I’m not talking about the kinds of constraints translators, and writers in general, impose on themselves to make the product better or the process more stimulating; I’m talking about external constraints so absurd they boggle the mind. I was reading Robert Paquin’s piece “(Bleep), You (Bleeping) (Bleep): Dubbing American Films into Canadian French (whither I was sent by wood s lot), enjoying the description of how translators for dubbed films try to make “the lip movements of the actor on the screen … match the sounds you hear,” when I got to this passage:
So, how do you translate street talk? With street talk, of course. Well, in France, yes, but not if you’re a film translator/adaptor in Canada working in French. The French have no qualms about using their “argot” (slang), but we film adaptors working in Canada are not allowed to use the French slang expressions used in the Montreal streets, nor are we allowed to use the slang expressions used in France. We’re supposed to write dialogues in international French. Film distributors even supply us with a list of banned words and expressions. On that list are not only typical French Canadian swear words and curses, but also French “argot” curses and swear words, because distributors don’t want their films to seem as if they had been translated in France, fearing Canadian audiences would complain that the film sounds too “Frenchy” and not Canadian enough. At the same time, the distributors forbid the use of Canadian street talk, because they secretly hope the French version they will get here can be exported to Europe somehow. Except that France has adopted protectionist laws and regulations governing TV stations and movie theaters to forbid screening of audiovisual productions dubbed outside Europe—which in actual fact means Canada.
And how does one swear in international French, i.e. standard French, French spoken and understood in all French-speaking countries? Ah, well, there’s “bordel,” “merde” and “zut,” but that’s pretty weak, something like “shucks.” I was going to add “putain,” but that’s also on the list of forbidden words, though we sometimes manage to slip it in unnoticed. Luckily “foutu” is allowed, as are “con” and “connard” and “connasse,” “enfoiré,” “enculé,” though the latter might earn a (bleep) on television. But “Criss de tabarnak d’ostie” is out of the question, even though that is what you hear when a carpenter hits his or her thumb with a hammer in French Canada.
“(Bleep), you (bleep) (bleep), I’m ‘onna (bleep) kick your (bleep) (bleep) to (bleep) kingdom come!” would therefore be translated along the lines of “Merde, espèce de connard d’enfoiré, je vais te foutre un bordel de coup de pied au cul.” But you know what? It doesn’t sound natural in any dialect. While “Mon ostie de niaiseux, je vais te kâlicer mon pied dans le cul, tu vas voir” would sound perfectly normal. Such language is readily used in plays and in films produced here, though not in television because of young viewers. Yet translators are mysteriously forbidden to use those expressions.
I could understand banning French-French slang in Canadian films out of local pride; I wouldn’t be in favor of it, but I would understand it. But this… this is just stupid.