French-to-English Translation Activity: One Hour
(for intermediate to advanced students of French or English)
Before the English-language The Lost Ones came into being in 1972, Samuel Beckett began work on Le dépeupleur in its original French in 1965. Before eventually being published in French in 1971, Le dépeupleur went through many drafted versions. As close examination, The Lost Ones also resembles a continued, trimmed revision of Le dépeupleur. (Please refer to the essay “Minimalism Achieved in Self-Translation”)
Stage 1: Translation, the Act
The links below lead to multiple versions of the same passage from Beckett’s text. Divide the class into discussion groups and assign one version of the passage to each group. Translate each version of the text individually.
Stage 2: Closed-group Discussion
Staying in small groups, compare translations. Discuss the following questions and topics:
1. What differences in word choice did you discover? Are there are “right” choices? Why / why not? Which words are the most problematic?
2. Did you rearrange the word order? Justify your decisions.
3. Beckett uses alliterations in the French text. Does this literary style come across in your translation(s)? Does it need to? How and at what cost?
4. Is it possible to “minimize” or condense the French version through translation? How?
Stage 3: At-Large Discussion
Being that some the French revisions are drastically different, each group will present its version of Le dépeupleur to the class, starting with the group assigned to the published version of the text. During the presentations, post the French text to the class so everyone can follow along with the translations as you read them out loud and briefly summarize the results of your discussions in Stage 2. After each presentation, discuss the variances found among Beckett’s drafts. As a class, dissect and interpret Beckett’s editorial decisions.
Stage 4: Beckett’s The Lost Ones
After returning to small groups, read Beckett’s published English translation of the selected passage (click on the link below).
Published English Version
1. Did Beckett translate each sentence line for line? Provide examples to support your argument.
2. Were there any editorial decisions Beckett made that surprised you?
3. What are the differences between you as translator and Beckett as translator?
Assist with the Project
Transcribe portions of the Beckett notebooks, or correct present transcriptions, and send your work to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, title and contact information (at least an e-mail address). Subsequent work, if accurate, will be posted and attributed to its author.