Volume 16, No. 2 
April 2011

  Kate James


Front Page

Select one of the previous 55 issues.

Index 1997-2011

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
One Translator's Journey
by Heidi Holzer

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
How do you Deal with Requests for Discounts?
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

Technical Translation
Specialization in Translation—myths and realities
by Charles Martin

  Translators and the Computer
An Analysis of Google Translate Accuracy
by Milam Aiken and Shilpa Balan
The New Five-Year-Rule
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translation Theory
How to Avoid Communication Breakdowns in Translation or Interpretation?
by Sahar Farrahi Avval
A Taxonomy of Human Translation Styles
by Michael Carl, Barbara Dragsted, and Arnt Lykke Jakobsen

  Language & Communication
Words of Greek Origin
by Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos
Translation and Neologisms
by Forough Sayadi

  Literary Translation
'Speaking in the Feminine': Considerations for Gender-Sensitive Translation
by Kate James

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal
Literary Translation

'Speaking in the Feminine':

Considerations for Gender-Sensitive Translation

by Kate James


After translating Lucien Francoeur's collection of poetry 'Neons in the Night' into English, Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood expressed her unease at feeling forced into 'speaking in the masculine'. Taking this factor as its starting point, this paper aims to give an overview of current translational paradigms applied to gender-sensitive texts, particularly relating to feminist and/or lesbian authors and translators and the way in which sexual identity is transferred, using mainly French and English as the source or target language. In order to do this, the notion of patriarchal language is discussed as well as the counter-reaction to this phenomenon and the ensuing strategies encountered in both original works and the translated text combining radical feminist literary and linguistic experimentation, noting the influence this phenomenon may exert on intercultural identity. The visibility of women in translation is discussed and illustrated by methods which the gender-conscious translator may adopt to find an ideologically suitable speaking place.

It is suggested that the state of advancement of gender-sensitive translational issues in Quebec is particularly well-developed due to several factors, namely sensitivity to language reform, bilingual status, the spread of feminist ideas and acceptance of gay and lesbian identity, as well as the close contact that is possible between writers and translators. This climate has not only enabled writers to publish experimental feminist works with different linguistic codes but has also allowed feminist translators to put into action a series of series of translational strategies to focus on the process of constructing meaning in the activity of transformation.



Changer les mots, c'est changer les regards1
France Théoret

  1. Introduction
  2. n 1980, the bilingual edition of 'Neons in the Night', selected poems of the Quebec poet Lucien Francoeur was published, translated for the first time into English by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. In her introduction, de Lotbinière-Harwood states what you hold here is the fist of a two-tone revolution. a quiet one, an acid one, the search for identity, the pursuit of intoxication. a delicate balance. tightrope/darkness on the edge. we of the québec-rock generation are tender volunteer/victims of the struggle.

    (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1980: 7)

    The rise of feminism in the 1970's and 1980's induced a growing reflection on the gendered role of language with recognition of the permeating nature of patriarchal notions.
    The 'two-tone revolution' here may be seen as referring to the stance taken towards attempts at creating a cultural and linguistic Quebec identity, rejecting pure French and imperialist English influences. Thus, both linguistically and socio-politically, Quebec nationals could be seen in an effort to create a culture of their own, reflecting the country's own development rather than external influences. This 'search for identity' can be seen to be pursued by other 'volunteer/victims of the struggle' in the 1980's through more general and globally widespread movements such as feminism and subsequent gender awareness. The parallel spread of interest in translation studies as a result of the cultural turn led to awareness of the importance of translation as a cultural product, with North American interest in this field developing in a particularly propitious climate of bilingualism and the quest for identity. Gender awareness may be seen to be a motivating factor in the subsequent remark made by de Lotbinière-Harwood concerning the aforementioned poetry:

    Francoeur was the first and last male poet I translated. During the three years I spent on his poetry, I realized with much distress that my translating voice was being distorted into speaking in the masculine. Forced by the poem's stance, by language, by my profession, to play the role of male voyeur. As if the only speaking place available, and the only audience possible were male-bodied. I became very depressed around meaning'.

    (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1995: 64)

    Thus, the initial affiliation felt for the rebellious Quebec spirit of independence expressed through the language of rock can be seen to move towards the context of feminist awareness of gender-related language and to be consequently invested in 'the spirit of sisterhood'(de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1995: 64).

