At the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, the French president Emmanuel Macron paid homage to the translator’s profession, and announced the creation of a “real” prize in France for translation into French (Note: a number of well regarded translation prizes already exist in France).
“Knowledge of language is knowledge of books, and such is the eminent role played by translators that I cannot speak here, before you, without paying them the homage we owe them, because translation is the first thing our diplomats do, indeed it is sometimes the heart of what they do. It involves avoiding misunderstandings, indeed sometimes avoiding little miscomprehensions, it’s about conveying. Multilingualism would not exist without translators and so our two countries owe much to the women and men who translate, who, from one text to another, do not make two realities that ignore each other, but two texts which will then answer each other in their similarities and their irreducible incomprehensibility, untranslatability, as some of you here present might say.
But despite these untranslatables, and because there are these untranslatables that are our feelings, our embedded histories and the fact that our words are the product of our Histories, we are infinitely indebted to our translators. Never could a piece of software replace the talent that is Peter Handke translating René Char, or Jacottet translating Hölderlin. Never, because it is in the silences, it is in the words they decide not to translate, it is in the breath of a phrase that translation lies. It is in the understood misunderstanding that the allusion lies.
We owe all that to our translators, and so our countries are in need not only of shared languages, but translation through books and the untranslatable within them. That is why I would like us, as regards our two languages, to continue to encourage this beautiful work that is translation, and I, along with all of French publishing, would like us to confer even more nobility upon those who translate – over and above the wonderful work you already undertake. And so, with the support of our Minister of Culture, we will create a real prize for translation into French, and assist you publishers, authors and translators in this fine work in order to highlight it even more.”
This speech was of course a very positive sign, and was most warmly welcomed by the profession. However, many people spoke up shortly afterwards to demand fair remuneration rather than a new translation prize.
Indeed, only a few weeks after this speech, the government announced an increase in the Contribution Sociale Généralisée – a tax affecting all sources of income, and which is intended to finance social security cover. This increase will be compensated by a significant drop in contributions to unemployment benefit cover. Yet artists and authors, including translators, pay no contribution to unemployment benefit cover, and will see their purchasing power fall, not rise. The authors’ associations immediately wrote (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/hausse-de-la-csg-les-artistes-auteurs-ecrivent-au-president-et-au-1er-ministre/) to the president and government to alert them to this issue, and also started a petition (http://www NULL.atlf NULL.org/csg-petition-des-artistes-auteurs/). Alas, these initiatives did not prevent the National Assembly brushing aside in just a few minutes (https://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=GY_TB6zKfRA&feature=share) (with no debate) a proposed amendment to the finance bill that would have corrected this injustice.
Nevertheless, the government has announced that it is currently working on an equitable solution for artists and authors. It will be a first test for the new minister of culture, Françoise Nyssen, who was formerly the head of Actes Sud, and a major figure in French publishing.