Translation or Treason: On Translating the Third Code | October 2014 | Translation Journal

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Translation or Treason: On Translating the Third Code



The distinctive feature of postcolonial francophone literature is writers’ recourse to linguistic miscegenation as a narrative paradigm.  In an attempt to convey socio-cultural specificities, worldview, imagination and sensibilities in a European language, fiction writers consciously deconstruct the French language in a bid to produce a third code that expresses alterity. Recourse to linguistic domestication as a mode of creative writing poses daunting challenges for inter-lingual translators. The intent of this paper is to show the extent to which translators entrusted with the critical task of translating francophone literature written in a hybrid code need a translation model that is consonant with text typology.

Mots clés/Key words

Third code, hybrid literature, intra-lingual translation, inter-lingual translation, code-switching, Indigenization, Camfranglais

Troisième code, littérature hybride, traduction intralinguale, traduction interliguale, alternance codique, indigénisation, camfranglais


The distinctive feature of postcolonial francophone literature is writers’ recourse to linguistic miscegenation as a narrative paradigm.  Cameroonian fiction of French expression, for example, exists at an interface of French as a metropolitan language and its regional variants on account of linguistic domestication that often engenders a third code.In an attempt to convey  socio-cultural specificities, worldview, imagination and sensibilities in a European language—in our case French—Cameroonian fiction writers consciously deconstruct the French language in a bid to produce a hybrid code that expresses otherness. Recourse to linguistic deconstruction as a mode of creative writing poses daunting challenges for inter-lingual translators. The intent of this paper is to show the extent to which translators entrusted with the critical task of translating francophone literature written in a hybrid code need a translation model that is consonant with text typology. Arguing along similar lines,  Jacques Derrida reminds us in “Des Tours de Babel” of, “one of the limits of theories of translation: all too often they treat the passing from one language to another and do not sufficiently consider the possibility for languages to be implicated more than two in a text. How is a text written in several languages at a time to be translated? How is the effect of plurality to be ‘rendered’? And what of translating with several languages at a time, will that be called translating?”(171)The dilemma is no easier to solve for practicing translators.

The purposeful word-smiting noticeable in Cameroonian francophone literature serves as an effective tool for the depiction of the specificities of the bilingual/bicultural context in which the stories are woven. Regrettably, the linguistic hybridization that requires readers of these stories to be not only bilingual but also bicultural may be lost in the translation process as the following examples culled from Mercédès Fouda’s novel, Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune (2001)[i] indicate. Fouda constantly resorts to Camfranglais[ii] as a narrative mode as the following excerpt indicates:

Vous avez alors la possibilité d’aller manger au tournedos. Ne vous réjouissez pas trop vite! Vous n’irez que dans l’un de ces restaurants de plein air, faits de bancs et de tables assemblées, et où, tout bêtement, le client tourne le dos à la route!(10)[iii]

It should be noted that a parenthetical note has been included in my translation in a bid to shed light on the meaning of the term “tournedos.” In the place of a parenthesis, a translator’s note could be used. Given that this socio-gastronomical reality does not exist in France, it is deemed necessary to append an explicatory note to disambiguate the semantic signification of the narrative for those who might not be familiar with this Cameroonian reality.  Translating the term “tourne-dos” directly as “makeshift restaurant” would rob Fouda’s text of its local color. Cameroonians reading Je parle camerounais would have no problem at all comprehending the intended message. This may not be true for readers who are not familiar with Cameroon and its indigenized[iv] version of the French language.

All too often, Fouda resorts to the literary device of semantic shift as she strives to infuse her text with Cameroonianisms[v] as seen in the following excerpt:“Au tournedos, officie l’asso, diminutif flatteur de “associé (e), est cette personne chez qui vous faites régulièrement des achats et qui, lorsque c’est fort sur vous, vous fait manger un crédit….” (10)[vi] “Manger un crédit” could be translated into standard French as “acheter à crédit.” Notice that the standard French verb “acheter” becomes “manger” in Cameroonian French. This semantic shift gives the verb a different signification in Camfranglais.   I have rendered the expression “manger un crédit” as “eat on credit” for purposes of dynamic equivalence. My translation does not rid the text of its cultural signification.Another camfranglais expression in this excerpt worthy of comment is “lorsque c’est fort sur vous,” which has been translated as “when the going is rough.” Notice that I have used a colloquial expression as a translation for the colloquialism in the source text in order to ensure formal equivalence— the relation that holds between two open sentences when their universal closures are materially equivalent.