    Following a brief definition of the notion of gender, examples of paradigms ruling current work in Anglo-American translation studies will be given. This study will then briefly comment on gender-sensitive implications for translating ideologically antipathetic or antagonistic texts, using 'Neons in the Night' by Lucien Francoeur and its translation by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood as an example of such a notion. The content of the poems will be examined in relation to the possibility of a sexist stance, thus leading to the impression of 'speaking in the masculine'. Correspondingly, women's relationship to language will also be discussed and subsequently, the visibility of women in translation will be examined in order to illustrate methods which gender conscious feminist translators may adopt to find an ideologically suitable 'speaking place' and audience. Implications of this activity will be discussed as well as criticisms encountered.

  3. Gender and translation
  4. In order to fully discuss the relationship of gender-sensitive language with translation, it may first be considered necessary to define the notion of gender and its importance in the context of translated texts.

    1. Gender
    2. With the rise of the feminist movement, the notion of gender evolved, extending upon the simple definition limited to biological sexual difference (von Flotow, 1997: 5). The notion of gender developed into a phenomena of acculturation (von Flotow, 1999) consisting of the process of conditioning girls or boys into becoming women or men by adopting socio-culturally acceptable attributes and behaviour according to the contemporary requisites of a given society. This may be seen to echo the idea expressed by de Beauvoir that 'one is not born, but rather becomes a woman' (translation: Parshley, 1953)2.

      However, a second definition of gender can clearly be seen as necessary, the strictly feminist view of gender concerning women and their subordination in a patriarchal society seeming too restrictive as 'gender definitions are neither universal nor absolute manifestations of inherent differences but relatively local, constantly changing constructions' (Maier, Massardier-Kennedy 1996: 230). Definitions are thus subject to various influences, notably sexual orientation and the increase in awareness of gay and lesbian interests. The notion of gender in Western society may thus be seen to include considerations of sexual preference.

    3. Aspects of gender in translation studies

    Two paradigms for gender-related work prominent in current translation studies have been identified by von Flotow (1999), corresponding to both aforementioned notions of gender. The first subscribes to 'ideas that derived from feminist theory and practice and thus focus[es] on women as a special, minority group that has a particular history within 'patriarchal' society' (von Flotow, 1999). It is this feminist viewpoint, aiming at making women 'visible and resident in society' (Lotbinière-Harwood, 1991: 11), rejecting the invisibility of women translators in translation and thus creating an alternative to the 'male-bodied' audience with a woman's speaking voice that shall be examined here.

    The second paradigm defined by von Flotow (1999) can be seen to interact with the second definition of gender and is often 'aligned with gay or lesbian identities/interests' (idem), questioning aspects of traditional gender characteristics and identity. This paradigm may also be seen to question the 'patriarchal' element of translation by seeking new associations and identities in translation through, for example, 'camp talk' (Harvey, 1998), enlarging conventional boundaries of gender as 'man or woman'.

  5. Gender in Ideologically antipathetic texts
  6. The notion of gender may thus be determined by individual preferences and convictions as well as different socio-cultural factors. With such varied positions, the translator, as well as the reader, may be confronted with a source text containing an aspect of ideology which raises feeling of aversion. These texts could be described as being ideologically antipathetic, and may be seen to imply a certain decision-making process.

    1. The choice of the translator
    2. When faced with ideologically antipathetic or antagonistic texts, the woman translator may feel it problematic finding a suitable translation strategy to render the tone of the ST whilst being morally acceptable from a gendered point of view. As de Lotbinière-Harwood has stated, Francoeur was the 'first and last male poet [she] translated', instead turning to texts written by women of dominant feminist sympathies. This way of adhering to ideological values and preserving female identity through a rejection of androcentric texts has been questioned by Carole Maier who has stated that a translator should 'give voice, to make available texts that raise difficult questions and open perspectives' (Maier 1985: 4), thus supporting the translation of both antagonistic and acceptable works. The example quoted by Maier to demonstrate this notion is that of her translation of the poetry written by the Cuban poet Octavio Armand. In this poetry, women are overshadowed by male dominance, characters such as the mother figure being referred to in an anonymous way, without the use of her name. Maier claims this has made her a 'stronger and more antagonistic reader and translator' (Maier 1985:6), able to personally confront the text in a more engaged way. The strategy chosen by Maier consisted largely of openly discussing her sentiments concerning the male dominance of the text with the translated text containing few examples of feminist interventionist methods as defined by von Flotow (1991). However, characters such as the mother, 'robbed of her voice' (Maier, 1985) in the original text have been reinstated. This strategy may be seen to be consistent with the parallel assertion made by Kolodny (1980) in relation to the translation of women authors that,

      all the feminist is asserting[...] is her own equivalent right to liberate new (and perhaps different) significances from these same text; and at the same time her right to choose which features of a text she takes as relevant because she is, after all, asking new and different questions of it.

