When clients specify that the translation they need is into Canadian French, we assume that this is because there are marked differences with French from Europe, like terminology, grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, etc. Nothing new under the sun…
However, there is something quite peculiar to Canadian French that is well worth sharing. This goes beyond linguistic rules or mere expressions of the language. It has to do with identity and idiosyncrasy.
Some facts that shed light:
- Within Canada, there are 11 recognized official languages. English and French enjoy official status according to the Official Languages Act enacted in 1969.
- While English is used by 57% of the population, 21% of the remaining speak Canadian French. Although, being a minority in Canada, French Canadians are a majority in the Province de Québec (about 7 million people).
- The importance of preserving their linguistic roots is of high priority for French Canadians. They are passionate about their language and cultural differences, and this has always been a hot topic in Canada since ancient times: The settlers brought with them French culture, French customs, and the French Language. The Industrial Revolution saw Canada grow a close relationship with the United States, and over time French Canadians began adopting English words into their version of French. To make a long story short, this considerable influence of English over time urged French Canadians to protect their own language.
- Today the Canadian French language is legally protected in Québec by the Charter of the French Language (popularly known as Bill 101). This bill defines the linguistic rights of all Québec citizens and declares the French language official Québec in labor, commerce and business, administration and education. Although this law was enacted in 1977, it continues in force today with a more limited scope than originally intended and pursues to ensure the survival of the French language in the Province de Québec.
- In turn, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) is the Charter of the French Language’s enforcement arm, known as language police. This language agency oversees the preservation of the French language in the province and has the power to issue very costly fines when the language rules and regulations regarding anglicisms, calques, punctuation, to name a few, are not followed by all kinds of businesses. Actually, the law prohibits putting up signs or ads in English, even bilingual ones. This means that you will see everything written only in French.
These are some colorful examples of how these rules and regulations are applied:
- In 2013, an Italian restaurant came under pressure to remove “pasta” from its menu because it is not a French word.
- In 2016, a restaurant called La Mama Grilled Cheese in Québec City received a letter from the language agency chastising them for their Anglicism.
- In 2019, Air Canada was fined for not using French-language or giving the French version less prominence in some signs on a domestic flight.
- Today, the language watchdog has quietly loosened some of its restrictions, allowing words like “grilled cheese”, “cocktail” and “drag queen” back into the lexicon.
Why is all this relevant to us as Localization experts?
If your client requests a translation into French, well… what French do they mean? Is it Canadian French? Is it European French? It is of high importance for them to specify this because of the consequences that deviating from the Charter of the French Language may bring about. Not necessarily because of the penalties (these will most likely not apply if the translation is targeted at US-based audience) but rather because of the professional approach this requires. The sole purpose of exposing a translation that does not comply with the expected regulations may have an impact on the client’s image.
Also, as already mentioned, differences between the types of French are not only cultural ones. There are also significant linguistic differences between Canadian French and European French.
Here are some examples:
For more info on this topic, you can visit:
These are tools where you can find everything related to the Canadian/Québec language:
- Le grand dictionnaire terminologique de l’Office québécois de la langue française (designed with the Québec usage in mind but applicable to all Canadian French and can be used for free)
- Termium Plus (still applicable to Québec, but coming from Federal instances, also free)
- Multidictionnaire de la langue française (this one is not free)
Sources consulted (interesting articles for further reading):
- Statistics on official languages in Canada
- Excusez-Moi – How Canadian French Localization Can Tap into a New Market
- Canada province urges shopkeepers to stop saying ‘Bonjour-Hi’
- Air Canada fined for not using French language
- Canadian French vs. French: 7 important differences you need to know
Written by Maiten Corradi, Quality Manager at Akorbi