Recourse to the technique of semantic shift enables Fouda to attribute new significations to existing French words as seen in this passage: “En somme, la fête est mondiale, terme exploité quand il y a foule, et que les gens apprécient, comme lors des coupes du monde de foot” (54-55).[vii]  In Fouda’s text, the word “mondiale” loses its original meaning of “global” or “international” and takes on an extraneous meaning. Used in this way, the adjective “mondiale” could be rendered as “extraordinary” or “fantastic” as seen in my translation. These two epithets border on the hyperbolic and adequately convey the exaggeration intended in the source text. I settled for “fantastic” given its onomatopoeic correlation with the word “fan” as in “soccer fan.”

Fouda constantly spices her narrative with culture-based words and expressions for the purpose of infusing local color and esthetics into her narrative as the following excerpts suggest: “Attisé ainsi, vous seriez ridicule, et Max a bien raison une fois de plus de montrer ses ‘attrape-manioc’: il se moque gentiment de vous” (36).[viii] I have translated the compound noun ‘attrape-manioc’ as ‘cassava-traps.’ In Fouda’s native culture, staple food is ‘manioc,’ (cassava), a dish eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. So fond are the people of this meal that they have come up with all kinds of ingenuous ways of talking about it. One of the common expressions is ‘attraper du manioc avec les dents’, meaning ‘manger du manioc’ [eat cassava]. ‘Attrape-manioc’ is a derivative of this expression. It has been translated as “cassava-traps” in order to maintain local color.

Many indigenized French expressions distinguish Fouda’s novel from hexagonal novels. One such expression is the following: “J’ai seulement un ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ et les ‘sans confiance’” (37).[ix]  I have rendered the nominal expressions ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ as ‘Dad-I-have-grown-up’ and ‘sans confiance’ as ‘no confidence’ flip-flops. Camfranglais speakers use the expression ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ as a form of mockery to deride someone who wears tight-fitting pants. It is often a subtle way of telling the person that she or he ought to buy new pants. This is also true of the expression sans confiance’ which refers to poorly made flip-flops that could fall apart at any time much to the wearer’s chagrin.

There is no gainsaying the fact that this word-smiting sets Cameroonian francophone literature apart from other forms of literature written in French around the world.  Linguistic manipulation may engender serious translation hurdles even for seasoned translators. The consequence is that dynamic equivalence[x]may be compromised. Cameroonian French or Camfranglais is enriched with local connotations derived from indigenous languages and Pidgin English[xi] that ought to be transposed into the target language. Recourse to the third code is not the preserve of Fouda. Her compatriot, Patrice Nganang makes abundant use of Camerounismes[xii] in his award-winning novel Temps de chien (2001)[xiii] as this excerpt indicates: “La voix d’un lycéen lui disait: comme d’habitude, Mama Mado. Et ma maîtresse connaissait son goût. La voix d’un autre exigeait, put oya soté, for jazz must do sous-marin” (84).[xiv]   In an attempt to preserve local color, the translator simply reproduced the source text in the target language: “put oya soté, for jazz must do sous-marin.” She then affixed a translator’s note with the following explanations:the term “oya” is culled from Cameroonian Pidgin English. It refers to cooking oil. “Jazz” is a Camfranglais word for ‘beans.’ ‘Jazz sous-marin’ refers to “beans submerged in oil”(Dog Days, 57). The translator’s note is indispensable for readers who aren’t familiar with the culinary habits of Cameroonians.

Camfranglais speakers use the expression ‘jazz sous-marin’ to describe the trumpet-like sound that one’s stomach would make if one ate badly cooked beans. These examples lend credibility to the fact that Temps de chien is written in a third code, a meta-language as it were. Nganang’s purposeful lexical manipulation and code-switching constitute an effective medium for depicting the bilingual/bicultural context within which his story unfolds. This source text linguistic plurality may be lost in the translation process if the source text is misconstrued. The domestication of French in Temps de chien fulfills the communicative function of underscoring the multiplicity of voices implicated in the narrative. The end product of Nganang’s linguistic hybridization is a stylistically rich text laden with a plethora of significations as seen in the following passage:Et mon maître lui, se retranchant dans son pidgin de crise, tout en déchirant sur son visage un bleu: ‘Dan sapak i day for kan-kan-o’ (52).[xv] The linguistic hybridity evident in this excerpt is an indication that the narrator’s master is  straddling two  linguistic spaces – English and  French. The expression :Dan sapak i day for kan-kanis left untranslated in the target text. The question arises as to whether or not this constitutes translation infidelity. Why did Reid not translate the expression into English?