      (Kolodny, 1980: 18)

      This may be applied to the case of Maier's translation of Armand's poetry where the presence of female characters, felt by the translator to be both significant and relevant, may thus be seen to be reinforced. Although this strategy may be seen to apply in the case of an absence of women in a given text, it can be considered difficult to apply in the case of Francoeur's poetry, which may be considered a male-dominated, macho text as felt by de Lotbinière-Harwood.

    3. 'Neons in the Night'

    The collection of poetry contained in 'Neons in the Night' (Francoeur, 1979) is described by Lotbinière-Harwood as being the 'point of tension which impelled her forward into a feminist agenda' (cited in Simon, 1996: 31). Representative examples of the content of the poetry can be seen in lines such as the following excerpt from the poem 'Wonderwoman':

    la blonde têtue fofolle ricaneuse

    dans ses cheveux

    je l'attends au tornant


    naïade naïve femme sex-o-fun

    elle me happe les parties

    me lappe les rappels

    me tombe sur le cœur

    (lui ai dit de me crisser la paix

    baisser la culotte

    me montrer son vrai visage)

    the blonde stubborn barbie-brained giggly

    in her hair

    i lie in ambush


    naïve naiade sex-o-fun femme

    she snatches my parts

    laps up my encores

    she's a heartburner

    (told her to fuck off

    pull down her pants

    show me her true self)

    (Francoeur, 1973)

    (translation: de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1979)

    It may be significant to note de Lotbinière's translation of 'fofolle ricaneuse' [gloss: scatty giggler/giggly] as 'barbie-brained giggly', the typically androcentric stereotype of the silly blonde woman being reinforced through the use of the name of the universally-known doll thus contributing to the impression of 'speaking in the masculine' and 'play[ing] the role of male voyeur'. The whole poem may also be seen as being directed towards a 'male-bodied' audience, the scathing and demising attitude towards women being a possible reason for becoming 'depressed around meaning'. Such attitudes are recurrent throughout the poems, women being referred to, for example, as 'queen of stridency, a blonde for swine' (translation: de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1979, 3 'vaginal blower' (idem)4, 'ya bitch' (idem)5 as well as 'bitchy feline feminines superfine fellinians' (idem)6. Other images also refer negatively to women who are often explicitly portrayed as sexual objects in a male-dominated world of rock and drugs.

  7. Women and language
  8. It may be claimed that the rise of feminism has increased awareness of the influence of male-dominated language in society and in texts. Before discussing interventionist feminist strategies in translation, it may be interesting to first briefly examine women's relation to language and developments that have been made.

    1. Language in society
    2. In addition to what has been considered as a relative absence or the negative portrayal of women in androcentric texts, attention has been brought to the language used in society and literature as not only a communicative but also a manipulative tool (von Flotow, 1997:8). It has been recognised in the field of sociolinguistics that gender-marked differences occur in speech patterns and communicational situations and various explanations for this phenomena have been proposed (Wardhaugh, 1986: 313-331). It has also been suggested that the different acculturation processes between genders lead to the devaluation of women's expression and thus the existence of male-dominated speech (Tannen, 1993: 9). Moreover, in a Canadian study, it has been proposed that men and women originate from different sociolinguistic sub-cultures (Maltz and Borker, 1982 ) which may reinforce this difference and thus attitudes towards it in this specific community.

      Male-dominated speech may be considered as patriarchal language, defined as 'the language forged and used by the institutions in society largely ruled by men' (von Flotow, 1997: 8). This conventional model has long been recognised by many to be dominant. Relevance may still be felt in the statement expressed over a century ago by Thomas Hardy that 'it is hard for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs'.

    3. The effects of feminism on language

    The rise of North American feminism led to two considerations of language in relation to women, namely the reformist and the radical approach (von Flotow, 1997: 8). The former attitude viewed patriarchal language as being reformable and led to the introduction, for example, of non-sexist and gender-free designations in areas such as job descriptions. A radical approach, however, considered language to be an important cause of women's oppression and led to the notion that 'since language determines reality, women may be alienated not only from language but also from the female experience it fails to encode' (Cameron, 1985: 93), thus implying the need to create a new female-orientated language to express women's experiences. From the point of view of a female translator, as can be seen through the discontentment of de Lotbinière-Harwood, 'forced by...[her] profession to play the role of male voyeur', the notion of oppression may indeed seem great, acting to induce feminist interventionist strategies in translated texts.

