So, this morning I got this question over at Goodreads:
Hello. I wondered if you were aware of the fact that in the french translation of Ancillary, Breq is male ? The translator (a guy btw), made Breq speak using male pronouns and epithets about herself…himself… Were you consulted on that matter ? Did they (the french editor) made Breq male so as to sell more books ?
So, just first off, it strikes me as unlikely that such a change would be made in order to sell more books.
But, I’ll be honest, I was taken aback and a bit annoyed at the thought. However. Some folks over on Tumblr have looked at the sample of the beginning of the book that’s available, and a few pages I photoed from near the end,* and suggested to me that what’s going on here is that the translator is trying to do something that’s easy in English–and that’s actually an important pronoun thing in the book–but not available in French. That is, English has a different pronoun for inanimate objects than for living things (or, often, more specifically, humans). In the book I use “she” for humans and “it” for ships, but there is no “it” in French.
From the sample, it appears that ships are referred to with masculine forms–ship is apparently a masculine noun in French, so that makes sense. And Breq refers to herself with the same forms. Which makes perfect sense, because Breq thinks of herself as a ship, not a human being.
I might wince a bit at Breq referring to herself in the masculine–but actually, the translator is trying to transfer into French something that is quite easy in English, but not so much in translation. And since the text was already playing games with pronouns, why not?
So, all in all, if that’s what’s up, I’m good with that.
*I speak no French, though I can sometimes get the gist of simple sentences (particularly about food). I had Spanish for four years in high school but have forgotten much of it–enough to make my good-enough-at-Spanish-to-impress-her-college-advisor-with-her-placement-test-score daughter frown at me when I attempt to speak it. I took German in college and never got half as good as I was at Spanish and have forgotten most of it. Oh, but Duolingo tells me I’m 20% fluent in Swedish! I gave Duolingo a side-eye when it told me that. It can only be true if fluent Swedish-speakers talk about nothing but elephants reading newspapers and boys loving eggs, and men and women eating breakfast and drinking water, with the occasional moose wandering by in possession of some sandwiches.