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  • Laura Vuillemin

Handling Religious Content When Translating Into French


France is a strictly secular country, meaning:


- Every one has the right to practice the religion of their choosing.


- No cult is to be considered dominant or more official than another.


French presidents are expected to show discretion. Of course, they have the right to practice any religion in their private lives, but they should always remain neutral when in public.


France is also a country where people are less and less religious. In the fall of 2021, the number of non-believers was, for the first time, higher than that of believers.


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What’s the impact on translation, then?


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A few weeks ago, I translated the script of a video recorded by a company and aimed at associates and employees.


Various topics were discussed, among which the impact the pandemic had on operations. At the end of the video, to say goodbye to everybody, one of the company’s executives said, “God bless you”.


Many French people would have found this mixture of work-related matters with religion rather awkward (if not inappropriate) due to their background and culture.


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For this reason, I didn’t translate this sentence as is (“Dieu vous bénisse”). I went for something like “Prenez soin de vous” (“Take care of yourself”), which was actually consistent with the issues at hand (running operations during COVID).


That’s not all: saying “God bless you” implies only certain religions (e.g., there is no entity called “God” in Buddhism), when all cults should be treated equally. “Dieu vous bénisse” would thus only have spoken to a specific portion of the population when all religions are represented in France.


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Obviously, if I had been translating a purely religious text, I would have left everything as is. However, in this situation, it was necessary to adapt my translation to the French audience.


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Religion is a sensitive topic and what works in a country might not work or sound natural in France!


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