    One reaction to the notion of patriarchal language was the growth in numbers and influence of experimental feminist writings combined with public lectures and readings of such work by the authors with translation playing an important role in the propagation of such work the Canadian climate being propitious to the transmission of feminist intervention. Feminist writers also took political stances to language, Quebec becoming the first French-speaking area where women feminized their language as Lise Gauvin points out stating that women:

    [Women] have thought out language, articulating theory with transgressive, provocative practices. They have called themselves authers, proud of the so-called silent e and ready to confront the conceited reactions these new tones would provoke.7

    (Gauvin, 2000, my translation)

    Such 'authers', believing that patriarchal language was one of the causes of women's oppression, sought to create a new form of language that women could identify with and thus evolve outside the male-dominated society experienced up until this time. Writers such as Nicole Brossard combined radical feminist literary and linguistic experimentation to produce works which portrayed the world from a woman's stance, for a gender sensitive audience. With such developments in one given linguistic community, adequate translation strategy could be seen as necessary in order to transmit this rejection of patriarchal language to all members of an intercultural, bilingual environment such as Canada.

  9. Feminist strategy in the translated text
  10. It has already been noted that language has been approached with a political aspect in Quebec, including a national stance, as can be seen through the work of authors such as Francoeur, and the feminist point of view, both of which may lead to consequent developments being made to language. In turn this may prove to be of great importance in determining the possibility in translation to respond to gender-orientated feelings. Nicole Brossard expands upon this fact stating that

    For Canadians and Quebeckers, translation has been very important for women writers, for translators and for publishers as we had to bring the patriarchal side of language into question. Language colonised us and we felt the need to study it carefully and to find ways of reinvesting it with our own subjectivity. 8

    (Brossard, 2001, my translation)

    This need may be dealt with all the more effectively through the transcultural system present in Canada and the possibility for translators to work closely with authors of the source text which may be seen to have favoured the use of feminist strategies in translation.

    1. The different strategies
    2. Reading as a woman has been characterised as a two-fold process involving, firstly, feminist readings of male texts, exposing the hostile androcentric paradigms contained in them as has been seen, and, secondly, the discovery, or re-discovery, of women authors and their works (Henitiuk, 1999: 474). Concerning the latter process, Quebec writers such as Nicole Brossard emphasize the importance of working closely with their translators in order to convey meaning in the most effective way, acknowledging that translation may render the writer vulnerable due to gender-based considerations (Brossard, 2001).

      It has also been noted that 'a translator is first of all a reader, and every reader [...] seeks out in [the text] those values most congenial to him' (Ury 1977: 183). The radical feminist translator may therefore see him/herself as the mediator in a chain consisting of author-translator-reader and may thus wish to intervene in the text in order to make up for differences between languages and cultures by concentrating on the transmission of feminist ideology. These manipulative strategies may be seen

      applied both at the lexical level of the text - in the translation of pronouns, for example - and in terms of the text as a whole, where feminist strategies concern footnotes and commentary, and at times they lead a translator to claim a text by intervening in one way or another.

      (Maier, 1998:99)

      These remarks echo assertions made by von Flotow concerning the different interventionist strategies which exist in feminist translation, the main focus also being placed on prefacing and footnoting as well as supplementing, with the inclusion of hijacking, a strategy which may be considered as being more controversial than the former ones (von Flotow, 1991). These strategies will be examined before discussing the possibly distorting effects on the audience through the transmission of a gender-biased translation

      1. Prefacing and footnoting
      2. In a preface, 'the modest, self-effacing translator, corollary to the notion of transparency, is replaced by a translator who is an active participant in the creation of meaning, and may even immodestly, flaunt her signature' (Godard, 1986: 7). The strategies of prefacing, and also footnoting, may be seen as practically routine in feminist translation (von Flotow, 1991), permitting the translator to express his/her own strategies according to the intentions of the original text.

