Do you speak Frenglish?

I’m back. I promised you anecdotes, so here are a couple of incidents, which are quite revealing of a well-publicised phenomenon: the invasion of English words into French.
Coordinator: "Please write your ideas on the flip-chart."
Céline: "Veuillez noter vos idées sur le… le…"
What’s flip-chart in French?? Don’t panic, don’t panic.
"Le… le…"
19 pairs of eyes are on me. I can feel drops of sweat slowing running down my cold forehead.
"Le… le…"
"TABLEAU DE CONFÉRENCE!", I finally blurt out, a bit too loudly. I’m sure I can hear a crowd cheering and chanting my name in the distance.
French client: "Tableau de conférence? C’est marrant, nous on dit paperboard." (That’s funny, we say paperboard).
I tell you, next time I can’t think of the proper way of saying something in French, I’ll just come out with a ridiculous made-up English word instead of risking brain meltdown.
Later on, I’m working with the French partners, finalising some documents I’ve translated.
"On aime pas trop intendance environnementale pour traduire environmental stewardship. On préfère écomanagement." (we don’t really like intendance environnementale to translate environmental stewardship. We prefer écomanagement.)
"Écomanagement? D’accord, très bien" I manage to utter despite being crushed by distress. "What’s wrong with my lovely intendance environnementale? Aren’t they two beautiful French words (really long and clever-sounding too!)?" is what I really want to wail.
Honestly, your job is all about turning English into French and then you’re told that your text is too French. I think this is very indicative of a real trend to incorporate more and more English words into French, especially in a business context. English-speaking countries arguably drive the world economy and the development of new technologies, and their words are often borrowed (scanner, internet, etc.) in a bid to keep up with them or simply because it’s easier.
It really doesn’t bother me at all, as all languages are constantly in a state of flux, and trying to stop that would be counterproductive, but it can be difficult to know what a particular client will see as acceptable or not. I think my client probably used paperboard because that’s the name that’s written on the flip-charts they use. For écomanagement, I think something else is going on: management is definitely a buzzword in French, it’s very popular and sounds professional, progressive and they were probably trying to confer some prestige to what they do. We were working on documents to be read by councillors and potential clients, they had to "sell" something (energy-saving devices and programs) and the dynamism of management might have helped. A client who is more interested in the work itself (preserving the environment) might not have minded the more subdued intendance environnementale. As always, context is everything.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:36+00:00 December 10th, 2004|Interpreting|11 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. bathrobe December 13, 2004 at 9:53 am

    A silly question: How is ‘économanagement’ pronounced?

  2. céline December 13, 2004 at 9:58 am

    French style, which I can’t really reproduce with my keyboard.

  3. bathrobe December 13, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    I recently had the opportunity to watch an interpreter translating Chinese into French for my company. I noticed that she kept using the English word ‘shipment’ (as in ‘oil shipment’). I thought it most peculiar because French surely has a word for ‘shipment’, but the boss’s secretary, who is French, assured me that this was quite normal.

  4. language hat December 13, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    “On préfère économanagement”: Should this be écomanagement as elsewhere in your (delightful) post?

  5. céline December 13, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    bathrobe: that’s another excellent example of how English words are used seamlessly within French sentences.
    eagle-eye language hat: Yes, thanks !

  6. Daniel January 11, 2005 at 7:58 am

    Hi Céline,
    How about using “gérance” to replace management or stewardship? For example, “écogérance” or “gérance environnementale”. Here is a Canadian site that may become useful for you:

  7. céline January 11, 2005 at 8:08 am

    Daniel: The thing is, there are always several ways of translating a term, and often it’s a matter of personal style/preference. As for granddictionnaire, it’s an excellent resource that I’ve been using for a long time, but always very carefully: French Canadian differs (sometimes greatly) from European French and I only translate into European French.

  8. Daniel January 11, 2005 at 8:22 am

    I don’t want to enter a debate but when I hear people say things like “French Canadian differs (sometimes greatly) from European French”, I am a little bit choked. The differences are mostly about local jargon. Otherwise, same grammar, same spelling, same syntax. True that the spoken language sounds different, but it sounds different within France itself. I understand you feel that you must be careful in using the resource mentionned because it is an automated service and thus cannot exactly read what you want all the time but you shouldn’t blame the Canadian French for it.

  9. céline January 11, 2005 at 8:55 am

    Daniel, first, I’ve never blamed the Canadian French for anything (I might have moaned a couple times that none of them are related to me, which would make it easier for me to visit Canada, but that’s not really their fault).
    About the language, I beg to differ, there are significant differences between European and Canadian French. As fas as I know, and I’m far from being a specialist in the subject, The main differences are the use of archaisms in French Canadian, the greater resistance to anglicisms (where EF says “parking”, CF says “stationnement”) and the different way they deal with new words (EF tends to borrow foreign words, CF tends to create new words from the existing vocabulary).
    Of course, despite these differences, it is basically the same language and the main obstacle to communication between a CF speaker and a EF speaker will be pronunciation and accent. However, within the context of translation, those differences are significant enough for me to never attempt a translation into CF.

  10. Daniel January 11, 2005 at 9:18 am

    I see what you mean now. It’s just that the comment as you first said it is something that a French speaker like myself has to battle when trying to explain to people that the differences between CF and EF are not what people seem to think they are. People have this idea that “Parisian French” is somewhat more proper than Canadian French. It might be true for the oral part in some ways but the funny thing is that they automatically assume that the written French is totally different when it’s not. The differences are exactly what you suggested.
    And about you having something translated in Canadian French, how about a challenge? I could suggest an French Canadian text and you translate it in English and then I will read it and tell you if you were close or not. You could do the same for me. You got my email so let me know (en français!)

  11. céline January 13, 2005 at 10:16 am

    Daniel, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that EF is more proper, more “pure”, more this and that than CF (and vice-versa). I don’t think you can compare languages in terms of their necessarily subjective worth.
    As for the challenge you offer, I’m afraid I’d be a massive disappointment: I really am not familiar at all with CF. However, a (long overdue) trip to Canada is on the cards this year or next year, I’ll get back to you after that!

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