning between source and target cultures are concerned, the situation is complicated by the multicultural nature of both the source and the target cultures. While this is not as acute as the ‘rotten English’ or ‘camfranglais’ Bandia and Vakunta refer to, New Zealand literary texts are in many cases marked by the presence of two languages, English and Māori: for Tahiti, French and Mā’ohi. While there are clear links between Māori terms and some other Pacific languages, and hence perhaps a certain degree of acceptability of these local variants within a Pacific readership, to translate such works into French is to attempt to meet the requirements of an at least broadly dual market and readership—Pacific Francophone and mainland French. Similarly, to translate the diversity of Pacific Francophone writing into English is to attempt to provide for a divided readership, officially marked by the need to consider whether a text should be translated into American or British English. Even within the Pacific this division exists (Hawai’i, New Zealand) and must be taken into consideration. In both cases, French to English and English to French, the translator is faced with an essential negotiation of diversity and fragmentation, within the source as well as the target cultures.

  • 16 Kumara is the Māori word for a local variety of sweet potato. The word is widely used in New Zealan (...)
  • 17 For reasons of space, I will not discuss here issues relating to differences between ‘real life’ an (...)

18Taking just a few examples from Patricia Grace’s work, then from Chantal Spitz’s novel, I will now examine what I refer to as ‘kumara syndrome’16. Alongside New Zealand Māori English (i. e. an English inflected by Māori vocabulary and syntactic features),17 standard New Zealand English contains an increasingly large number of Māori words. To replace these with a (homogenising) near equivalent in French is to remove not just a referent that applies to a particular object, but an important aspect of biculturalism as well. In other words, the choice of a neutralising approximation brings about a (minor) deformation of the literary work. Seen on a larger scale, however, a translator’s systematic choice to eliminate Māori words from the text, presumably on the grounds that the target readership might find them difficult, results in the smoothing away of a stylistic element which marks the text as unmistakably of its culture. In the specific context of indigenous-authored Polynesian texts traversing the Pacific, the argument for keeping the term kumara is also strengthened by its closeness to the term used in other Pacific cultures, notably Mā’ohi (umara). Even if the target readership is based in France, or dual (near and far), a case can and should be made for respecting the original’s cultural hybridity.

  • 18 Early French explorers gave the name ‘lin néo-zélandais’ (New Zealand linen) to the plant known in (...)

19Elsewhere, smoothing the language results in false representation: rather than translate the term ‘flax bag’ in Grace’s Baby No Eyes as ‘sac de lin’ (literally, linen bag),18 the Māori word ‘kete’ (Mā’ohi ‘ete) was inserted in order to avoid a misleading familiarisation for the reader. The same technique was used for ‘whitebait’: where French dictionaries suggest the term ‘blanchaille’ as an equivalent, consultation with native speakers quickly established that the small fish referred to are quite dissimilar to the New Zealand delicacy. Regional French terms such as ‘civelle’, while closer to the concept, were thought to be too place-specific for a text that needed to cater for both a general French and a Pacific-based readership. Our decision to insert the Māori term ‘inanga’ (supported by a glossary explanation) was motivated therefore by the desire to respect the ‘differentness’of the source culture.

20For the same work, the unusual decision was made not to attribute the masculine gender to all nouns borrowed from Māori: ‘whare’, for example, the generic term for a building, approximating the term ‘house’ in English, we made feminine instead of masculine. This is perhaps a paradoxical choice, as the underlying principle we followed here is to graft onto the Māori word the gender of the more or less equivalent French word, a decision which could be seen as imposing a degree of ‘Frenchness’: the Tahitian equivalent of ‘fare’ is well-established in French usage as masculine. However, by going against the standard target language practice of masculinising every borrowed term (and exercising an option that a publisher based in mainland France might not have allowed), a kind of intercultural resistance created a legitimising space for difference. In this way, the Māoriness of the original, at once both strange and familiar to the New Zealand reader, might be expected to find an echo in the disruption of gender (the familiar practice made strange) for a French-speaking public, without, however, creating a text that would be a disincentive to the non-academic reader.