        In her prefaces, Godard (1986, 1991 etc) explains her vision of the source text and translation strategy she has used to convey meaning. A more radical example of prefacing can be seen in the translator's preface to Lettres d'une autre by Lise Gauvin, translated by de Lotbinière-Harwood (1989). Here, de Lotbinière-Harwood explains:

        My translation practice is a political activity aimed at making language speak for women. So my signature on a translation means: this translation has used every possible feminist translation strategy to make the feminine visible in language. Because making the feminine visible in language means making women seen and heard in the real world. Which is what feminism is all about.

        (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1989: 9)

        In the rest of the preface, explanations are given to changes made to the original text and footnotes also convey these policies. Although these strategies have been clearly explained, in defining her translation practice as a political activity and moreover one which extols feminism, de Lotbinière-Harwood also carefully selects her audience. The 'depression around meaning' felt when translating Francoeur's poetry may be seen to have evolved into a repositioning of meaning around language which may, however, attract criticisms of the translating voice being distorted into speaking in the feminine.

      3. Supplementing
      4. Von Flotow (1991) has qualified supplementing as the compensation for linguistic differences, a process which 'calls for interventionist moves by the translator ...[that] has always been recognised as a legitimate process of translation' (Simon, 1996: 14). As works by radical feminist writers often involve the creation of new language or the transformation of existing patriarchal forms, supplementing may be seen as a particularly important aspect of the translated text in order to convey new feminist stances. It has been suggested by von Flotow that:

        translators have had to develop creative methods similar to those of the source-text writers; they have had to go beyond translation to supplement their work, making up for the differences between various patriarchal languages by employing wordplay, grammatical dislocations and syntactic subversion in other places in their texts.

        (von Flotow, 1997: 24)

        Placed in the bilingual context, supplementing may be seen as an especially important feature due to the grammatically gendered nature of French, along with the radical feminist policy of appropriating and transforming patriarchal language particularly active in this culture. Indeed, in order to avoid 'speaking in the masculine', Quebec writers have adapted grammatical requirements as can be seen with the creation of feminised neologisms such as 'écrivaine' ('auther'), already discussed in 4.2, or 'professeure'( teacher/professor noting the mark of the grammatically feminine gender), as well as 'essentielle' (a grammatically masculine noun/adjective, here with the addition of the feminine -le) or 'ma continent', a grammatically masculine noun here changed by Nicole Brossard. Barbara Godard (1984, 1986, 1991) has discussed the difficulty of rendering these features in English and has noted that whereas often a silent 'e' may be compensated elsewhere in a text, other terms are often left untranslated or footnoted (cited in von Flotow, 1997). Wordplay may also be used to compensate linguistic loss, such as the translation of 'réalité' as 're(her)ality', 'dé-lire' as reading/deliring' (idem). The claim made by de Lotbinière-Harwood that 'we need to resex language' (1991: 117) has led to renderings such as 'auther' to translate 'écrivaine' or the highlighting of feminine aspects of gendered words like 'amante', translated as 'shelove' (Brossard, 1990, de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1997). In order to justify the use of certain neologisms such as 'shelove', de Lotbinière-Harwood has stated that 'by being gender-specific about the characters' interpersonal relations, in a way English grammar does not normally allow, these feminization strategies make it possible for target-language readers to identify the lesbian in the text' (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1995: 162).

        Although supplementing has been described as being a conventionally acceptable practice, the introduction of new gender sensitive language may highlight radical feminist tones and give rise to criticism of exaggerated intervention. The new desire to 'speak in the feminine', creating speaking places adapted to female as well as male-bodied audiences, may be seen to require new linguistic devices which must be conveyed by the translator as mediator in the most appropriate way possible. Politically involved radical translators may be taking overt feminist stances through their work, yet in the case of the translation of texts by radical feminist Quebec writers, intent on changing patriarchal language and ideas, this may be seen as acceptable supplementing practice.

      5. Hijacking

      Von Flotow (1991) has described hijacking as the appropriation of a text with no particular feminist stance by the feminist translator. The example given is of de Lotbinière-Harwood's translation of Lise Gauvin's 'Lettres d'une autre', in which the generic masculine used by the author is feminized by the translator. This leads to terms such as 'Québecois' being translated as 'Québecois-e-s', a way of showing the specific inclusion of women through the addition of the silent 'e' between hyphens. This type of process was justified by de Lotbinière-Harwood in her preface to this book, entitled 'About the her in other', discussed previously, where it is claimed that every strategy possible will be used to 'make the feminine visible in language' (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1989: 9).

