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What’s at Stake in Translating Slang? Postcolonial Plurilingualism in Rachid Djaïdani’s Boumkoeur

2016/4/14 — 15:02

【Text by Stephanie Brynes】

"...verlan lacks both context and an equivalent in the English language."

In 1999, French author Rachid Djaïdani published his first novel,Boumkoeur. In it, a young French Arab named Yaz writes the story of his daily life as an adolescent in the projects outside of Paris, known as thebanlieue. His narrative describes growing up in public housing, dropping out of the education system, living off the streets after his “foreign” name excluded him from the workforce, and the tenuous relationship between troubled youths like himself and the national police. Today, seventeen years after the publication of Djaïdani’s novel, this story is familiar: it is the cornerstone of the French postcolonial literary genre, including the roman beur, as well as the setting for a number of recent, political and historical events in France, such as the 2005 Paris Riots. Boumkoeur called to me as a translator not merely because of its engaging, heart-wrenching story, but also because of its unique relationship to translation. In the novel, language is not merely the medium used to tell the story, but also a literary device that delivers an astounding postcolonial critique of 20th century French society. In the following essay, I investigate the challenges posed to translation by Yaz’s language, as well as the solutions I offer in my own translated excerpt of Djaïdani’s novel. In this way, I attempt to answer a question that is much more complex than it may initially seem: what’s at stake in translating slang?

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