The typical work day of an English to French translator is marked with many linguistic dilemmas. One of those quandaries is whether to translate specialized terms with newly created French equivalents – officially normalized neologisms, if you will – or to leave them in English in the middle of a localized sentence in order to obtain the best translation quality.
In this blog, I will focus on new terms appearing, mostly, in IT and creative content.
There are basically three ways a linguist may proceed:
The Purist approach
Some translators prefer inserting as little English as possible in their texts. The discussion surrounding this matter has been going on for a long time. And it will likely never come to an end as the desire to protect the French language from loanwords can be great.
- In some cases, both the English word and the French translation are acceptable. The word “manager” for instance can either stay as manager or become responsable, sometimes depending on context – same goes for “leader”, which can remain as leader or be translated as chef.
- However, as we veer towards more technical terms, it becomes less likely to encounter terms that can be used just as well in their foreign and localized forms. For example, the concept of “Big Data”, which is fairly recent, has entered the French lexicon as is. There are also cases where it just doesn’t work.
- There are also cases where it just doesn’t work. The term “marketing” entered the business world a few decades ago and quickly invaded French conversations. Trying to prevent it from settling in common usage, some people attempted to introduce a translation, mercatique, but it never really caught on and was soon forgotten.
- One last thing purists should be aware of: logical gaps made by the people in charge of creating new French words. A well-known example is the transliteration of “daemon” into démon, which makes very little sense in context given the corresponding backronym “Disk And Execution MONitor”.
The Globalized Approach
Other linguists prefer using English words in French. Sometimes the decision must come from a good understanding of who the target audience will be: is the localized document going to be read by experienced IT professionals who are most likely familiar with the English terms since their inception, or by people who may be completely new to IT (and perhaps have no knowledge of English whatsoever) and must be given as clear a terminology as possible?
For this reason, the globalized approach might be effective when speaking of datacenters in French, a term which is commonly used by professionals. When appearing on an online help page or in a beginner’s user manual though, the French version centre de données, which sounds pretty straightforward, will probably be more easily understood.
In some cases, the use of English is justified by the fact that French equivalents may sound too made up or more confusing than the original. For instance, anyone working in the IT industry would immediately know what a shareware is, even if they’ve never actually encountered the term before.
The Bilingual Approach
Finally, there are times when a compromise might be best. This is the bilingual approach, which allows linguists to use the English term followed by a translation in brackets. The method is particularly useful with acronyms. While some are so commonplace that French people know what they mean (such as CD-ROM, DVD, API), others are less likely to be known by all readers, hence the relevance of using translations like BYOD (Apportez votre équipement personnel de communication) or SaaS (logiciel à la demande).
One should always take several factors into account when deciding which approach to choose:
What is the client preference (if any)?
Who is the target audience?
How well-known is the word?
Only professional translators working in their native language can reliably make that call. So it isn’t only a matter of philosophy – it’s also about common sense and in-depth linguistic knowledge and of course whatever our clients decide!
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