  • 19 Lack of space prevents a full exploration of the place of repetition in literary style in English a (...)
  • 20 See the stories of Christiane Baroche or Annie Saumont.

21At another level, Grace’s texts provide a further challenge in negotiating the intercultural gap: many of her stylistic devices are foreign to the accepted French criteria for literary style. For example, she uses a great deal of repetition,19 and a narrative style that might best be described as hybrid, in that it makes frequent use of oral language structures in the narrative itself, not just in dialogue. While there are certainly examples of this orality to be found in texts by mainland French writers, particularly in the short story genre,20 mainstream literary novels are on the whole written in a style that requires a synonym-rich language which, translated into English, retains a certain quality perceived as ‘Frenchness’. The translator of a novel by Grace is therefore challenged to retain her unique style without alienating a French reader, or alternatively, to find a middle path that goes some way towards meeting the expectations of both writer and reader, while entirely satisfying neither.

22In situations like these a co-translation dyad can really come into its own—even if perhaps in the end no entirely suitable solution is found—as the source language member explains and defends the (heterogenising) nuances of the original text within the source culture, and the target language participant negotiates the possibilities of an acceptably deviant (homogenising) formula, in a dual gate-keeping exchange which merits further research. In this case, however, it is important to note not just this double contribution, but the other dualities existing and requiring to be negotiated at each end of the translator exchange: source language English clearly impacted by contact with a second source language ‘disturbing the surface’, so to speak, needing to be transformed into target language with a comparable deviation, stretching the limits of that language, but also destined for two audiences, mainland France and the francophone Pacific.

23These two readerships may indeed have quite distinct characteristics and expectations. The literary expectations referred to above are arguably more deeply entrenched in mainland French culture, where oral tradition is much more distant and a strong differentiation between spoken and written language forms has been developing over the last five centuries at least. Without over-emphasising the difficulties of transition from oral to written expression for Māori and Mā’ohi, we should note with Tahitian writer Louise Peltzer, then Minister of Culture, who stated in an interview in 2001 that different rules of form apply in each case and must be respected: ‘chacun a son code, il faut respecter leurs règles’ (Dupont and Wong Yen). When an author deliberately juxtaposes these two codes, the translator needs to proceed with extra care.

24In 1991, a new and original voice appeared on the Tahitian scene with Chantal Spitz’s L’Île des rêves écrasés, the first novel published by a Mā’ohi writer. In addition to the presence of Mā’ohi characters seen from a Mā’ohi perspective, the book presents some fascinating stylistic aspects to challenge the translator. In contrast to the Māorisms that feature in Grace’s work, the French Spitz writes is here of a quite literary nature, at least at first glance. On closer examination, however, a number of highly subversive choices can be seen.

  • 21 ‘Parce que depuis l’aube des temps, le Verbe a toujours été l’expression de son peuple’ (my transla (...)
  • 22 Personal communication, February 2007.

25As noted, the French literary canon celebrates writing that demonstrates a sophisticated use of synonyms in order to avoid repetition of terms. In addition to the panoply of speech verbs that traditionally frame dialogue in French, the same requirement for variety applies in narrative passages. Spitz’s text actively challenges such expectations: to cite only one example of this frequent feature, in a paragraph of fifteen lines we find the word ‘petit’ or ‘petite’ (small, little) repeated five times (Spitz 2003: 94). Her prose in fact shows a marked preference for rhythmic-poetic echoes of structural and lexical items, a clearly deliberate choice subverting standard French literary expectations, and at the same time bringing her narrative stylistically close to the forms of the lyrical poetic texts inserted at regular intervals into the text, with the specific mention that this is a Mā’ohi cultural practice: ‘because since the dawn of time the Word has been his people’s means of expression’ (39).21 For Spitz, this use of repetition typical of Tahitian rhetoric is simply a natural choice,22 but it is clear that in writing this way she is ‘disturbing the surface’ of literary French.

