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Dwain Richardson

English Editing in Quebec: Mind Your Noun Strings, Please!

4584806If you regularly work with French copy, you know that French emphasizes nouns more than English does. This results in our Gallic official language constantly using noun strings — that is, strings containing several nouns in a row. They will often take the form [noun] + of + (the) + [noun]:

la gestion de la compagnie
le besoin de nos consommateurs
le développement des communautés
les lieder de Schubert

Translated literally, these are respectively management of the company, needs of our consumers, development of communities and lieder by/of Schubert.

Noun strings are more frequent in French partly because it does not have a possessive form like the English ’s. This is why it is common to see strings such as those above.

French noun strings appear in all print and online media. English has its fair share of noun strings, too. When I wrote about English noun strings on my blog a month ago, one blogger noted that they are the norm in some writing styles, especially in journalism. Although this statement may hold water, I maintain that using too many of them results in wordy English copy, making texts awkward and hard to read.

If editors and translators want to avoid excessive noun strings when working in or translating into English, what options do they have? Below are three suggestions.

  1. Use possessives whenever and wherever possible. As mentioned above, French does not have a possessive case (’s). But this form is prevalent in English. With reference to the French noun strings above, it is possible to write the company’s management, consumers’ needs and Schubert’s lieder. Using possessives is one way to replace (often) wordy verbiage in French copy, making English texts and translations more concise.
  2. Replace nouns with verbs. Editors Canada’s Editing Canadian English and many English-language professionals are unanimous on one point: English naturally emphasizes verbs.1 Consider this when translating into English or doing a concordance reading. Take the third French noun string, développement des communautés, as an example. Instead of translating literally, why not consider “develop (or developing) communities”?
  3. Consider fixed, idiomatic structures. When all else fails, sometimes a fixed, idiomatic structure will fit the bill. When trying to convey the French gestion de la compagnie in English, consider company management if the possessive case is not doable. If you’re a music lover, consider writing something along the lines of “Last night’s recital featured well-known and rarely performed Schubert lieder.”

Caution: The above suggestions may not work in all assigned projects. Use your judgment and consider context.

I will conclude with some real-life text examples. You will first see the original French copy and its literal translations (emphasis and bold print are mine).

Il en résulte une multiplication des façons de gérer ou de s’approprier l’espace muséal, par l’exploration de nouveaux formats ou de nouvelles modalités, mais aussi par la réactivation de dispositifs muséographiques plus classiques (dioramas ou period rooms, entre autres) ou la reprise d’expositions historiques en des reconstitutions fidèles ou revisitées.

The result is a multiplication of ways to manage or appropriate the museum space, not only through exploration of new formats or modalities but also by the reactivation of more classic museographic apparatuses (dioramas and period rooms, among others) or the restaging of historical exhibitions in faithful or revisited reconstructions.

En tant qu’employé, vous devez

•   prendre en considération les besoins de ces communautés dans l’élaboration et la mise en œuvre de politiques et de programmes.

As an employee, you must

•   consider the needs of these communities in the development and implementation of policies and programs.

Applying the three ways to avoid noun strings, I arrived at these edits (emphasis and bold print are mine):

Il en résulte une multiplication des façons de gérer ou de s’approprier l’espace muséal, par l’exploration de nouveaux formats ou de nouvelles modalités, mais aussi par la réactivation de dispositifs muséographiques plus classiques (dioramas ou period rooms, entre autres) ou la reprise d’expositions historiques en des reconstitutions fidèles ou revisitées.

The result yields many ways to manage or appropriate the museum space, not only by exploring new formats or modalities but also by reactivating more classic museographic apparatuses (such as dioramas and period rooms) or restaging historical exhibitions in faithful or revisited reconstructions.

 

 

 

 

 

En tant qu’employé, vous devez

•   prendre en considération les besoins de ces communautés dans l’élaboration et la mise en œuvre de politiques et de programmes.

As an employee, you must

•   consider the communities’ needs in developing and implementing policies and programs.2

 

 

 

If you were to edit or translate the above excerpts, what editorial procedures would you perform?

~~~

Previous «English Editing in Quebec» post: What’s Translatable, What’s Not?

The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. Contact us.

1 Editing Canadian English, 3rd edition, Editors’ Association of Canada, p. 258.
2 To protect the innocent, some texts have been altered. Sources are anonymous.


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