      Other examples of hijacking may seem less interventionist, yet denote the choice of the translator to highlight speaking in the feminine. For example, in 'Le Désert Mauve' by Nicole Brossard, de Lotbinière-Harwood chooses to refer to 'l'aube', a grammatically feminine noun in French, as 'she' in the English translated text. The translator claims that this personification of a noun serves to 'further eroticize the foreign tongue' (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1995: 162), although the extent to which it may be claimed that such additions imply an unnecessary appropriation of the source text by applying unnecessary radical strategies may be questioned.

      Although hijacking may be seen as a choice to convey the translator's political, feminist ideas, it may also be considered ideologically difficult to accept the translation of a text whose ideas and form have thus been deliberately changed. Such strategies, too intent on showing a feminist viewpoint and over-investing in the author's stance of 'speaking in the feminine' may partly explain why the ideas and mediating effects of such translators have met with opposition

    3. Criticism of interventionist techniques
    4. Although the aforementioned strategies may have been devised to counter feelings of the translator's voice 'being distorted into speaking in the masculine', it may be argued that such methods could, to varying degrees, be seen as a distortion into the feminine. Indeed, feminist translation has met with criticism not only from outside feminist circles, but also maybe more surprisingly from within.

      It has been argued that criticisms developing outside feminism, and favouring an 'objective' approach to writing, are the result of ignorance of the latest developments and may hamper the reception of feminist texts as well as marginalizing scholars who choose to work in this field (von Flotow, 1997: 77). More significant criticism may therefore be seen to result from work within feminism, associated with three main issues as identified by von Flotow (1998) as mainstream 'translationese' of third world works, elitist translation and hypocritical translation.

      1. Elitism
      2. Feminist texts have often been accused of elitism, it being considered 'easy to see that this writing was not meant for popular consumption but was aimed at an educated readership with some knowledge of the burgeoning women's movement and the willingness to engage in linguistic work' (von Flotow, 1997). Feminist translation may be considered as furthering this problem by drawing on a mixture of languages and culture which are often difficult to interpret for non-bilingual readers. An example of particular criticism of this nature in the North American context may be seen through charges made by Robyn Gillam (1995) of elitism, cultural inappropriateness and meaninglessness in English translations of work by Nicole Brossard. It is argued that some translations complicate an already difficult source text by expanding on complex wordplay and by privileging phonetic associations rather then actual meaning (cited in von Flotow, 1997: 80). Godard's translations are criticised in this way by Gillam stating that Quebec writing is thus 'reduced to an intellectual game where there exists nothing but words and their meaning' (Gillam, 1995: 12). An example may also be seen in the following extract of Under Tongue (1987), the translation by de Lotbinière-Harwood of Brossard's Sous la langue (1987) where we may read:

        Fricatelle ruisselle essentielle aime-t-elle dans le touche à tout qui arrondit les seins la rondeur douces des bouches ou l'effet qui la déshabille ?

        (Brossard, 1987)

        Does she frictional she fluvial she essential does she in the all-embracing touch that rounds the breasts loves the mouths' soft roundness or the effect undressing her.

        (de Lotbinière-Harwood, 1987)

        This text was originally written to be read aloud at an experimental poetry evening and therefore particular attention has been paid to alliterative effect. The translation reflects this concern, concentrating on transferring connotations of the sound 'elle' by the addition of 'she' in the English translation as well as other alliterative concerns, such as repetitions of soft vowels, although phonetically different to the original French.

        Although such a process has been criticised, this strategy may however be seen in some cases to reflect an author's original concerns. Referring to her work French Kiss, Nicole Brossard has stated:

        I've written some things just because of wordplay, reinventing meaning, constantly going from one level of sense to another...you write a word, a sentence and then you let it travel amongst visual and homophonic connotations and semantic similarities.9

        (Brossard, 2001, my translation)

        Thus, translations concerned with transferring such linguistic qualities into a target language may be seen to be justified if, to a certain extent, alliteration is privileged over meaning which may additionally have been 'reinvented', further complicating the translation process.

