EN: historical/literary present - présent historique/de narration

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by domanlai, Mar 13, 2006.

  1. domanlai Senior Member

    Tolosa
    French - France
    Moderator note: Multiple threads have been merged to create this one. This thread is about the historical present in English and about how to translate the French historical present to English. If you're wondering how to use the historical present in French, please see FR: présent historique/de narration - historical/literary present.

    Eh bien en fait, je n'ai pas vraiment d'exemples sous la main car je n'ai encore rien rédigé. Disons que ma question est plutôt d'ordre général. J'avais aussi le sentiment que l'anglais 'aime' moins le présent historique que le français mais j'ai cherché sur internet et constaté que ça existe sur des sites anglophones (pas français :) ).
    En fait ce que je voudrais savoir c'est ce qui est mieux pour un lecteur anglophone :
    - à votre avis est-il nettement conseillé de plutôt choisir des temps appropriés au passé
    - ou bien est-il envisageable de mettre du présent avec des retours au prétérite dans le cas de phrases comportant des dates. Est-ce acceptable ou pas du tout ? si oui, est-ce un style différent et comment est-ce ressenti par un anglophone ?

    Histoire de commencer à rédiger directement dans la bonne version et de ne pas faire un style français en anglais :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2014
  2. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Personellement je vous recommande de rédiger votre texte au passé. Le présent historique ne sonne pas très naturel en anglais, à mon avis, et le lecteur s'en lasse vite. Il est possible de l'utiliser dans un roman, mais même là je pourrais m'en passer. Dans un texte où il s'agit du passé, je préfère retrouver les temps du passé. (Et n'utilisez surtout pas le futur, comme les historiens ont tendance à faire en français !)
     
  3. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Connecticut
    US-English
    Aupick, je suis complètement d'accord avec toi!
     
  4. TiTia_43 Senior Member

    France-French
    I have a French text on Margaret Tatcher and I should translate it into English. It's done but I have a question about the tense I have to use.

    My text starts like this:

    Dans le courant des années trente, un épicier du Lincolnshire se signale par ses sermons éngergiques à l'église le dimanche. A ses deux filles, l'autodidacte prédicateur inculque le goût de l'effort, l'esprit d'initiative etc ...

    The text is written using present tense but actions take place in the past.
    Should I use preterite or Present for my traduction ??

    Thanks for your help.
     
  5. BONJOURMONAMOUR Senior Member

    It's better to use the present tense for narrative work as it's brings the story alive.

    During the 30's, a Lincolnshire Grocer distiguished by his energetic Sunday sermons at the local church, instills in his two daughters the idea of making an effort to succeed, the spirit of initiative...this self-taught preacher etc, etc

    Dans le courant des années trente, un épicier du Lincolnshire se signale par ses sermons éngergiques à l'église le dimanche. A ses deux filles, l'autodidacte prédicateur inculque le goût de l'effort, l'esprit d'initiative etc ...
     
  6. Angle O'Phial

    Angle O'Phial Senior Member

    USA English
    Interesting question. Ineed the historical present is much much less comon in English than in French. It works fine in English for a short text like this. As BONJOURMONAMOUR says, it can help bring it alive. However, if this is part of a longer text, say more than a paragraph, I'd use the past tense as the historical present quickly becomes tiresome to read.

    I think I'd also avoid the historical present if the text doesn't bring you up to the real present. That is, I think you have to say

    During the 30s, XXX instills in his two daughters ... Today, one of those daughters is the most famous ...

    With Thatcher, I suspect that you won't be able to do that.
     
  7. BONJOURMONAMOUR Senior Member

    Maybe you could use the present tense in the 1st introductory paragraph to set the scene and then launch into the past tense the the subsequent paras?
     
  8. kablois Junior Member

    Paris
    English
    Hello,

    I need to translate this into English and can't settle on the correct tense to incorporate past and future time, as we can't use the present like the French do. Any ideas? Thanks a lot.

