Les « Intraduisibles » #10 Chez

Too French for translation…


Frequently a tricky word to get to grips with for foreign learners of the French language, chez originates from the Latin ‘casa’, meaning ‘home or chamber’. Whilst this term has worked its way into the English language, appearing in certain dictionaries as a conscious imitation of French, there are no exact equivalents that are capable of conveying both the physical uses of chez, as well as its more general characteristics.

Whereas other languages, such as German with the preposition ‘bei’, possess a direct translation, English is forced to rely on different counterparts to account for the various nuances of chez. ‘At the house of’ coveys the spatial characteristics of this term, whilst ‘with’, ‘in’ and ‘amongst’ are possible substitutes for its more abstract meanings.

The title of Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann has been translated in several ways, including Swann’s Way and The Way by Swann’s. The 1913 novel claims that people are defined by the objects that surround them and must piece together their identities bit by bit each time they wake up. In his text, Proust therefore draws the reader’s attention not only to the importance of one’s physical environment, but also to the influence of one’s contextual surroundings.

“Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n’avais pas le temps de me dire : « Je m’endors. » Et, une demi-heure après, la pensée qu’il était temps de chercher le sommeil m’éveillait ; je voulais poser le volume que je croyais avoir encore dans les mains et souffler ma lumière ; je n’avais pas cessé en dormant de faire des réflexions sur ce que je venais de lire, mais ces réflexions avaient pris un tour un peu particulier ; il me semblait que j’étais moi-même ce dont parlait l’ouvrage : une église, un quatuor, la rivalité de François Ier et de Charles Quint.” Marcel Proust