Making the Bedouins: Code-Switching as Model for the Translation of Multilingual Drama

Cassandra Silver

Abstract


The translation of theatre from one linguistic and cultural context to another can be uniquely challenging; these challenges are multiplied when the source text is itself multilingual. René-Daniel Dubois’s Ne blâmez jamais les Bédouins, translated into English under the name Don’t Blame the Bedouins by Martin Kevan, unfolds in English, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Mandarin. The original “French” text presents as postdramatic, deconstructing language and identity in a sometimes frenetic pastiche. Kevan’s “Anglophone” text, however, resists the postdramatic deconstruction in the original, instead bulking up Dubois’ macaronic and archetype-heavy collage with some attempts at psychological depth. Because of its polyglossic complexity and because it has been translated, published, and produced in both English and French, it proves an excellent case study that allows for an in-depth analysis of how multilingual theatrical translation can be carried out. I propose that Kevan’s translation of Dubois’ play exhibits not only textual and performative translation, but that he also translates the linguistically-coded aesthetic conventions that distinguish Quebecois and English Canadian drama and their respective audiences. Kevan shows sensitivity to the gap between the politics of language in French and English Canada as well as to the gap between theatrical codes in both linguistic communities by amplifying the psychological realism and consequently tempering the language politics in his “English” version of Dubois’s work. The choices that Kevan made in his translation are here elucidated by borrowing linguistic theories of conversational code-switching to analyze both versions of the play.

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