    Durant deux années d’octobre 2009 à septembre 2011, les équipes des services éducatifs de l’ARRE se rencontrent, échangent et élaborent ensemble une programmation originale

    Over a two-year period from October 2009 until September 2011, the ARRE’s Education Department staff have been meeting up (doesn't cover the future til 2011) to exchange ideas and develop an original programme of events.
     
  9. Micia93

    Micia93 Senior Member

    in the center of France
    FRANCE FRENCH
    what about "have met up" ?
     
  10. sneaky13

    sneaky13 Senior Member

    marseille (france)
    français
    are (going) to meet up
     
  11. hanbaked Senior Member

    English (UK)
    perhaps you could say: ...staff have been and will be meeting up to exchange...
     
  12. Quaeitur

    Quaeitur Mod'elle

    Lille, France
    French
    Can't you use a present continuous like in French the teams are meeting up?
     
  13. kablois Junior Member

    Paris
    English
    No, you can't use 'are meeting up' when it started in 2009 - only for now and future time. I think hanbaked's suggestion is probably the best. Thanks for all your ideas - I've never encountered this problem before and it's a real 'casse-tête'
     
  14. Meille Senior Member

    Quebec, Canada
    English
    For the two year period ending in September 2011, ...staff will have been meeting to...

    Oh, and I would definitely drop the "up".
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2011
  15. kablois Junior Member

    Paris
    English
    Yes - you're right, I need to drop the up! Another good tense suggestion Meille - but then I lose the start date. Hhmmm
     
  16. Meille Senior Member

    Quebec, Canada
    English
    That's why I said "the two year period". It's not hard to figure out the start date. :)
    I think this is difficult because the use of the present tense in French is not exactly kosher - it doesn't cover the future.
     
  17. Micia93

    Micia93 Senior Member

    in the center of France
    FRANCE FRENCH
    c'est ce qu'on appelle le présent de narration

    :=)
     
  18. kablois Junior Member

    Paris
    English
    I have actually decided to use 'since October 2009 + present perfect cont (staff have been meeting) plus all the blurb after it and add another sentence at the end to say that these meetings will be continuing until Sptember 2011. Anything else actually sounds too complicated or long-winded. Thanks for all your comments which helped me to see that an alternative solution was necessary.
     
  19. La_Saboteuse Senior Member

    American English
    What's the best way to translate the présent du narration into English? Say, for instance, a character is being introduced: "C'est un homme d'environ trente ans, qui aime lire..." This present-tense can continue for the duration of a sequence. It seems to be a very common fixture in French but I'm not sure what the best way to render it into English is. It creates a very important tone, and yet it just seems grammatically strange in English to use the present tense—the only time you see the present tense in English like that is when someone is telling a story, never in written narration.

    So should this particularly French use of the present tense be turned into past tense when translating into English? This is a problem that has bothered me for a while.
     
  20. Lotache Senior Member

    French
    Hi!
    It's "Présent DE narration" :)
    Et je pense que oui, il faut parfois le traduire au prétérit. Cependant, pour les textes plus contemporains, le présent peut-être conservé.
    Le livres écrits au présent existent aussi en anglais mais sont plus rares qu'en français je pense.
     
  21. Oddmania

    Oddmania Senior Member

    France
    French
    I find the passage you quoted rather strange, as it's not really common to read such descriptions in Present tense in a novel written with a Past tense. We'd rather use a Past tense.

    Ex. : Le lendemain, Robert est allé faire ses courses et a rencontré la jeune femme qui vivait près de chez lui. C'était une femme d'environ trente ans, qui aimait lire etc... :tick:

    It's not common to see passages with the Present tense in novels. We often use it in History, on the other hand.

    Ex. : En 1991, l'URSS est démantelée et les pays d'Europe de l'Est accèdent enfin à l'indépendance. :tick:

    Using a Past tense in this context would actually sounds strange. You feel like... So what ? You could use a Past tense if you want to say that this event generated other events so that's why blahblahblah.

