God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On Translation Strategies: An Exercise

Today’s on-line edition of Le Monde is currently running the headline: Les magasins de jeux vidéo vont-ils disparaître?

How should we translate that into English?

  1. The stores of video games, are they going to disappear (italics a la KJV)
  2. The stores of video games, are they going to disappear? (“essentially literal”)
  3. Video game stores, are they going to disappear? (also “essentially literal”)
  4. Soon there might be no more video game stores. (Good News)
  5. Eek! What if there are no more video game stores? (The Message)
  6. Will video-game stores disappear?
  7. Are video-game stores going to disappear?

October 1, 2009 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation theory | , , , ,


  1. Which versions are 6 and 7 supposed to represent?

    Comment by Mark Baker-Wright | October 1, 2009

    • My own.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 1, 2009

  2. I find it hard to believe that doing violence to the target language’s grammar is really the best translation philosophy. i know others differ, but that seems, in my mind, do rely fall short of what i mean when i use the word translation.

    Comment by Ryan | October 2, 2009

  3. It’s a headline. I must therefore do as the French have done and start with the Object as an attention grabber. This is also the principle behind object orientation in programming languages and more widely applicable to thinking ancient and modern than might be presupposed. So this would be my translation:

    Video game stores, will they disappear?

    There is no Biblical similarity unless you can find a headline.

    Translation has to hit the thinking process with all its sensuality. There is no one method. Sound, rhythm, structure, i.e. frame and thread, all contribute to the perception of the reader.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | October 2, 2009

  4. Bob, from my long term memory of the language this French word order is quite normal and so unmarked, the subject (not object) has to come first in questions like this and the inversion of verb and subject is shown by providing the postposed pronoun “ils”.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | October 2, 2009

  5. Peter: You are right. This is the normal, unmarked word order for questions in French, and it’s pretty much the only way to say “Are video-game stores going to disappear?”.

    Bob: Does this fact about French influence your translation decision?

    Comment by Joel H. | October 2, 2009

  6. This is not a fact about French – at least not here. I grew up in Quebec and I have had several bilingual employees over the years and have had myself to translate much technical stuff into French. Est-ce que les magasins de jeux vidéo vont disparaître? is a perfectly common translation of Will the video game stores disappear? So the noun first is an attention grabber just as it might be in English. Fortunately we have native speakers to check with today. (And I did check with one without a leading question.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | October 3, 2009

    • Yes, “est-ce que…” can be used instead of inversion in French to introduce a question. My understanding is that the difference is one of register — not focus — but that may be dialectal, or may even vary from circumstance to circumstance. (I wonder how often headlines at Le Monde begin “est-ce que…”) And for that matter, in spoken French intonation can be enough to form a question.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 5, 2009

  7. Bob, yes you are right, this is also good French. I suspect that both are very common in modern French, perhaps as dialect variants and probably with subtly different nuances.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | October 3, 2009

  8. Instead of “Video game stores, will they disappear?”, which is not acceptable usage because of the comma, I suggest “Video game stores: will they disappear?”, which preserves the attention-getting structure of the French and is also acceptable usage.

    Comment by arthad | October 3, 2009

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