Is her decision to transpose the source text into the target language treasonable? In my opinion, not at all. Her footnote sheds ample light on the signification of the indigenous language signifier, ‘dan sapak ‘ which refers to ‘whore.’  Another pertinent question to ask is why Nganang decided to transpose this vernacular language term into the narrative in the first place when, in fact, the French equivalent ‘putain’ would have posed less translation problems ? I can only conjecture Nganang’s motivations for domesticating the French language the way he does: de-colonize postcolonial francophone literature by de-emphasizing the primacy of the French language  in Cameroonian literature.[xvi]

The  intensifier kan-kan  expresses the notion of  plurality. It could be translated as ‘many kinds’ or ‘all sorts’. The word ‘day’ is a false cognate given that it has nothing to do with ‘day’ as opposed to night. Here it means ‘exist.’ Thus, the sentence could be rendered literally as: ‘all kinds of whores exist in this neighorhood.’ The domestication of the French language in Temps de chien has been emulated by yet another Cameroonian fiction writer of French expression.

Gabriel K. Fonkou’s new novel titled Moi Taximan (2001)[xvii]is written almost entirely in Camfranglais.  The novelis replete with French words that have undergone semantic transformation as seen in the following excerpt: “Je ne mangeais chez moi que le soir, sauf les jours où je me faisais aider par un ‘attaquant’…afin de me reposer un peu”(18).[xviii] The narrator employs the word ‘attaquant’ to describe a taxi driver who not only works overtime but is often aggressive and prone to road rage.  I have translated this word has “attacker” in order to conserve the intended signification of the source text lexeme. Foukou word choice serves the purpose of underscoring not just the reckless driving of Cameroonian cab-drivers but also their predilection for road rage. Using an expression like ‘reckless taxi driver’ would result in semantic loss. The domestication of language in this text is a function of  a combination of societal ideologies and personal idiosyncracies.  As Lefevere would have it, “Obviously the writer of the original put them there for a reason—an illocutionary reason. To ‘regularize’ them, to translate them as if they were not foreign words in the original, may therefore be to detract from the complexity of the original”(29). Speaking along similar lines Eco notes that “the difference between modernizing the text and keeping it archaic is not the same as the one between foreignizing or domesticating it” (22). It should be noted that foreign words embedded within Moi Taximan raises the problem of double translation. Lefevere suggests that a dependable approach that is used quite often, is to leave the foreign words untranslated and then to append a translation between brackets or even to insert a translation into the body of the text a little later, where it would be expedient to do so. This approach has been used successfully by the translator of Nganang’s Temps de chien as discussed above.

Domestication of language occurs in Moi Taximan at two levels—

 lexical and semantic as the following example  shows: “On sortait de l’opération avec un plus grand sourire si, en plus, les passagers longue distance avaient ‘proposé’…” (8) A little further, the narrator sheds light on the meaning of the word ‘proposé’: “… payer plus cher que le tarif normal” (8). What we are witnessing here is not just Fonkou’s recourse to semantic shift but also his dexterity at using intralingual translation as a narrative trope. Zethsen notes that, “intralingual translation or rewording is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language” (797).

When Fonkou resorts to intralingual translation as a narrative technique he does so not just for the purpose of comprehension of the factual content of his text (explanatory translations) but also for expressivity and persuasion. Above all, he relies on intralingual translation to produce different cultural versions of the same text within the same language as seen in the following excerpt: “La plus grosse surprise se situa le dimanche où la réunion des femmes de mon village vint laver l’enfant” (186).[xix] ‘Laver l’enfant’ is a cultural expression that describes the ritual during which the birth of a baby is celebrated by family members. In Fonkou’s native tongue, this ritual is called “le yaal, à la fois danse et chants pour célébrer la naissance de l’enfant” (187).[xx]

The need to possess both bilingual and bicultural competencies in order to successfully decipher the latent significations embedded in Fonkou’s text is made all the more evident through the use of intralingual translation as a narrative paradigm as seen in the examples above. These observations lend credibility to current musings about translation as a cultural transaction. One of the loudest voices in this school of thought is Juliane House (2002) who contends: “In recent years there has been a shift in translation studies from linguistically-oriented approaches to culturally-oriented ones” (92). Fonkou’s Moi Taximan is a socio-cultural text. This implies that a culture-centered approach should be adopted in translating the novel  on account of the preponderance of cultural signifiers like the one in the excerpt below: “Entre deux clients, Justine et sa mère participaient activement à l’entretien de la chaude ambiance du secteur des ‘bayam sellam’: potins, querelles simulées, plaisanteries et fausses confidences bruyantes y provoquaient de gros éclats de rire” (131).[xxi] The term ‘Bayam sellam’ is a cultural derivative culled from Cameroonian Pidgin English. Literally, it means “buy” and “sell.”  It is used in this novel to describe market women whom the protagonist describes as “des revendeuses, cette catégorie de commerçantes aggressives sans les lesquelles nos marchés perdraient leur âme” (130).[xxii]  

In my translation I have transposed the expression ‘Bayam sellam’ into the target text and inserted an explanatory note ‘market women’ as a form of hermeneutic interpretation intended to shed ample light on the socio-cultural signification of this word. Translating ‘bayam sellam’ as ‘business women’ would result in translation loss because these women are not business women in the generic sense of the word.  ‘Bayam sellam’ is retail trade in Cameroon born out of dire necessity (the need to survive in an economy characterized by doldrums). Some lexical items in Moi Taximan are ideophones[xxiii] culled from Cameroonian Creole (Pidgin English) as this example shows: “Au bout de la journée le plus souvent chacun de nous affichait un sourire de contentement  et nous nous quittions  à la nuit tombante sur de vigoureuses poignées de mains prolongées par un ‘toss’…”(13)[xxiv]

Fonkou’s protagonist defines the term “toss” as “salut du bout des pouces et des majeurs entrecroisés puis séparés dans un vif frottement sonore”(13).[xxv]  In my translation of the excerpt above, I retained the word’ toss’ in the source text in a bid to evoke the sound intended by the source text writer. The transposition does not obscure meaning at all given that the signification of ‘toss’ has been provided by the novelist himself. Pidgin English has enabled Fonkou to embellish his creative writing as seen in the following  statement: “La journée d’hier a été djidja”(19). [xxvi] ‘Djidja,’ loanword from Cameroonian culinary lexicon, is derived from the English word ‘ginger.’ Cameroonians use the word ‘djidja’ to describe an extremely difficult situation akin to what hexagonal French speakers would describe as “une mer à boire.”[xxvii]


The foregoing discourse leads to the conclusion that translation practice has evolved from a strictly linguistic activity to a socio-cultural transaction. When J.C. Catford defined ‘translation’ as “the replacement of textual material in one language (SL) by equivalent textual material in another language (TL)” (20), hardly did he entertain any thoughts about the eventuality of the proliferation of literature written in several codes at a time. The major problem with Catford’s theory is that it is restrictive and, therefore, deprives translators of the opportunity to achieve "total translation." The notion of "total translation" is counterbalanced by Catford’s notion of restricted translation, which is the substitution of textual material of the TL only at one level, namely at the graphological or phonological level. The notion of "total translation," as it is evident, does not accept much of Catford''s definition. The notion of "totality" is accepted mostly, applied however to textual components completely different in the semiotic context.Given the hybrid natureof the texts discussed in this paper, it makes sense that we have adopted a translation framework that is culture-oriented and puts emphasis on the interpretation of the hidden significations embedded in source-text signifiersas well as the situational dimensions (extra-linguistic factors)that constitute the substructure on which the texts are anchored.  


[i]All translations are mine except where otherwise indicated. This novel has not yet been translated into English.

[ii]Camfranglais is a “composite language consciously developed by secondary school pupils who have in common a number of linguistic codes, namely French, English and several widespread indigenous languages”(Kouega, 2003,p.23). This township lingo has been adopted by Cameroonian creative writers as seen in the works discussed in this paper.

[iii]So you have the opportunity to go eat at the tourne-dos [make-shift restaurant]. Don’t be too excited! You will only go to one of these plain-air restaurants, where benches and tables are assembled for clients to sit and sheepishly turn their backs to the street!

[iv]Zabus observes that indigenization of language in francophone African literature translates “the writer’s attempt at textualizing linguistic differentiation and conveying thought patterns and linguistic concepts through the ex-colonizer’s language” (The African Palimpsest, 1991, p.23).

[v]Cameroonian turns of phrase and speech mannerisms

[vi]At the roadside tourne-dos, you’d find the asso, term of flattery that describes the woman from whom you buy food regularly, and who would allow you eat on credit when the going is rough.

[vii]On the whole, the party is fantastic, term used when there are crowds, and people are in a jubilant mood, as is the case during soccer world cup tournaments. 