    L'URSS a été démantelée en 1991, c'est pourquoi elle n'apparait plus sur la carte du monde aujourd'hui (or whatever...) :tick:
     
  22. Lotache Senior Member

    French
    On trouve de temps en temps le présent de narration dans le littérature contemporaine Oddmania (et aussi les livres pour enfants :D)
     
  23. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    My advice to French writers is always to use the past tense in English for past actions, the present for present actions. For instance, in the Thatcher extract above, I don't see any good alternative to:

    During the 30's, a Lincolnshire Grocer, distinguished by his energetic Sunday sermons at the local church, instilled in his two daughters the idea of ...


    There are two exceptions to this rule is in spoken English.
    1. Anecdotes are sometimes told in the present tense. E.g: "Did I tell you what happened to me yesterday? I'm walking along the High street when this car goes by, and..."
    2. Historic narrative on (say) a film can be in the present. "It is seven in the morning on Sunday 18 June 1815, and Napoleon's army is preparing for battle near the village of Waterloo.."
    But this is spoken English; don't write it. And even here, the past would be equally good: "I was walking along the High street when this car went by, and..."
     
  24. gannon23 Junior Member

    English - England
    Hello,

    I'm translating an eye-witness account of an earthquake from French into English however I am not sure what tense to translate into. It is the present tense in french, but it doesn't make sense to put it in the present in English:

    "Il y a une prise de conscience sur le moment quand on voit que cela monte en intensité, on se dit "Qu'est-ce qui se passe ? Il y a quelque chose d'important qui est en train de se passer, espérons que tout va aller bien quand même."

    My go in English:

    There was a realization at the moment when one felt something increase in intensity. We asked our selves "what's going on?!" Something incredible was going on, hoping that all would eventually turn out ok."

    I know that the actualy translation isn't very accurate, but could someone help me with the tenses.

    Thanks, any help very much appreciated.
     
  25. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    You have it right. Generally in English we put a text like that into the past historic, whatever the French said.

    Past events can be related in the present tense in English, but usually only if conversational, such as anecdotes and jokes: "This penguin goes into a bar, and says to the barman..."
     
  26. flyingcabbage Senior Member

    Dublin, Ireland
    English - Ireland
    Hi everyone!

    I have a question about translation and, as it's to do with tenses I thought it fit better under grammar.
    When translating a historical text that uses the present tense from French to English, should I keep the present tense or put it into the past? French uses the present tense in a historical context a lot but English doesn't do it quite so much... I'll give an example. The text below is clearly set in the past, but French uses the present. When translating, do you keep the present (even though it sounds a little odd in English) or transpose it to the preterite & pluperfect?

    "D'abord employé par un coréligionnaire négociant en soieries, Auguste Blum (père de Léon) devient patron de l'entreprise, associé à deux autres employés, lorsque le propriétaire s'en retire. L'affaire prospérant, il rachète les parts de ses associés en 1868. En 1879, il constitue une société avec ses deux frères qui ont à leur tour quitté Alsace..." etc.

    First employed by a multi-denominational silk trader, Auguste Blum (father of Leon) [becomes/became] the joint-manager (along with two others) when the owner [retires/retired]. With business prospering, he [buys/bought] out his two partners in 1868. In 1879, he [forms/formed] a society with his two brothers who [have/had in turn left] Alsace... etc.

    I think the past sounds more idiomatic in English, but do you agree?

    Thanks in advance for any help/suggestions. :)


    I'm not necessarily looking for anyone to proofread the above (unless there are glaring errors) I'm just asking about the tense :)
     
  27. marget Senior Member

    The past tense sounds better to me.
     
  28. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Hi there -

    We use the historical present tense so rarely in English that I always think it best to change everything into the past. You can use the present every once in a while for added emphasis and intensity, but that's definitely the exception. ("Sean lived in the cabin in the woods where he had been born seventeen years earlier. In 1813, his life is forever changed when he discovers a platinum mine in his backyard. After finding sufficient financial backing, he constructed a full-scale mining operation.") We do this idiomatically too - switch from past tense to present tense at the climax of our oral narratives about past events ("So the policeman pulled me over. So there I am, and I roll down my window, and..."). But we don't stay with the present tense for long, and it gets really tiring to read. Stick to the past!
     
