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Official languages professions: translation

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick


They work in the shadows. Their names go unknown. And their work is seldom recognized. Yet official bilingualism is impossible without their services. Translators, interpreters and terminologists enable our Anglophone and Francophone communities to talk to and understand each other. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick pays tribute to these lovers of language by publishing a series of portraits. This article is the last in a series of three.

Marion Macfarlane, translator

At a very young age, when her family was living in Scotland, Marion Macfarlane fell in love with foreign languages. Today, she indulges that passion by working as a translator at the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. She juggles words in order to translate the thoughts of our political representatives but also to facilitate communication among people.

The staff of the translation service of the Legislative Assembly translate many words—1.8 million annually. Translating the Hansard, the record of the debates of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the House, is an important part of their work. According to Marion, this is a very delicate task. "On the one hand, you can't have an MLA saying something he didn't. On the other, you have to avoid falling into the trap of word-for-word translation since that can make the text heavy, even incomprehensible. You have to render the same message while respecting the genius of the other language."

Marion believes that every language is a window on the world and therefore a source of enrichment. She herself has had the opportunity to live in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In addition to English, her mother tongue, she has a command of German, French, and Latin. Generally, translators translate into their mother tongue. This is not the case with Marion, who translates mainly from English to French. According to her, one of the peculiarities of parliamentary translation is that the message to be translated is usually meant to be heard rather than read. "Speeches are crafted with a view to maximum aural impact and tend to be liberally sprinkled with catch phrases intended to stick in listeners' minds," she said. "Translators have first to check into whether an official English or French equivalent has already been coined, and if not, come up with a suitably snappy translation, a watchword that must then be adhered to faithfully in all future pronouncements in which it will, inevitably, recur."

It's well known that politicians often use a very colourful vocabulary. Marion added that this must be reflected in the translation as well. However, equivalents don't always exist in the other language, and that makes the translator's work even more difficult. And the expressions to be translated sometimes raise a smile…She gives the example of an MLA who compared the conduct of one of his colleagues to that of the likeable character Chicken Little, the chick with the anxious temperament. Several options were open to the translator, such as using the English name and providing a footnoted explanation, or using the adjective alarmiste [alarmist] or the expression prophète de malheur [prophet of doom].

Marion says that she has to translate texts on everything under the sun. "It's a job where you learn a lot," she said. But the variety of subjects also means that translators have to constantly add to the specialized vocabulary used in each area of activity (e.g., forestry, health, transportation). "You have to read a lot, and you have to read everything."

What makes a successful translation? "It's when you have the feeling that you've communicated the same message in an elegant fashion, that you've really facilitated communication," said the translator. According to Marion, there are too many barriers in this world, and she, in her own way, is trying to knock them down by "facilitating communication," as she so aptly puts it.