  • 23 Significantly, these extracts are all printed in italics. See below for a brief discussion of the i (...)

26In addition to five pages of poetic prelude to the novel, in Mā’ohi and French, there are some thirty poems inserted in and forming an integral part of the text. As Robert Nicole has pointed out, these constitute ‘a subtle intrusion of poetry in the Western bourgeois novel [that] disturbs the Western reader/critic’s secure position’ (2001: 193). They are clearly linked with Mā’ohi spirituality and sensibility: they are notably absent from the chapters that feature the love story of the Frenchwoman Laura and Terii, where extracts from her diary23 constitute a parallel textual device, although written rather than spoken aloud, for revealing the character’s emotional depths. The last entry from the diary, however, is a short poem, indicating the degree to which Laura’s foreign sensibility has now been affected (counter-colonised?) by Mā’ohi lyricism.

27Other Mā’ohi cultural elements figure prominently in the text and require careful consideration on the part of the translator. For example, in line with the beliefs of many Pacific peoples, there are frequent references to the seat of the emotions as the ‘ventre’ (belly). Given that this is already a ‘translation’ into French, there are still issues arising in the transmission from French to English. The word can be the equivalent of either ‘belly’, ‘stomach’, or ‘womb’. Clearly the latter usage can apply only in the case of a female character, but to differentiate between men and women in English where the French text does not is to lose sight of a chain of references that is fundamental to the book’s structures and values. A homogenising solution would smooth over the potential difficulties by substituting the term ‘heart’, the organ in which many English speakers locate their emotions. However, this is a choice that eliminates an important cultural dimension, whereas the term ‘belly’, still somewhat foreign but more capable of association with depth of feeling than the more prosaic ‘stomach’.

28Another cultural conundrum is posed by the use of ‘femme’ in the original text, again a word that has more than one possible translation into English. The French term does not distinguish between legal and de facto partnership, as it means both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’. What to do, then, when the original text refers to Tematua’s hesitation in speaking to his ‘femme’? (73). If the word ‘woman’ is preferred, the translation insists somewhat clumsily on the unmarried status of the couple in the eyes of the (European) law: if the word ‘wife’ is used, then it imposes a (European) legal distinction not present in the text and not present in Mā’ohi values. In consultation with the author, both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’ have been rejected in favour of ‘soulmate’ or ‘beloved’, which better communicate the sense of deep emotional commitment while avoiding the minefield of unwanted connotations.

29Wherever possible, then, it is important to frame translation choices in the wider context of Spitz’s subversion of European values and her validation of Mā’ohi ways and beliefs. There are of course other ways of challenging the mainland French canon and asserting a new view of the Other.

  • 24 ‘Face aux îles, surtout celles des Antilles, le regard dominant ne distingue que l’évidence paradis (...)

30In common with other colonies and former colonies, Tahiti has been the object of a discourse that reduced it to a fantasy paradise. As Chamoiseau puts it, the dominant gaze sees only a tourist paradise cut off from the ‘real’ world (1997: 234).24 The Tahitian writer is therefore faced with the difficulty of writing against this well-established discourse, while using the language of the dominant Other and attempting, for reasons of commercial viability, to sell the work in the market of the dominant Other. As Bernard Rigo (1998: 13) has said of Flora Devatine, a text written in the Other’s language is like a fa’amu (adopted) child of the Other culture. This linguistic choice can of course facilitate a ‘writing back’, but also constitute a ‘writing to’ where a part of the community of readers shares the same values. Breaking the silence that results from an essentially oral culture encountering an essentially written one, and using the dominant language to do so, is a major challenge, beautifully explored by Devatine in her ground-breaking book Tergiversations et rêveries de la littérature orale.

