24 June 2010

TSR: Annie Brisset

Terrific piece on questions evoked by the practice of translating plays into Quebecois, that goes way beyond the initial question to look at the ways, in general, that language defines national identity, and in particular the status of the French language in Canada.

Annie Brisset is a Professor at the University of Ottawa. This essay, "The Search for a Native Language: Translation and Cultural Identity", was written in French, so I assume that's her mother tongue, and it was apparently chapter 4 of her book Sociocritique de la traduction. Théâtre et altérité au Québec (1990).

She looks at plays that have been labelled (by the translators) as translated into Quebecois, and asks what that means. The clearest point is that these translations are part of a project to claim language status for Quebecois, as part of a nationalist movement. She refers to several links between the Quebecois movement and xenophobic sentiments. In fact, the language is part of Quebec's self-told history. What surprised me is the extent to which the movement arises in opposition to "international French"; it rejects the association of francophonie. So it positions Quebecois as a doubly oppressed language.

Meanwhile, however, those translators are explaining their actions in "standard" French; even the stage directions use the non-Quebecois language. Brisset gets quite scathing about the pro-Quebecois movement - she's clearly not politically aligned with it - but even without taking sides you can see this as a real-life experiment in language development. In some ways, then, it's similar to the position Susan Sontag described in Bosnia, where a translation into Bosnian was demanded, although there's little difference from Serbo-Croat.

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