Citation for Nicole Nolette, Jouer la traduction : théâtre et hétérolinguisme au Canada francophone. U of Ottawa Press, 2015.

Jouer la traduction is a substantial work of theatre scholarship that brings together a critical history of marginalized Franco-Canadian theatre since 1975, with a probing exploration and analysis of heterolinguistic play and ludic theatrical translation. Situated in relation both to translation theory and to dominant models of bilingualism in Canada, Nolette’s study shows how bilingual theatre and ludic translation can expose and unsettle the sedimented silence and mistrust that lingers in the intersections of French- and English-speaking communities, especially in minority situations.

In her first chapter, defining ludic translation by what it is not, Nolette recounts a conversation between celebrated translators Gratien Gélinas and Linda Gaboriau. Gélinas, she notes, insisted that theatrical translation “passe par le corps ainsi que par une équivalence du rire.” Gaboriau remembered:

Gratien would say things like “ Mais vous savez, Linda, j’avais neuf ” — because he used to do those political reviews where they had “laugh metres,” and if he got a nine on the laugh meter in French, he wanted the same in English. So I really had to look at why that line was worth a nine, and how I could get to nine on it, you know, what was it that made it a nine laugh instead of a five laugh or something (42; cité dans Beauchamps et Knowles, 2000, p. 46).

Gélinas’ practise, in other words, aimed for an equivalence in the reception by francophone and anglophone audiences, privileging neither, and including all — even if that would mean glossing over or disguising social or cultural tensions splitting along the linguistic divide. “La traduction ludique,” however, “n’obéit pas aux conseils de Gélinas : elle n’inscite pas à un rire semblable ou égalitaire, mais à un décalage du rire selon le profil linguistique du spectateur.” (42, my emphasis) Ludic translation does not bow to the authority of the master text, but playfully crafts its messages according to the linguistic profile of the targeted receivers, the audience members—and often it privileges, in a relationship of complicity and pleasure, the francophone bilingual audience member who will understand and receive all the innuendo of the shifting language act, and who may, furthermore, appreciate a little laugh at the expense of the unilingual anglophone. This happens—and Nolette tells us about it.

This fact points to others. The relative dominance of heterolinguistic play and ludic translation show that minority francophone theatre artists are having enormous fun with language, but they are not only having fun. From Je m’en vais à Régina, in 1975, to Trois exils de Christian E., in 2011-12, the theatre artists whose work Nolette documents dramatize the alienation of invisibility, acculturation, and assimilation. As she notes in her conclusion, anxiety related to the erosion of cultural and linguistic identity appears in synchrony with heterolinguistic play whether we are speaking of postmodern, post-identitary theatre or its more realistic, naturalistic counterpart (246).

Nolette’s book exemplifies a kind of thinking that is larger than Canada’s so-called “two solitudes”—thinking that challenges subtractive bilingual theory and purist linguistic isolationism, and ultimately encourages creative and respectful attitudes to language learning. Minority francophone communities are not alone in facing the loss of their languages: tragically, the aboriginal languages in Canada are virtually all in danger of extinction, as are indiginous languages around the world. The carnival play of ludic translation in heterolinguistic minority franco-Canadian theatre disrupts as it mocks and tangles with monolingual anglodominance. May it play on.

Jouer la traduction est une œuvre substantielle d’érudition théâtrale, qui combine une histoire critique du théâtre canadien-français marginal depuis 1975 avec une exploration et une analyse probante du jeu hétérolinguistique et de la traduction théâtrale ludique. En relation tant avec la traductologie qu’avec les modèles dominants de bilinguisme au Canada, l’étude de Nolette montre comment le théâtre bilingue et la traduction ludique peuvent exposer et déstabiliser le silence figé et la méfiance persistant toujours aux carrefours des groupes francophones et anglophones, surtout en situations minoritaires. Le livre de Nolette incarne une pensée qui dépasse les soi-disant « deux solitudes » du Canada, une pensée qui met en question la théorie du bilinguisme soustractif et le purisme linguistique isolationniste, et qui, à terme, favorise des attitudes créatives et respectueuses dans l’apprentissage des langues. Les communautés francophones minoritaires ne sont pas les seules à faire face à la perte de leur langue : les langues autochtones du Canada sont toutes pratiquement en voie d’extinction, comme les langues autochtones ailleurs dans le monde, ce qui est une tragédie. Le jeu carnavalesque de la traduction ludique dans le théâtre minoritaire canadien-français hétérolinguistique est perturbant dans sa façon de ridiculiser et de détourner le monolinguisme anglophone dominant. Que le spectacle continue.