31The desire to ‘tell it like it is’, to speak against the stereotypical vision imposed from outside, is the principal motivation behind Titaua Peu’s Mutismes (2002), an autofictional essay revealing the truth behind the coconut curtain. Not only does Peu break the silence, but to some extent she breaks the mould as well, casting off the straightjacket of the stylistic limitations of canonical French to find a way towards a more vernacular, more oral style. She also—strongly—invites her fellow Tahitians to follow her example and join her in ‘speaking out’ through writing.

  • 25 These translations are approximate only: ‘I dunno’ is arguably too informal and closer to ‘j’sais p (...)

32Where Spitz inserted lyrical text into narrative and subverted the laws of style in her use of repetitions, Peu makes use of elements typical of spoken French, such as the shortening of the negative form by omitting the ‘ne’: instead of writing ‘je ne sais pas’ (I do not know) she ‘says’ ‘je sais pas’ (I dunno).25 To a reader accustomed to a more classic style, this can be shocking, and again the translator needs to proceed with caution.

  • 26 ‘Language’ here refers to concepts and stereotypes as much as expression. (It should also be noted (...)

33What some critics see as uneven style may in fact be a highly significant departure from the rules of the canon. As Daniel Margueron suggests in his survey of Tahitian literature up to the mid-1980s, perhaps the path to an authentic Tahitian voice is blocked by the ‘langage pré-établi’ (pre-established language usage) already dominating the creative field. His perspective on the future includes a call for allowing language to be written with its local distortions, ‘la langue [...] écrite avec ses distorsions locales’ (1986: 416, 399).26

  • 27 ‘Livre des mots, livre du français, cette langue obligatoire, maîtrisée jusqu’à l’obliger à côtoyer (...)

34The question of how to treat the hybrid linguistic nature of texts written by indigenous (post) colonial writers can be a thorny one. How can ‘local distortions’ be welcomed if editorial policies persist in representing them as Other, as intruders into the ‘proper’ language by italicising them? This practice has been debated in many post-colonial literatures, and a general principle of non-exoticisation has often been adopted. This is not however a standard practice: the editors’ note prefacing Michou Chaze’s volume of short texts, Vai, la rivière au ciel sans nuages (Vai, river in a cloudless sky) announces a refusal to differentiate between French and Mā’ohi, stating that all words are equal,27 but it is clear from this need to justify the decision that it was not reached lightly.

35Such even-handedness, requiring as it does that the source language reader make the effort to understand the ‘intruder’ language terms, is rarely possible for a translation. Some target culture readers naturally have fewer opportunities, internet notwithstanding, to access the untranslated terms—such as ‘kumara’. The generally accepted practice, then, is to italicise the words as an indication that they can be found in an appended glossary, something which obviously exoticises them. The presence of routinely italicised words also restricts the ability of the translator to reproduce the original author’s emphases. Both Patricia Grace, in Baby No Eyes, and Chantal Spitz in L’Île des rêves écrasés, use italics to create particular effects in their texts. To cite just the Spitz example, all of the quotations from Laura’s journal are printed in italics, thereby turning on its head the usual practice of italicising the exotic Tahitian within the French language, yet another counter-discursive technique. Ideally, the translator should be free to consider, and to attempt to cater to not only the target readership (if such a homogenisation is even possible), but also the transmission of the source culture, and any resistant strategies put in place by the author in an individual work, according to the perceived needs and aims of that work. Inevitably, it will fall to the translator to perceive and respond to these elements of the text.

36Even when the translator is aware of subversive innovations in an author’s text, his or her hands may be tied by editorial policy and a publisher’s ‘house rules’. Whether these rules may be changed over time to provide opportunities for more culturally sensitive renderings of indigenous works is a moot point, particularly given the diversity of target readerships for some translations, as we have seen. Bandia suggests opting to heterogenise rather than homogenise, on the grounds that the postcolony African texts he is referring to are increasingly transnational, while admitting that such texts require an at least bilingual (if not plurilingual) translator (2012: 423). If the preferred translation option is to be heterogenising, then surely an equally linguistically (and presumably culturally) capable reader will be required.

