Fouad Laroui’s fictional work in translation. Strategies of irony and self-mockery in the French source text and the intercultural transfer in German, Dutch, English and Italian

Les romans de Fouad Laroui en traduction: les stratégies d’ironie et d’autodérision dans le texte source en français et le transfert interculturel en allemand, néerlandais, anglais et italien
Start - End 
2018 - 2022 (ongoing)



Fouad Laroui is one of the leading Francophone contemporary writers of Moroccan origin living in the Netherlands and writing in French and Dutch, a multicultural polyglot author whose work is an expression of world literature (Le Bris and Rouaud, 2010;  Damrosh, 2003). Through the characters of his fictional works, Laroui retraces his own life experiences with the necessary distance and self-mockery, on the fine line between the cultural and linguistic memory of his origins and his becoming. By his own admission, he only has “second languages” (Mimoso-Ruiz, to be published). His multicultural belonging puts him in the position of being both “inside” and “outside” cultures and languages, allowing him to have a privileged view on the worlds he crosses. Being an outsider often comes with a painful acknowledgement of exclusion, which he masterfully depicts through a reconciling irony and an indulgent smile that ultimately help heal the wounds. Our research aims to address this ironic stance and its expression in translation.

Translating irony is often considered an impossible endeavor. However, the translator usually ignores linguistic theories stating untranslatability (Nilsen quoting Baldinger, 1989), thus managing to find ways to interpret the author’s intention, stabilize the text and re-create it in the target language. If irony is often used to portray the “other”, after the pirouette of translation there may be a different “otherness” (Lievois, 2017). How do Laroui’s characters become “other” in different languages? Traditionally, translation approaches are considered to be literal or free, but the former usually refer to the source language, whereas the latter seem to address the target language culture (Barbe, 1995). Overcoming the traditional dichotomies between right and wrong, domesticating and foreignizing, this work intends to analyze the ways for a pun to be transferred to a different culture and language (Gentzler, 2001; Lievois & Schoentjes, 2010).

Given Laroui’s belonging to different cultures, in his case it is of paramount importance to put the means of irony and humor into the context of his intercultural experience.  We thus aim to address the translation of irony in an intercultural (Moroccan-French-Dutch) context. Indeed, considering that natural languages are codes and texts are messages, translation equals cultural recoding (Delabastita, 1993). In our project, we will look more closely into “l’identité et la (non)appartenance de tous ceux qui, ayant reçu une éducation française, se trouvent déchirés entre deux mondes, deux cultures et deux langues inconciliables” (Calargé, 2006). 

If irony has clearly been identified as Laroui’s signature style by literary critics and scholars, its implications in terms of translation of his works have not been analyzed yet. We will thus identify Laroui’s strategies of irony. Is it “just” a question of wordplay and puns, or is it subtler, in the tone of the language and the profiling of his characters? How much do words tell us about the psychology of his characters and how much do these characters become just as tridimensional in translation? To analyze these questions, we will examine a corpus of novels and short stories in translation. With a descriptive approach, we will pinpoint irony and self-mockery in his texts and examine their equivalents in translation. We will describe and analyze the strategies used by his translators to reproduce and/or adjust his humor in different languages and cultures. We will highlight similarities within languages that are close (i.e. French-Italian) and different approaches adopted by translators of languages that are farther away from French (i.e. German, Dutch, English). 

When facing the translation of humor, it is important to refer both to humor studies and to the idea of interlinguistic translatability (Vandaele, 2011), in that much humor depends on the lectal qualities of the language yet is also inherent to metalinguistic communication and (socio)linguistic particularities. In fact, unlike metaphors, with irony it is harder to define where it starts and where it ends, and its interpretation depends not only on the proximity of the source and target languages and cultures (i.e. English-German/ French-Italian), but also on the idiosyncrasies of each language user (Barbe, 1995). Ever since the paradigm shift from an interlinguistic approach to an intertextual understanding of translation (Toury, 1979), it has been considered that hypertext happens in spaces and times that come beyond and after the actual writing, translating and reading. Translators are thus first readers (Gentzler, 2001) but also ultimate readers (Piglia, 2014), especially if one considers that translating, like reading, amounts to decoding a secret: it suspends the experience and recomposes it in a different context. 



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Calargé, C. (2006). “De la difficulté d’être UN: prolèmes identitaires, folie et choix de l’exil dans quelques oeuvres de Fouad Laroui”. In Paroles gelées, 22(1). 

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Gentzler, Edwin. (2001). Contemporary Translation Theories. Australia: Footprint Books.

Le Bris, Michel & Rouaud, Jean (2010). Je est un autre.Pour une identité monde. Paris, Gallimard.

Lievois, Katrien. (2017). “La traduction de l’allusion intertextuelle ironique.”In MonTi. Monografiás de Traducción e Interpretación, 9, 125-148.

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Mimoso-Ruiz, Bernadette (to be published). "Introduction". In: Humanisme et dérision : l’œuvre de Fouad Laroui.

Nilsen, Don L.F. (1989). “Better Than the Original : Humorous Translations that Succeed”. In Meta, 34:l, 112–124. 

Piglia, Ricardo. (2014). El último lector. Barcelona. Penguin Random House. (2017).

Toury, Gideon. (1995). Comunicazione e traduzione. Un approccio semiotico(1979), in S. Nergaard (ed.), Teorie contemporanee della traduzione, 45–60. Milano. Bompiani.

Vandaele, Jeroen. (2001). “Si sérieux s’abstenir”. In Target, 13:1, 29–44. 

Vandaele, Jeroen. (2010). “Humor in Translation”. In Handbook of Translation Studies. Volume 1, Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer (ed.), 147–152. Amsterdam. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Vandaele, Jeroen. (2011). “Wordplay in Translation”. In Handbook of Translation Studies. Volume 2, Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer (ed.), 180–183. Amsterdam. John Benjamins Publishing Company.



Phd Student(s)