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Tintin runs into trouble 'en Québécois'



RG Moulinsart 2005/AFP/Getty Images Some readers in Quebec are insulted by the 'translation' of Tintin into a version of Quebec French.


Graeme Hamilton, National Post

Published: Friday, February 05, 2010



MONTREAL -- Since the publisher of Tintin first introduced "regional-language" editions of the popular comic book 30 years ago, readers in places from Alsace to Tahiti have been charmed to discover the boy reporter using their local dialect.


But the latest volume, billed on the cover as "Tintin en Québécois," is getting a frosty reception in Quebec. Far from being flattered to see characters spouting such homegrown phrases as "Ay! Toé!" ("Look here!") and "ben là là!" ("Wait a minute!"), some Quebecers are offended.


"In Quebec, we may speak strangely, but we write in French, and little Quebecers can read Tintin in the original, even learning a few new words along the way," Odile Tremblay wrote in Le Devoir. "So, a translation.... We have a bit of pride left. Don't go taking that from us. Seriously!"


Étienne Pollet, who oversees regional translations of Tintin for the series' Belgian publisher, Casterman, said the negative reaction in Quebec is unprecedented. Usually when a new translation comes out, fans empty bookstore shelves, he said from Belgium. "In Europe, these editions are always met by a frenzy. People are very honoured that there is a Tintin, not so much in their language, but in the language of their grandparents."


Quebecers, on the other hand, have been suspicious. "What struck me the most was people who said this book was being published to make fun of Quebecers. That was not my intention at all," Mr. Pollet said. "It is only in Quebec that we have encountered this peculiar reaction."


There is nothing revolutionary about tailoring a translation to a Quebec audience. Hollywood films and popular television shows regularly screen dubbed-in-Quebec French versions, even when a version from France already exists. Three years ago, after a Shrek movie was released in a French riddled with incomprehensible Parisian slang, there was an unsuccessful push for legislation forcing studios to dub their movies in Quebec for the Quebec audience. And Quebec writers -- most famously Michel Tremblay in his play Les Belles-soeurs -- long ago erased the taboo against using working-class Quebec joual in literature.


But language remains a touchy subject in Quebec, said Yves Laberge, a Quebec City sociologist who adapted the text of the Tintin book Coke en stock into Québécois (Colocs en stock). Sensitivity is all the greater when it is someone from outside -- in this case a Belgian publisher -- shining a light on the language of Quebec. "Some people want to believe that we speak exactly like in Europe, and others realize that it's not quite the same," he said. "The criticism was predictable in a way."


In fact, Mr. Pollet of Casterman had been warned that attempting a Quebec version of Tintin was unwise. During a visit to Quebec City four years ago, he met with Claude Poirier, a linguistics professor at Université Laval, to discuss the project.


"He basically told me that, yes, there are many things in the language that are very characteristic to Quebec, but for all sorts of reasons, reasons that were almost socio-political, it really was not a good idea," Mr. Pollet recalled. "He persuaded me. I said to myself, these Quebecers are bizarre."


A couple of years later, when Mr. Laberge approached him with a project to adapt Tintin in a respectful way, he reconsidered.


Mr. Laberge said critics of his work have missed the point. "It's obvious that not all Québécois speak like in the [book]," he said, but some do. And part of his goal was to capture the language as it had been spoken by previous generations.


"I wanted to express our typical identity through language. French is a fundamental part of our Québécois identity," he said. "We have a long past in Quebec, old expressions that are vanishing, and I want them to be alive in the book."


Mr. Poirier, the Laval professor who opposed the project from the beginning, said he has read parts of Colocs en stock and is not impressed. "They talk about using Quebec French, but really it is Quebec French slang," he said. "If it was in Quebec French, there would not be much interest because we speak French like the French from France." He said the text is so jam-packed with slang expressions -- coming from the mouths of everyone from Captain Haddock to the opera diva -- that it rings false. "I see it a bit as a parody," he said.


Since its release last fall, Colocs en stock has sold a respectable 10,000 copies, which tells Mr. Laberge that there is an appetite for a joual-talking Tintin. But back in Belgium, where Mr. Pollet is charged with promoting the legacy of Tintin author Hergé, the Quebec experience is not considered a success.


"I am a little disappointed because sales do not really interest me," Mr. Pollet said. "It is more the repercussions on the image of Tintin, and in that regard, the reaction has been negative for the most part." There are no plans for a second Tintin volume "en Québécois," he said.


National Post



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Étant un fan de Tintin depuis mon enfance, j'ai feuilleté la version québécoise, que j'ai trouvé ridicule.


C'est pas tant que j'ai l'impression qu'on se moque de l'accent québécois, mais plutôt que pour moi, Tintin est un belge, pas un québécois. Autant je préfère regarder un film japonais en japonais que mal traduit en anglais.

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