Translating Janet: A note on methodology

I’ve just finished the first draft translation of Pierre Janet’s “THE OBSESSIONS AND THE PSYCHASTH√ČNIE, Book 1.” This turned out to be one of those things I’d never have done if I knew what it entailed from the start. It’s 468 pages in length and required 4 hours a day for the past 7 months. So, here I’ll note some of my methodology in case somebody else takes on a similar project, maybe it can save them some time and trouble.

First, this would not have been possible for me to do without the internet. Google books has a copy of this book digitized, view it here. I downloaded that, which saved an enormous amount of typing.

My approach was to read the text first and get a general idea of the translation. Next I copied, usually 3 or 4 sentences at a time, the digitized text and fed it into three different translation engines.  After a lot of experimentation, the 3 engines that I found best, in order of helpfulness, (your experience may vary) were:

1) Reverso
2) ImTranslator
3) FreeTranslation

Though I generally love all things Google, Google Translate was not very helpful in translating sentences. It does, though, do a good job on single word translations or monkeying around with various definitions of short phrases. The same was my experience with the Bing translator. There are a number of other translation engines out there, but I didn’t find any of them useful.

Next, I copied each of the engine translations and pasted them into a notepad. I compared each for accuracy. Then I would check the definition of each word in online dictionaries. Again, those that I found most helpful are listed in order of importance:

1) Sensagent
2) WordReference
3) Google Translator

Once more, there are any number of other French to English dictionaries out there. In my own experience, I rarely found them helpful. I even paid for a subscription to the Oxford Language Dictionaries Online, yet I found the free versions of Sensagent and WordReference to be superior. And, of course, I have a few of the standard reference hard copy dictionaries.

With some frequency, this was not sufficient to render a good translation. My next recourse was to the forum at WordReference. I usually found my question already asked and answered. On a couple of occasions, I posted my question about the translation and was deeply impressed by the helpfulness and thoroughness of the response. For example, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what Janet was talking about regarding a method of urinalysis. I posted the question and was taken aback by the abundant assistance from the forum members. You can see that post here. All I can say is wow. The other forum members went so far out of their way to help a complete stranger, me, as to read an obscure chemistry journal from the late 1890’s so that the translation would be technically correct. Wow.

Sometimes, when all the above failed, it was necessary to plug a word or phrase into Google itself and see what came back. For example, the words “pays du tendre” don’t make much sense when strictly translated. Reverso brings back the translation as “country of the soft.” Hmm. Toss that phrase into Google and we find that it was a literary and intellectual movement in 17th century France. This sort of fishing expedition was required more often than one might think.

There are some other internet-related techniques that I picked up along the way, but these were the main ones, the most helpful ones.

Now I plan to take a break from the translation, then come back to it and proof read it. In the meantime, I’m paying someone, much more adept in French than me, to check the translation against the original. After that, I’ll either look for a publisher or just post it in the blog.