The Fox's Secret:
|(English translations)||▼ Here is my secret. It is very simple||▶ One sees clearly only with the heart||▶ What is essential is invisible to the eyes|
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple -- is translated as 'And now here is my secret, a very simple secret' by Katherine Woods.
As in the French original, this conveys two messages:
|1. The fox announces that he is about to reveal his promised secret. ('And now here is my secret'.)|
|2. The fox comments on the simple nature of the secret. ('a very simple secret'.)|
Here we will take a look at how the two French sentences are translated into English in the five published translations.
|Translation||Voici mon secret. Il est très simple:|
|1||Woods 1943||And now here ismy secret, a very simple secret:|
|2||Cuffe 1995||Now here is my secret -- very simply:|
|3||Testot-Ferry 1995||Now here is my secret. It's very simple.|
|4||Wakeman 1997||This is my secret. It's very simple:|
|5||Howard 2000||Here is my secret. It's quite simple:|
(1) Voici: 'Here is': In English, the normal equivalent of voici is 'here is...'. That's the term used by four English-language translators. Only Wakeman differs by using a direct translation from the French: 'This is my secret'.
Interestingly, three of the five translators add 'and now' or 'now' in front of 'here is'. Obviously they feel that this makes the fox's speech more natural or easier to understand in English.
This particular use of 'now' is the same as that in:
'And now, ladies and gentlemen, the person you've all been waiting for!'
It not only indicates present time, it also suggests a progression to a new stage or a new idea. In fact, there are cases (for example, when someone says: 'Now this is how I see it:...') where 'now' conveys only the fact that something important is about to be said. The sense of 'present time' is almost entirely absent.
In the fox's secret, the meaning of '(and) now' seems to be somewhere in between these two usages. That is, it serves both to spell out the idea of 'the next step' (telling the secret), but also indicates 'present time'.
(3) Mon: 'my':
The fox refers to the secret as mon secret, using the masculine possessive pronoun mon ('my').
The English translators all use the pronoun 'my'. This is the possessive pronoun equivalent to mon, although English doesn't distinguish between masculine and feminine pronouns.
'My' is used in a similar way to French mon. It conveys exactly the same meaning as the French, namely, 'that particular secret -- the one that I mentioned earlier -- that belongs to me'.
(4) Secret: The word word secret is translated as 'secret'. The English meaning of this word is largely the same as the French:
- a. Something kept hidden or unexplained : MYSTERY
b : something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few
c : a method, formula, or process used in an art or a manufacturing operation and divulged only to those of one's own company or craft
- Something taken to be a key to a desired end <the secret of longevity>
Here, the fox's 'secret' fits both senses:
- First, it is knowledge that is shared confidentially only with a few. Indeed, in this story, only the fox knows this secret.
- Secondly, it is a key to a desired end (a deeper understanding of the meaning of love and life).
(5) The translation of il est très simple:
All English translators use the word 'simple' or 'simply' to translate the word simple. The words in the two languages are identical in spelling and meaning, and there is no problem using the English word as an equivalent of the French.
Très is translated as 'very' by three translators and 'quite' by one. Again, this is not problematic.
The major difference comes in the way the grammatical construction itself is rendered. Three of the English translators use the literal equivalent of il est, that is, 'it is'. Two translators go out of their way to change 'it's very simple' into something else.
- Woods uses a noun phrase in apposition: 'my secret, a very simple secret'. Depending on the intonation, this could either emphasise the gravity and clear-cut nature of the secret, making it sound more important, or it could be interpreted as playing it down ('a very simple secret'). This is arguably a smoother rendering, avoiding the almost robotic tone of the original ('Here is my secret. It is very simple').
- Cuffe 1995 uses the idiomatic rendering 'very simply'. 'Very simply' can be understood in several overlapping nuances, although a reader will not necessarily
be conscious of
any conflict among them.
- It could mean that the secret itself is 'very simple'. Even though the adjective 'simple' is transformed into the adverb 'simply', the meaning remains the same.
- It can be understood as emphasising the clear-cut nature of the secret -- that there can be no fudging or prevarication. For instance, the sentence "You are very simply not allowed to go" lays down the situation in black and white, with no room for argument.
- It could also mean 'stated very simply', i.e., that the fox is stating the secret in the simplest terms possible.
Both translations are subtly different from the original.
(6) Level of formality
In the original French, the fox's speech is concise and simple. While this makes for a certain literary elegance, a direct translation into English runs the risk of being stiff and wooden. Only Howard and Wakeman faithfully adhere to the French original: 'Here/This is my secret. It's quite/very simple'. The other translators all depart in some way from the French:
- As we noted above, Woods, Cuffe, and Testot-Ferry all add 'and now' or 'now' at the start. For English speakers, this softens the impact of what might otherwise be a sudden and abrupt raising of a new subject. It also makes the tone more conversational.
- When Woods converts to a noun phrase in apposition: 'my secret, a very simple secret', she softens the mechanical delivery of the original. Repetition of the word 'secret' also serves an emphatic function.
- By translating 'it's very simple' as 'very simply', Cuffe similarly makes the tone of the fox's speech more conversational and natural in English.
In all of these cases the translators appear to be striving to make the speech of the fox more colloquial and lifelike than a direct translation from the French would be.