  29. flyingcabbage Senior Member

    Dublin, Ireland
    English - Ireland
    Thanks for the replies :).

    That's what I was thinking, if you stay in the present too long, it ends up sounding too much like a synopsis film or novel. (sort of like "It's about this girl and she goes here... and does this... and then finds out..."). In uni they tell us (in general) not to stray too far from the original text, which is why I asked, but it just doesn't read well in the present here.
     
  30. chien Senior Member

    french france
    Hello,

    I would like to know about the use of tenses, when you tell a story / narration that takes place in the past. Can you transpose yourself into the moment of the story and use the progressive present ( like when you describe a mental image )or is it better to use the simple present?

    The text about which I’m asking this question belongs to a book where the author wrote his reflections.

    For example in the following:

    "20th september 2009, you're watching me from the corner of the eye,
    You are not moving, I'm holding your hand..."

    Can you tell me what you think?
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2013
  31. djweaverbeaver Senior Member

    English Atlanta, GA USA
    Using the present (continuous) in this way makes it seem as if you want your interlocutor to actively imagine what you are describing to him or her as you give them a play-by-play account of what happened. If it is in a book, it would mean that the writer is talking directly to the reader. Otherwise, this wouldn't be very natural.
     
  32. ditnn

    ditnn Senior Member

    London, United Kingdom
    British English
    MODERATOR NOTE: This new question launched in the Vocabulary Forum has been transferred to an existing thread on the same topic in our Grammar Forum. Please review the discussion from the beginning of this existing thread; it should provide some useful advice on your question.
    wildan1, Moderator
    -------------


    I am doing a translation for a book written in French and the whole book is written "au présent".

    when I translate the book into English, should I use the present tense (being very loyal to the "au présent" in the original French version), or can/should I use the past tense (including present perfect tense) in my translation?

    this is the comment I received from the author of the French version: "j’ai écrit le livre au présent alors qu’il semble que l’usage en anglais soit plus au passé… Mais je ne suis pas assez connaissant pour juger."


    Please let me know your opinions.

    Thank you.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  33. MimiBug

    MimiBug Junior Member

    Français - France
    Bonjour,
    Si l'auteur vous laisse le choix, peut-être est-il judicieux de traduire dans le mode avec lequel vous êtes le plus à l'aise. Dans le cas contraire votre traduction ne sera pas aussi agréable à lire.
     
  34. OLN

    OLN Senior Member

    Alsace, France
    French - France, ♀
    Je ne pense pas que le choix du temps dépende de l'aise du traducteur. Il importe que le résultat final soit naturel.
    Ditnn, l'auteur a l'air de se fier à tes connaissances pour faire le bon choix. Qu'en penses-tu personnellement ?

    Je suis toutefois curieuse : quel type de livre est entièrement conjugué au présent mais peut être traduit au "present perfect" ?
    [….]
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  35. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    As it seems the author does not have a particular axe to grind about his use of the present, you're in the lucky position of being able to choose what English novelists do. I've just looked at a dozen novels taken at random, from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to Dick Francis and Zadie Smith, and they're all written in the past historic. One, written in the first person, uses an occasional perfect, and Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett both use the present when making statements of general truth. "It is a truth universally acknowledged..."

    But otherwise it's wall-to-wall past.
     
  36. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    Hilary Mantel used a present tense narrative for Wolf Hall and for its sequel. That annoyed many readers (not me).
     
  37. WestFevalia

    WestFevalia Senior Member

    French
    A Bonvent (http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2981645)
    De tous les livres en anglais que j'ai lus, il n'y en a qu'un qui soit écrit au présent de narration ! Donc c'est correct mais (comme disait Lotache ci-dessus) sans doute beaucoup plus rare qu'en français.
     

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