The animated feature The Little Prince is a fresh take on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 children’s French story: Le Petit Prince. Although previously translated for both print and screen, the latest adaptation posed many challenges to those involved thanks to a long-running issue with translating Saint-Exupéry’s French into English.
According to Mark Osborne, the director of the latest film adaptation, the filmmakers focused on using the first English translation of The Little Prince by Katherine Woods, which was published in 1943. Although one of the most comprehensive and well-respected translations, even Woods’ adaptation of the original story came up against some of the well-known challenges that linguists face when attempting to accurately translate a beloved tale.
A Loss of Meaning
One of the charms associated with the original book and translation are its special connotations, and this is one problem with many of the translations of this literary classic. Even in Woods’ translation, which is considered the most accurate available, the French verb “apprivoiser” is translated as “tame”, resulting in criticism for losing meaning from the original book. Rather than simply meaning “to domesticate”, as implied by the translations, the French verb actually suggests a process of slowly forging a relationship. “I love that,” Mr Osborne said, “because it’s the biggest example of how difficult it is to translate the French language.”
Direct Translation or Careful Adaptation?
Another issue facing those who are attempting to directly translate Le Petit Prince is the lack of a direct French translation. For example, the phrase “je te ferai cadeau d’un secret” has been directly translated to “let me make you a present of a secret”. Although this literal adaptation of these words may seem charming to many, it does present issues to filmmakers, who are required to use subjectivity to decide between a charming literal representation of the story and an easy to understand alternative.
Modernisation of the Text
Aside from the Woods translation, one of the most well known adaptations is Richard Howard’s version, which has become the new ‘English standard’. In Howard’s adaptation of the story, classic French-to-English translations including “spring of fresh water” and “primeval forest” have been given a modern twist with the aim of introducing the story to a new generation, resulting in the terms being translated into “water fountain” and “jungle”. Unfortunately, by streamlining the language, many argue that valuable meaning has been lost from this beloved classic.
Overall, the translation of The Little Prince highlights how important both accuracy and subjectivity can be in translation when it comes to conveying not just the words, but the true meaning of an original text.
Our expert translators at Bubbles use their experience and native understanding of the target and original languages to make careful judgements on the adaptation of a text at every stage of a translation, including everything from dialects and colloquialisms through to any modernisation that might be required for a new audience.
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