The Right to a Bear's Arms

When translating from French to English, it can often be the nuances of the grammar that are both the most difficult and the most crucial to the cohesiveness, or to the true expression of a text’s meaning.

Mistakes in English to French translation are emphasised in the instance of legal documents, for which the stakes can be much higher than, say, a slight error in a business document.

For example, taking one of the United States’ landmark texts, The Bill of Rights, in which the Second Amendment describes:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There are many ways this could be misinterpreted, and calls for a NAATI translator would have been welcomed by General Lafayette (if you remember your old history classes).

A NAATI translator would know that “bear” in this document implies the meaning to hold or present. However, ‘bear’ has many other meanings e.g. the large forest-dwelling mammal with a furry coat. The loss of the conjunction between “keep and bear” would change the entire meaning of the text, suggesting that a well-regulated militia should collect the limbs of Winneh-the-Pooh-like creatures.

This ambiguity only exists in English to French conversion. In French, the word for bears (the animal) is not synonymous.

Additionally, to ‘bear’ something is to withstand and to ‘bare’ is to expose. An English to French translation of this would be a process of inferring ‘bear’ as ‘endure’ and then translate this to endurer.

This becomes more complicated when the suffix ‘ing’ is factored in, or rather, factored out. In French, there is no equivalent for ‘ing’, rather, the verb-suffix denoting ‘to do’ must be employed. So, to be bearing is to be a bearer or to bear in the present tense. If you’re getting confused, don’t worry. Trada is a Brisbane translation service that can explain all of this.

Metaphors such as to ‘bare one’s all’ become frightfully literal when passed through an English to French translation process. ‘Bare’ can become metre a nu, as in someone who exposes, but the subtle self-reference of the third person when stating ‘one’s’, and the possessive ‘all’-and in what respect it appropriates itself to-may be lost by the reader when the translation is made to French. It is up to professional NAATI English to French translators to ensure that these metaphors are inferred correctly by the French reader.

French to English translators and English to French translators of today may do well to avoid the ambiguities of ‘bear’. Another thing to watch out for is signing off a post with an unbearable pun.