Saturday , October 20 2018

Discovering Haitian Culture One Sentence at a Time: A Translator’s Journey in the Radio Haiti Archive

“What do you know about Haiti?“ asked Laura during my interview in September 2017. I knew it was a Caribbean country where Creole was spoken; I knew it had suffered a devastating earthquake almost a decade ago; and I knew it struggled economically. And that was about all I knew.

“Well,” she said, “you’re going to learn a lot more”.

And thus began my journey with Radio Haiti. As a French Master’s student in literature, I am in charge of translating thousands of broadcast descriptions from English to French. I love translation. It requires not only the ability to understand the sentences in a text, but their very essence too, and in turn to channel this essence into another dialect. Spelling, conjugation and vocabulary are crucial, of course, but to be a good translator, one must also look beyond the words and explore the context.

The very first description I translated was about the Battle of Vertières which I promptly researched in order to make sense of who Jean Jacques Dessalines was and his significance for Haiti. To my astonishment, the battle was fought between the Haitian rebels and the French colonial army. In all my years in the French educational system, I was never taught about French colonialism. I never knew Haiti was the first successful slave revolution, nor that France asked for an independence debt, which greatly contributed to Haiti’s economic woes. Continue reading

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