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French Language YA

On my recent travels in Quebec City, I wandered into a bookshop and took a few sneaky photos of the YA section. I thought I'd share my research with you.

So. To start with, you put something in the window that's bound to grab everyone's attention. This is actually a universal law of bookselling.

The Young Adult section is called Romans Jeunesse (in English, romans means "novels", jeunesse means "youth").

It took me a while to stop thinking that the books were all upside down. I'd never really thought about this, but when you're looking at English language novels on the shelf, the the text usually runs downwards, towards the base of the spine. But with French ones, it runs upwards. So instead of reading the title and author from the top to the base of the spine, you read it from the base to the top.

And for my fellow punctuation geeks: I didn't get a photo of this, but if you open up a French language novel, you'll see that instead of marking out dialogue with speech marks, they use long dashes. If you're not used to it, it looks strangely poetic.

I used to think that translation was about being precise and exact all the time. It's not. Often translation isn't as much about being literal as it is about evoking a similar vibe to the original. "Twilight" in French is le crépuscule. But it doesn't evoke the same sense of mystery and romance as the word twilight in English. So the French versions have completely different titles. 

I often find the novels I know best in English the strangest ones to look at in foreign language bookstores. They look both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Which books did you recognise?

Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. That was really enjoyable to read, and I never knew any of it about French books, for some reason I had always assumed stuff like speech marks were in all books in all languages! Thanks for a interesting post :D

  2. I saw this post on Quebec City and I had to comment with a shout out to Quebec! I live in Montreal. I have to say the French YA books often look similar to their English counterparts (but usually with totally different names). Other novels sometimes have totally different spines (usually in white) and covers. Also, when a novel is translated into French, the text becomes too long and they need to split the book into more than one part. This is because French takes more words to say the same thing than in English.

    Anyways, hope you enjoyed Quebec!

  3. Interesting comment about Twilight vs. crépuscule; in Spanish the title is Crepúsculo. Also, I find it interesting that the translator chose to invert the book and series titles of the Mortal Instruments books. I wonder what went into that decision.

  4. How cool! I'm not sure I've ever seen a book in another language (I mean, besides a textbook lol), which is kind of lame since I'm not very far from Canada.

  5. Very cool! I've only ever seen Spanish-translated YA books before, so it was neat to see some from a country I'm descended from. :)

  6. Wow - so interesting that they shelve them upside down! Very cool pics, Leila!

  7. I believe French speech marks look something like this:
    <> dit le chat. <>
    <> dit le chien.
    ("Hello!" said the cat. "How are you?"
    "I'm fine," said the dog)

    I live in Canada and sometimes we have to read French books in French class. For me it's a strenuating language to listen to but I do like the speech marks!

  8. whoops the markings didn't come out right.

  9. French dialogue formatting is beautiful. To my unaccustomed eyes, anyway. It seems more graceful than English, with its speechmarks everywhere. (Yeah. In case anyone was in ANY doubt about me being a punctuation geek.)

    Lisa! That solves something I've been curious about for ages. I read some of the French version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone back in high school - when I actually knew enough French to read books in it! My French has gone sadly downhill since then! - and I remember noticing whole chunks had been removed in translation and wondering why.

    I visited Montreal and Quebec City last month and loved them both. You live in a beautiful part of the world :-)

  10. I'm multilingual, so I know most of that.

    But I love that you mentioned the concept of evoking the same feeling in translation. Especially in literary cases that's the most important.


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Item Reviewed: French Language YA Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin