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Excellent in any language

Myriam Suchet studies translation, but rather than learning how to translate one language into another, Suchet examines the act of translation itself.
June 20, 2011
By Jesse B. Staniforth

Source: Concordia Journal

Myriam Suchet’s doctoral thesis earned top honours. | Photo courtesy Myriam Suchet
Myriam Suchet’s doctoral thesis earned top honours. | Photo courtesy Myriam Suchet

“I will try to explain,” laughs Myriam Suchet, “But it’s not so easy for me to do in English.”

This is a fitting introduction to the work of the multilingual PhD graduate in humanities. Her program combined comparative literature, translation and communication studies.

Suchet studied the political, theoretical and philosophical implications of translation, in cotutelle between Université Charles-de-Gaulle - Lille 3 in France and Concordia’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, which oversees the humanities doctoral program. This spring, she received word that her work had earned her the prestigious Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal.

The medal is awarded to the graduate student with the highest academic standing across all university programs. The Governor General has been granting Concordia one gold medal for each November convocation, and one silver (for undergraduate achievement) in June. This year, Concordia’s enrolment has made it eligible for both one gold and one silver medal at each convocation, making Suchet Concordia’s first gold medallist at spring convocation.

However, even before defending her 520-page PhD thesis, she had written a scholarly book, published in her native France, on the subject of translation in the realm of post-colonial literature.

“Most of the time,” she explains, “the discourse that we have about translation represents it as a bridge, and makes us believe there are two existing shores: the departure shore and the target shore. But if we actually look into the practice of translation, discovering the source language and the target language — and the water in between them — is not so easy. You’re always struggling, because sometimes it blurs.”

Central to her research is the concept of heterolinguistic texts, literature that contains or makes reference to multiple languages.

“With texts that are written in several different languages, what do you do when you try to translate them?” she asks. Her thesis addressed this puzzle, and in undertaking it Suchet pioneered the first complete study of heterolinguism.

Suchet unanimously received the highest possible grade for the thesis’s “originality, erudition and exceptional contribution to the advancement of knowledge,” according to her thesis examiners.

During her time in Montreal, Suchet lived with two roommates — one from Spain and the other from Colombia — so she spoke Spanish at home, studied in English, and worked on her thesis in French. She says that her entire experience of North American education had an impressive effect on her.

Having returned to France, she now teaches at the École normale supérieure de Lyon, where she applies her Concordia experience daily.

“I teach in completely different ways now that I’m back,” she says. “In France, the style of teaching is that we’re meant to pretend we know everything about everything, and come at the class from a very didactic position. The first thing I do now when I enter the classroom, I turn all the tables around and start by discussing the power relationships and the reasons why we’re here, long before we turn to texts. Everyone is in shock!”

Related links:
•   Concordia's Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture
•   Concordia's PhD in Humanities

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