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FOUND in Translation (the Word Nerd In Me)

I was thrilled when the folks at the Château de La Napoule decided that this summer, they’d offer visitors “UNSUNG,” the play+guided tour I wrote for them during my March residency.
 
When they said they wanted a French version as well, I was excited – but kinda nervous.

I’ve never really "done" translation.
 
But the fear faded fast. I’ve been editing the English script non-stop – so was looking forward to doing something different!
 
NEWS FLASH:

I just finished a rough translation – and I had a blast!

Man, I forgot how much I love working with language across cultures. (In college, I was a Comp lit major with French/German)

The Big Surprise: it only took 20 hours of focused work to do. I thought it would take at least a week.
 

Me at the château - dig the multi-colored stones


Full disclosure: I used A.I.
Or as they say in France, LIA (l’Intelligence Artificielle, pronounced LEE-ah).
 
I felt the ethical squeeze about using it, but I had no choice. I had limited time – a month – and no budget to hire someone and had to start somewhere.
 
Plus, I was curious how much I could do myself, without calling in a pro.
Since the folks at the château (and my husband and other friends) offered to eyeball the result for me, how could it go massively wrong?

HERE'S MY STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS  
in case you’re interested in trying it yourself
(or just curious)

Real translators: please don't hate on me.

 
1. I choose DeepL as my A.I. tool.
I google around for what would work best and several people say DeepL is best for “literature” (hence the “L”?)
 
2. I just start.
I don’t over-research, as I usually do.
Plunging in means I have less resistance/fear. Feels more fun.
3. Here I Go 
- Copy and paste English text for one scene.  (I read doing small chunks is best.)
- Can't believe it generates both formal and informal versions (more about that later)
- Copy and paste formal and informal versions side by side into a two-column table.
- Compare formal/informal text and highlight important differences.
- Copy and paste the chunks I prefer into a Word doc that accumulates into the full script.
- Restore play formatting lost in cut/paste (ie centering character name etc).
- Repeat for the 10 “scenes” of my show
- Lastly (not recommended): as I translate, I rethink parts of the English version. So I change them, put those bits back through DeepL, then copy/paste back in piecemeal to the French script. Could have been an organizational disaster – but I create a system to track it. (Not my strength – so go me!).
 
LEARNING !!!

- I lucked out with Deep L - not sure all tools give formal/informal options.
            Super useful for French, which has two forms of “you,” depending on our status and number (one person/many).
           
- Who are my CHARACTERS?
Having to choose formal/informal makes me take into account character – a more formal person – and time period.
            So a child addresses a parent more formally in the 1800’s ("vous") than now (“tu”).
            The tour guide, Joy, speaks more informally than Marie, the main character from early the 1900’s.
This goes beyond tu/vous, affecting sentence structure and vocabulary.

Super interesting!!

 
- PUNCTUATION is very different with the French and English.
            The French leave a space between the last letter of a sentence and certain kinds of punctation (ie question mark, exclamation point, colon).
Vraiment ?
Oui !

- CAPITALIZATION is way different, too.
            They don’t capitalize nationalities or days of the week/month.
Today is le vendredi 28 juin.
            And they capitalize only the first word of a title of book etc. Unless it's proper nouns (names etc). Looks VERY weird to me...
 
- French requires MORE WORDS
            It may be the language of diplomacy, but it has fewer words than English (compare the size of the two dictionaries).
So you need more words to say the same thing in French - it's less exact (sorry if that seems rude).
            The facts:
My English original is 9348 words.
            The French is 10,514.
Roughly 12% longer

This is not good for me, since my script is already a bit long (shh, don’t tell – I will shrink it). I hope the French actors talk faster to make up some of the difference!
 
- REPLACE ALL is confusing (help!)
  Partway through the translation, I give my character “Man” the name “Bob.”
I decide to save time and use "replace all." Since his name is used mostly to designate his character, I use caps – changing MAN to BOB
  And this is what I get:
roBOBce
huBOBity
BOBy
Etc
 
Not a time saver.

How do you -

Do two forms of the same word, one in all caps, one with sentence case?
Correct only that word, not anytime those letters show up?

CAN ANYONE TEACH ME HOW TO DO IT BETTER?

 
- LYRICS
I decide not to translate the lyrics, per the suggestion of the folks at the château. We can offer a handout with the lyrics in French.
 
This is a relief - it’s really hard to keep the rhyme scheme and rhythm in translation.
 
- BIG LEARNING - I can IMPROVE ON THE AI !
            I'm pleased that, as I get more into French-head, I naturally rewrite little phrases to match what “feels” better.
The DeepL translation isn’t wrong – but I have a reflexive sense of what was more spontaneous, more fun, more true to the character.
 
WHAT’S NEXT?
 

Some decisions I need to make - for myself and for my bosses at the château.


WHO’S TALKING?
Are the characters Americans speaking French – or French people?
 
I initially assumed they'd stay American, even in the translation. They feel essentially American – peppy, optimistic, naïve even.
 
Then again...maybe not? French people can be like that, too? (though I don’t know many…) TBD!
 
HOW GOOD IS THE TRANSLATION, REALLY?
I’ve vetted small word choice decisions with my French husband – but maybe the whole thing is a couple clicks off from a real French “play”?
 
We’ll see when we read it down with the staff at the château on Monday.
 
FORMATTING
I used American play format, not knowing how the French do it and not wanting to take the time to search it up. To come. Want French folks to read and think it's the real deal.

And after this - more steps until SHOWTIME


REHEARSING
Do French actors work differently than Americans? I'll find out soon cause -

DIRECTING
Yeah, I’m directing, too. Excited. Do I need to ask a few folks how to direct French people? Maybe.


And lastly - FOMO

I decided to engage actors to do the piece. I'm not in it. The first time I've done that with my site-specific pieces in France.

So I can hear it.

So I won't have to be here all the time if - no, WHEN - the château decides to make it a regular thang.

Still...will I miss it terribly, "playing"?



STAY TUNED!!

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