  • 28 ‘Thick’ translation is a densely-annotated translation-plus-commentary designed to provide the targ (...)

37This begs the question of how to create such a reading community. Within the Polynesian Pacific triangle, which it is perhaps not yet appropriate to call postcolonial in its entirety, there are already commonalities that can be called into play; outside this region, however, it is arguably only through translations that a base of shared knowledge might be created. These translations might require a degree of ‘thickness’ (Appiah 1993)28 that not all publishers would welcome, but until such time as each translated work can readily be accompanied by hyper-linked explanatory material, a certain amount of paratextual ‘intervention’ on the part of the translator may be the only way to ‘preserve the kumara’ and to develop the necessary skills base for a true community of readers. While these readers presumably bring differing degrees of openness to the translated text and the culture it represents, it would be a mistake for the translator (who is also first and foremost a reader) to take up a fixed position at either end of the Venuti or Bandia schema. True respect for the text can only result from a flexible approach that proceeds on a case-by-case basis and attempts to cater for, at the same time as it creates new knowledge in, its readers.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

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Anderson, Jean. ‘Translating Chantal Spitz: Challenges of the Transgeneric Text’. Australian Journal of French Studies, 50: 2 (2013b); 177–189.

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Chaze, Michou. Vai, la rivière au ciel sans nuages, Pape’ete: Cobalt/ Tupuna/Éditions de l’après-midi, 1991.

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Notes

1 ‘Moi, créole américain, je me découvrais plus proche de n’importe quel Caribéen anglo ou hispanophone que de tout autre parlant-français comme moi-même, échoué de par le monde’ (255). My translation.

2 The Pacific has seen migration and settlement by many peoples over several millennia: by ‘indigenous’ I am referring here to non-European peoples whose arrival predates that of the ‘discoverers’ of the seventeenth century and later.

3 This is of course a major focus of other works, Éloge de la créolité, for example.

4 Alan Duff and Sia Figiel (Actes sud) and Kirsty Gunn (Christian Bourgois) are notable exceptions to this principle, but their presence on the French literary scene predates the Belles Étrangères.

5 Duff’s works to date with Actes sud are: L’Âme des guerriers (1996), Nuit de casse (1997), Les Âmes brisées (2000), Un père pour mes rêves (2010), Qui chante pour Lu? (2013) and Danny boy (2014); Figiel’s first three books have also been translated: La petite fille dans le cercle de la lune (1999), L’Île sous la lune (2001), and Le Tatouage inachevé (2004).

6 As is also Francine Tolron’s 2003 translation of Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider, despite the publicity associated with the release of the film version which boosted sales initially.

7 Rather than refer to ‘French Polynesia’, I will use the term Tahiti, although this is technically only the name of the biggest island.

8 Although some of the functionalist approaches (eg. of skopos theorists) do tackle readership, such analyses are rarely applied to a literary corpus.

9 This seems a disparate selection: Nganang (b. 1970), Beti (b. 1932) and Beyala (b. 1961) are from Cameroon, Mabanckou (b. 1966) from the Congo; Beti, Beyala and Mabanckou all resided in France, whereas Nganang teaches in New York.

10 On the particular issues of translating ‘camfranglais’ literature, see also the work of Peter Wuteh Vakunta.

11 He also refers repeatedly to the concept of the Global South, again a construct that is problematised in the Pacific region since the southern nations of Australia and New Zealand are considered economically more advanced than the (northern) island states.

12 See Spoonley (1987), Peters and Marshall (1990), Came (2014).

13 Heteroglossia in this group of writers is generally limited to relatively infrequent code-switching and syntactic divergence modelled after indigenous language structures.

14 Her aim has been expressed from the beginning as being ‘to show who we are’ and to create authentic Māori voices (New Zealand Book Council).

