Why are there two French versions of the Les Misérables musical?

Translating

Last week, I watched Les Misérables on stage for the first time ever. I know – I worked in a theatre for 9 years, but this particular show had passed me by. Partly because I live over 200 miles away from the West End so I mostly rely on shows touring to my part of the world, but also because my existing knowledge of the show painted it as a depressing tragedy, so I wasn’t exactly in a rush to see it.

But there’s a reason why it’s one of the longest-running musicals in the world: despite the sad events throughout, I found the performances incredible and it was hard not to get swept up with those iconic songs. Ever the linguaphile, the next day I looked up the original French soundtrack on YouTube to see how it compared with the English.

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3 translations into English that have suffered translation loss

Translations into English translation loss - cover

Humanity has been translating words from one language into another for thousands of years – from inscriptions in stone to religious texts, from books to films, and even songs.

But as any translator will tell you, sometimes it’s just impossible to copy everything into another language and expect it to have the same effect; some real creativity and ingenuity is needed to adapt the text to the new audience. Occasionally, the best solution is to leave some aspects behind in the original language, omitting certain parts in order for it to make sense – and be well received – in the new language. This is called translation loss.

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