      3. Hypocrisy

    The critic Rosemary Arrojo has used the terms 'opportunism', 'hypocrisy', and 'theoretical incompetence' in relation to translations resulting from 'feminist activism' (1994: 160). Hypocritical translations are considered to 'take possession' of the source text, highlighting the feminist message, or even inserting such content where this is not originally present, as well as mitigating 'offensive' forms of machismo (idem). Her criticism is based on three main points. Firstly, it is argued that feminist translators claim to be faithful to the source text, although their appropriation of the latter shows their lack of respect for equivalence. Secondly, it is also pointed out that 'male violence' is severely condemned in translation, whereas radical feminist strategies, as can be seen with hijacking techniques, may be considered no less violent (Arrojo, 1994: 149). Finally, von Flotow notes that Arrajo 'considers the generalised references to post-structuralist theories, with which some textual interventions are justified, travesties of these theories' (von Flotow, 1998: 7).

  11. Conclusion
  12. It may therefore be seen that the rise of feminism in the 1970's and 1980's induced a growing reflection on the gendered role of language with recognition of the permeating nature of patriarchal notions. In Quebec, the political stance taken to reforming the language to which people from all outlooks were sensitive, allowed a dynamic impulse to be given to feminist concerns. The feelings expressed by de Lotbinière-Harwood stating her distress at her 'translating voice being distorted into speaking in the masculine' may be seen to echo concerns felt by contemporary feminist writers and other translators.

    De Lotbinière-Harwood has acknowledged that the strategies she uses are possible in translation because of the specific cultural and socio-political context, where a radical feminist translator may choose to work on feminist texts to be published by an anglophone feminist publishing house (cited in von Flotow, 1997: 30). This climate has thus enabled feminists not only to publish experimental works with different linguistic codes, but also to put into action a series of translational strategies in order to obtain what Godard has called 'transformance', used to emphasise 'the work of translation, the focus on the process of constructing meaning in the activity of transformation' (Godard, 1990). Although interventionist strategies have been criticised, the intercultural context in Canada naturally favours collaboration between writers and translators, and thus a certain complicity, or at least tolerance, may be seen to prevail concerning the translation of feminist writings. Radical feminist translation, in this context, may be seen as furthering gendered linguistic policies, transferring into English the dynamic evolution of the feminist French Canadian language policy, thus creating a female-bodied audience. As the two languages do not share the same features, a direct transference may be considered problematic, and therefore certain translation strategies may seem justified.

    It may however seem more difficult to justify radical interventionism such as hijacking in order to create a gender-sensitive speaking place, as the author's original intention do not appear to be respected. It seems important in this case to understand the political nature of the translator's actions in order to be aware of possible appropriation of the source text and the extent to which a translating voice may, ironically, be distorted into speaking too forcefully in the feminine.


Arrojo, R. (1994) 'Fidelity and the Gendered Translation' TTR 7(2): 147-164

Beauvoir, S. de (1949) Le Deuxième Sexe, Paris: Gallimard. Translation by Parshley, H. (1952), The Second Sex, New York: Kopf

Brossard, N. (1987) Désert Mauve, Montreal: L'Hexagone. Translation by de Lotbinière-Harwood (1990), Mauve Desert, Toronto, Coach House

Brossard, N. (1987) Sous la Langue, dual language edition, translated by de Lotbinière-Harwood as Under Tongue, Montreal: L'Essentielle

Brossard, N. (2001) 'De la traduction et d'autres sujets pertinents', entretien avec Brossard, N. par Durand, M. Double Change 2, 2001

Accessed at: www.doublechange.com on 10/08/02

Cameron, D. (1985) Feminism and Linguistic Theory, Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press.

de Lotbinière-Harwood (1989) 'About the her' in other', preface to Letters from an Other, Toronto: The Women's Press. Translation of Gauvin, L. Lettres d'une autre

Flotow, L. von (1991) 'Feminist Translation: Contexts, Practices, Theories', TTR 4(2): 69-84

Flotow, L. von (1997) Translation and Gender: Translating in the 'Era of Feminism', Manchester: St Jerome Publishing

Flotow, L. von (1998) 'Dis-Unity and Diversity' in Unity in Diversity, ed. Bowker, L., Manchester, St Jerome Publishing

Flotow, L. von (1999) 'Genders and the translated text: Developments in 'transformance'', Textus n°2, 1999.