15 I do not wish to imply that Polynesian cultural practices are identical throughout the Pacific, but rather that there is considerable common ground.

16 Kumara is the Māori word for a local variety of sweet potato. The word is widely used in New Zealand English.

17 For reasons of space, I will not discuss here issues relating to differences between ‘real life’ and fictional language use, other than to indicate that I am not implying that the two are the same.

18 Early French explorers gave the name ‘lin néo-zélandais’ (New Zealand linen) to the plant known in Māori as ‘harakeke’. Articles made from flax are often woven from the dried leaves of the plant, and bear little resemblance to the European concept of linen. The use of the indigenous term in conjunction with a glossary, while not without its own problems, allows for a more reader-informative translation.

19 Lack of space prevents a full exploration of the place of repetition in literary style in English and French. Generations of writers and translators into French have been trained to avoid repetitions: the most obvious example of this stylistic divergence can be found in the multitude of verbs of speech used in French (e. g. annoncer, déclarer, insister, exclamer, répondre, répliquer) where English prefers a simple ‘he said/she said’. This leads to what Desmond refers to as a necessary ‘chasse aux répétitions’, which he calls ‘la plaie du traducteur’ (Desmond, 2005: 7–8. See also Lefebvre-Scodeller, 2014). Of course a writer using French may deliberately choose to disrupt literary expectations by using repetitions, particularly if these are considered important in indigenous rhetorics.

20 See the stories of Christiane Baroche or Annie Saumont.

21 ‘Parce que depuis l’aube des temps, le Verbe a toujours été l’expression de son peuple’ (my translation).

22 Personal communication, February 2007.

23 Significantly, these extracts are all printed in italics. See below for a brief discussion of the importance of such devices to indicate the foreign nature of textual elements.

24 ‘Face aux îles, surtout celles des Antilles, le regard dominant ne distingue que l’évidence paradisiaque à vocation—et même fatalité—touristique’ (my translation).

25 These translations are approximate only: ‘I dunno’ is arguably too informal and closer to ‘j’sais pas’ or ‘ché pas’: French offers a more subtle range of registers.

26 ‘Language’ here refers to concepts and stereotypes as much as expression. (It should also be noted that the bulk of Margueron’s 450-page study is devoted to outsiders’ views of Tahiti). In his translations of Vaité’s Breadfruit series, Theureau was forced by the lack of pre-existing models to invent just such a distorted Tahitianised French (personal communication, 2007).

27 ‘Livre des mots, livre du français, cette langue obligatoire, maîtrisée jusqu’à l’obliger à côtoyer, à égalité, ces mots tahitiens jadis bannis à l’école. Et le lecteur comprendra que nous ayons choisi—contrairement aux usages typographiques—de présenter ces mots sans distinction les uns des autres.’ Les éditeurs, ‘Avertissement au lecteur’, n.p. (‘A book of words, a book of French, the compulsory language mastered to the point of being able to force it to stand side by side on equal footing with those Tahitian words once banished from school. And the reader will understand that we have chosen—contrary to typesetting practices—to present these words without differentiating them from one another’ [my translation]). As noted above, however, the retention of indigenous words and their listing in a glossary to a translated text may allow a more source-text-based and informative strategy.

28 ‘Thick’ translation is a densely-annotated translation-plus-commentary designed to provide the target culture reader with as much cultural knowledge as a source culture reader.

Auteur

Victoria University of Wellington
Is Associate Professor (Reader) in French at Victoria University of Wellington, where she founded the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation in 2007. Her research interests are in late nineteenth-century and contemporary women’s writing, Francophone writing (Tahiti, Mauritius, Belgium), literary translation and crime fiction. She is the co-editor of The Foreign in International Crime Fiction. Transcultural Representations (2012), Écrire les hommes. Personnages masculins et masculinité dans l’œuvre des écrivaines de la Belle Époque (2012) and Serial Crime Fiction: Dying for More (2015). She is currently working on a project on nationalism and literary translation.

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