In Search of a Target Language: The Politics of Theatre Translation in Quebec


In nationalist Quebec, French is rejected as the bearer of a foreign culture in the same way that the Québécois' native land, despoiled by the English, has become the country of the Other. Theatre, more than anything else, lent itself to the task of differentiation allotted to language. As of 1968 the vernacular has become the language of the stage as well as of theatre translation such as the exchange value of both foreign works and French translations from France increasingly erodes. Translating "into Québécois" consists in marking out the difference which opposes French in Quebec and so-called French from France. Since, however, the special quality of Québécois French is truly noticeable only among the working classes, Québécois theatre translations are almost always marked by proletarization of language and lowering the social status of the protagonists, thereby increasing the translation possibilities first and foremost of American sociolects.

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A linguistic community can be compared to a market where the koinè, the spontaneous vernacular dialect, confronts the referentiary or literary language which is the vector of cultural traditions. These languages are symbolic wares, each one possessing its own use and exchange values. Their circulation is regulated by relationships of power operating within the linguistic community. In the context of nationalist Quebec, as it affirmed itself at the end of the sixties, the vernacular and the referentiary are suddenly competing with each other, causing a modification in their respective exchange value. From a broader point of view, one might even say that a type of protectionism sets in which aims at limiting the admission and the circulation of foreign symbolic wares within Quebec cultural institutions. Language struggles reflect the battle for the symbolic wares market or, in other words, for a dominant position within these cultural institutions. As for the theatre, foreign works, and mainly French texts, formed the nucleus of the system. Until that time, however, they enjoyed this privilege mainly by default. Certainly, French-Canadian theatre did exist but, because of its numerical weakness, it was situated at the periphery of the system and differed little from the French "models". Thus, Québécois productions had to become distinctive in order to supplant the dominant French products and appropriate their symbolic capital. In the domain of the theatre, it is the language, more than anything else, that will provide this distinctive element necessary to the institutional emergence of Québécois productions and to their autonomization in relation to French and French-Canadian productions.

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