Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by agrouba, Jan 24, 2007.
is it OK to say penal servitude?
Yes, it's ok to say so (or penal labour).
But servitude pénale is not used in France, as we do not have forced labour.
It's mostly used in African French-speaking countries.
Is it possible that "servitude pénale" could also mean imprisonment? Or does it always mean forced labor?
For example, I am translating the following sentence from a set of Congolese laws on corruption:
Tout agent public ou toute autre personne qui aura commis un des actes prévus à l’article 147 bis sera puni de six mois à deux ans de servitude pénale et d’une amende de cinquante mille à deux cent mille francs congolais constants.
So far as I am concerned, servitude pénale always refers to imprisonment (with a work regime that is meant to intensify the punishment). The old-fashioned image is of breaking stones all day long.
From an outside perspective, servitude would mean being a servant, which implies work. So I think it would always mean that some labor is involved.
Thanks for helping me to verify the translation. I had come across some English sites on Congolese law that were interpreting "servitude pénale" simply as a prison term, so I wanted to make sure that I was OK using "forced labor" (which definitely conjures up the image of breaking stones to me!)....
Whatever about American usage, I am not sure that forced labour is a suitable translation on my side of the Atlantic. That phrase is used for a more extreme regime such as existed in the labour camps in Stalinist Russia, where it was not unusual for people to be worked to death.
The image I have of penal servitude is a bit more restrained: confinement in a regular prison, hours spent at hard physical work each day. When such regimes existed in Europe, they were also referred to (including by the courts) as imprisonment with hard labour.
Hmmm...I see now that "penal servitude" is a pretty common term (esp. in the UK), but that it can refer to various situations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_servitude
I going to go with "penal servitude" and add a footnote describing what that means in the Congo.
Penal servitude definitely sounds like a good (and literal!) translation. If I heard the phrase I'm sure I would understand what it meant. And I agree that "forced labor" doesn't necessarily convey that one is in jail because one could be forced to do labor no matter where they are.
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