[viii]Dressed up in this manner, you’d look ludicrous, and Max, once again, would have reason to expose his ‘cassava-traps.’ He’s discreetly making fun of you. 

[ix]I only have a ‘Dad-I-have-grown-up’ and a pair of ‘no confidence’ flip-flops.

[x]Eugene Nida’s dynamic equivalence theory (also known as functional equivalence) is very well explained in his seminal work, The Theory and Practice of Translation. (1974). The driving goal behind the theory is to make the meaning of the source text accessible to readers of the target text.

[xi]Cameroonian Pidgin English, also called Cam-Tok or Majunga Tok is the chief medium of communication for the great majority of people. It is an English language-based Creole—

 a blend of English, French and indigenous languages.

[xii]Cameroonian speech patterns and mannerisms

[xiii]All translations are taken from Dog Days (2006) the English language translation of the novel by Amy Baram Reid.

[xiv]A student’s voice would say the usual, Mama Mado, and my mistress knew just what he wanted. Another’s voice would order, put oya soté, for jazz must do sous-marin (Dog Days, 57).

[xv]As for my master—he’d fall back into pidgin, his dialect of disaster, cursing the whores as he tore his face into a sick smile : «Dan sapak i day for kan-kan-o » (Dog Days 35).

[xvi] This theme is dealt with in-depth in Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, Vol. 1: African Fiction and Poetry and Their Critics by Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and  Ihechukwu Madubu

[xvii]There is no English language translation of Moi Taximan to date. All translations are mine.

[xviii]I only ate at home in the evening, except on days when I had asked an ‘attacker’ to replace me so that I could have some rest.

[xix]The biggest surprise came on a Sunday, the day when the association of women from my village came to wash the baby.

[xx]The yaal, both song and dance to celebrate the birth of a child.

[xxi]Between two customers, Justine and her mother took part in the heated discussions that animated the ‘bayam sellam’ section of the market: gossip, fake quarrels, jokes and noisy false pretenses that caused outbursts of laughter.

[xxii]Bayam sellam, this category of aggressive market women without whom our markets would lose their liveliness.

[xxiii]Vivid representation of an idea in sound. A word often onomatopoeic, which describes a predicate, qualificative or adverb in respect to manner, color, sound, smell, action, state or intensity. Ideophones evoke sensory events.

[xxiv]More often than not, at the end of the day, each one of us wore a smile of contentment as we parted at nightfall, vigorously shaking hands and saying ‘toss.’

[xxv]Handshake with the tips of the thumb and middle-fingers intertwined, followed by a quick separation and loud sound.

[xxvi]Yesterday was djidja.

[xxvii] Uphill task.


Works cited

Catford, J.C. A Linguistic Theory of Translation: An Essay in Applied Linguistics. London:

Oxford University Press, 1965.

Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike. Toward the Decolonization of

African Literature. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1983.

Derrida, Jacques. “Des Tours de Babel,” Difference in Translation. Trans, Joseph F. Graham.

Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Eco, Umberto. Experiences in Translation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Fouda, Mercédès. Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune. Paris: Karthala,


House, Julien. “Universality versus culture specificity in Translation,” Ed. Riccardi,

Alessandra. Translation Studies: Perspectives on an Emerging Discipline. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Kouega, Jean- Paul. 2003. “Word formative processes in Camfranglais.” World Englishes

            22.4, 511-539.

__________. 2003. “Camfranglais: A novel slang in Cameroon schools.” English Today

                19.2, 23-29.

Kuitche, Fonkou Gabriel. Moi taximan. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001.

Lefevere, André. Translating Literature: Practice and Theory in a Comparative Literature

Context. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1992.

Nganang, Alain Patrice. Temps de chien:chronique animale.  Paris: Serpent à plumes, 2001.

_________________________. Dog Days: An Animal Chronicle. Trans. Amy Baram Reid.

Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Zabus, Chantal. The African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African

            Europhone Novel. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991.

Zethsen, Karen Korning. “Intralingual Translation: An Attempt at Description,” META


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About Peter Wuteh Vakunta


Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta hails from the Republic of Cameroon. He relocated to the United States in 2001 has been a teacher to date. Peter has a track record of teaching excellence (K-16). He has taught African languages and Literatures in English and French from 2004 to date.  Peter has great passion for teaching and deep love for the students he teaches.  At present, he is an Assistant Professor and chair of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Indianapolis.  Dr. Vakunta is an accomplished scholar with several publications to his credit. He is novelist, poet, essayist, and short-story writer.

Phone: (317)791 5614

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