Thu 22 March 2012

Notes from the Underground #12

© Carmen DeryckeTranslation students at the University College Ghent are busy working on the Dutch translation of Caroline Lamarche’s citybook Patrimoine immatériel: Un séjour au Pays noir, as part of a wider translation project (Intangible Heritage. A stay in the Black Country). The students took a field trip to Charleroi to refine their work in the mining town’s special atmosphere. Désirée Schyns, lecturer in French at the institution and driving force behind the project, has written a report about their jaunt to ‘the Black Country’.


Students and Lecturers from Gent and Mons on excursion in Charleroi.

© Désirée SchynsThe story begins on a cold winter morning, on the 9th of February of this year. Eight masters of translation students from the faculty of applied linguistics at Ghent, and a student from Charleroi studying in Ghent for a year, come together to discuss the translation of Patrimoine immaterial: Un séjour au pays noir, (Intangible Heritage. A stay in the Black Country) Caroline Lamarche’s citybook about Charleroi. Each student has translated a page of the text into Dutch.

The best way to read a text is to translate it; by examining our translations I see it become more and more beautiful. The students’ translations throw new light on Lamarche’s rough, contrary writing, prose that isn’t easy to tame or possess. As translators, we literally go underground: we delve into the text searching for coal, and especially gold. After all, wasn’t coal once called black gold?

© Désirée Schyns‘Terril’, how do you translate that best? In the Van Dale (multilingual dictionary) it says: “Belgian Dutch, mining term. Artificial hill in the vicinity of a coalmine, made by ongoing processes of dust and waste deposition. Synonyms: slag heap, spoil heap”. Lamarche’s text also features worlds like ‘trémie’ (a kind of tunnel) that are unknown in France, but are used particularly in and around Liège.

From Ghent, the group travels to Mons, where they’re met by Carola Henn of the Université de Mons (Faculté de Traduction et d’Interprétation / Faculty of Translation and Interpretation). She’s working with four students on the French translation of the Radio Book Erfenis (Legacy), by Joseph Pearce. The next day, thanks to the students from Mons, we follow a tour of Le Bois du Cazier, the memorial dedicated to the mine at Marcinelle, which became tragically infamous after the 1956 accident that took the lives of 262 men. And though Lamarche doesn’t mention this place in her citybook, it’s the best possible way to become acquainted with the region.

© Désirée Schyns

At the end of the tour, when we’re sat inside chatting with the guide, Carola says something that makes everything fall into place beautifully. The story by Pearce deals with a guide who doesn’t just describe the history of a tragedy, but actually carries that tragedy upon him. Lamarche’s text portrays an exhausted region wrestling with a bleak future, and its history was conveyed to us inimitably by a guide just as laden with the weight of tragedy. Her father, a mineworker literally to the core, died at an early age from silicosis; “black lung”. And so Lamarche and Pearce are united through our translation project.

Désireé Schyns, lecturer in French, Department of Translation Polytechnic University of Gent

Read the full report here (in Dutch).


The translations in Ghent and Mons are taking place in the context of a wider translation project, in which higher education students from the various language communities in Belgium work together on the literary translation of two Belgian authors: ‘La traduction littéraire: collaborer pour communiquer’. The project was subsidised by the Prins Filip Fund and is supported by deBuren.


Group photo © Carmen Derycke
All other photos © Désirée Schyns



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