Accessed at: http://www.tilgher.it/textusart_flotow.html on 15/08/02

Francoeur, L. (1980) Neons in the Night, dual language edition, translated by de Lotbinière-Harwood, S. (1980) Montreal: Véhicule Press

Gauvin, L. (2000) Langagement, l'écrivain et la langue au Québec, Montréal: Boréal

Gillam, R. (1995) 'The Mauve File Folder: Notes on the Translation of Nicole Brossard', Paragraph 16: 8-12. Cited in Flotow, L. von (1997) Translation and Gender: Translating in the 'Era of Feminism', Manchester: St Jerome Publishing

Godard, B. (1984) 'Translating and Sexual Difference' , Resources for Feminist Research, 13(3): 13-16

Godard, B. (1986) 'Translators Preface', Lovhers, Montreal: Guernica Editions. Translation of Brossard, N. (1980) Amantes, Montreal: Quinze

Godard, B. (1990) 'Theorizing Feminist Discourse/Translation' in Bassnett, S. & Lefevere, A. (eds) Translation, History, Culture, London: Pinter Publishers. Cited in Flotow, L. von (1999) 'Genders and the translated text: Developments in 'transformance'', Textus n°2, 1999.

Accessed at: http://www.tilgher.it/textusart_flotow.html on 15/08/02

Godard, B. (1991) 'Translator's Preface', Picture Memory, Montreal: Guernica Editions. Translation of Brossard, N. (1982) Picture Theory, Montreal, Editions Nouvelle Optique

Harvey, K. (1998) 'Translating Camp Talk: Gay Identities and Cultural Traditions', in Venuti, L. The Translation Studies Reader, London & New York: Routledge

Henitiuk, V. 'TranslatingWoman: Reading the Female through the Male', Meta XLIV, 3, 1999

Kolodny, A. (1980) 'Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism', Feminist Studies 6(1):1-25

Lotbinière-Harwood, S. de (1980) Preface to Neons in the Night by Lucien Francoeur, Montreal: Véhicule Press

Lotbinière-Harwood, S. de (1991) Re-Belle et Infidèle. La Traduction comme pratique de réécriture au féminin/The Body Bilingual. Translation as Rewriting in the Feminine, Toronto: The Women's Press & Montreal: les éditions du remue-ménage

Lotbinière-Harwood, S. de (1995) 'Geographies of why' in Simon, S. (ed.) Culture in Transit: Translating the Literature of Quebec, Montreal: Vehicule Press

Maier, C. (1985) 'A Woman in Translation, Reflecting', Translation Review 17: 4-8

Maier, C. (1998) 'Issues in the Practice of Translating Women's Fiction', Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 75: 95-108

Maier, C. and Massardier-Kennedy, F. (1996) 'Gender in/and Literary Translation', Translation Horizons. Beyond the Boundaries of the Translation, ed. M.G. Rose, Binghamton, NY: CRIT. Cited in Simon, S. (1996) Gender in Translation. Cultural identity and the Politics of Transmission, London:Routledge

Maltz, D. N. & Borker, R. A. (1982) 'A Cultural Approach to Male-Female Miscommunication'. Cited in Wardaugh, R. (1986), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Oxford: Blackwell

Simon, S. (1996) Gender in Translation. Cultural identity and the Politics of Transmission, London:Routledge

Tannen, D. (1994) Gender and Discourse, New York: Oxford University Press

Ury, M. (1977) 'The Complete Genji' Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 37(1): 183-201. Cited in Henitiuk, V. 'Translating Woman: Reading the Female through the Male', Meta XLIV, 3, 1999

Wardaugh, R. (1986), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Oxford: Blackwell

1 Changing words is changing attitudes (my translation)

2 'on ne naît pas femme, on le devient' (de Beauvoir, 1949)

3 'reine de stridence, blonde à cochons'

4 'souffleuse vaginale'

5 'ma câlisse', a 'joual' (French Canadian expression)

6 'femmes félines très chiennes bien fines féliniennes'

7 'ont aussi pensé la langue, articulant leur théorie à des pratiques transgressives et provocatrices. Elles se sont nommées écrivaines, fières de ce e qu'on disait muet et prêtes à braver les effets de vanité que la nouvelle sonorité provoquerait'.

8 ...entre les Canadiens et les Québécois, la traduction a été très importante pour les femmes écrivains, pour les traducteurs et les éditeurs parce que nous avions besoin de remettre en cause le côté patriarcal du langage. Le langage nous a colonisé, et nous avons ressenti le besoin de l'étudier avec soin pour trouver des moyens de le réinvestir avec notre propre subjectivité. (Brossard, 2001)

9 'J'ai écrit certaines choses uniquement à cause des jeux de mots, en réinventant leur signification, passant constamment d'un niveau de sens à un autre...on écrit un mot, une phrase et on la laisse voyager à travers les connotations visuelles, homophoniques, les ressemblances sémantiques.'