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.