C’est trop auch! The Translation of Contemporary French Literature Featuring Urban Youth Slang
The French post-colonial novel has recently been witnessing the emergence of urban youth language or français contemporain des cités (Goudaillier 2001). This linguistic variety allows underprivileged youths from multi-ethnic suburbs to rebel against authority by deliberately violating standard language norms. Its characteristics include frequent lexical input from immigrant languages, in particular Arabic and English, and the use of verlan at the morphological level, with the latter involving a form of back slang
using syllabic inversion, which can be recurrently applied to heighten its coding function. In view of the social rejection of this ‘antilanguage’ (Halliday 1978), it has had difficulty penetrating into literature. However, this is now beginning to change, with urban youth discourse appearing in a number of novels, mostly by young ‘post-migration’ writers (Geiser 2008), such as Faïza Guène, Insa Sané and Rachid Djaïdani. While this language variety has mainly been dealt with by sociolinguists, some of the novels concerned are now crossing borders, and a multi-disciplinary approach to this phenomenon is now called for, combining linguistic, literary and translatological tools.
The transfer of this heterolingual genre does indeed raise a number of issues. For example, if we assume that translation is a cultural-political practice (Venuti 2008), what options do translators have to convey the resistant discourse of young immigrant slang users? How will the relationship between language use and social identity manifest itself in the target text? And how can a contrastive linguistic analysis of the features of urban youth language help to resolve translation problems? I will draw on a corpus of French and Dutch novels as well as some translations from French in an attempt to answer these questions.