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French fight to narrow digital divide

French fight to narrow digital divideTo many people around the world, using English mixed in with their native tongue is almost second nature. As new terms (particularly in the area of technology) are first coined in English, almost all languages find themselves "invaded" by Anglicisms.

But for many folks, this widespread influence of the English language isn't welcome. And nobody has been as consistent (and determined) to fight this trend then the French government.

A wonderful piece by Max Colchester in the Wall Street Journal reveals some of the challenges associated with this effort in general and with coining a French equivalent for "cloud computing" specifically.

To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with "informatique en nuage," which literally means "computing in cloud."

France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology - a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador - was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term.

"What? This means nothing to me. I put a 'cloud' of milk in my tea!" exclaimed Jean Saint-Geours, a French writer and member of the Terminology Commission. "Send it back and start again"
As TimesOnline points out, this kind of attention to minute details of everyday live may sound a little Orwellian but the language campaign of recent decades has had some success. Over the years, French coinages have driven out some English terms and even improved on them. Ordinateur, invented by an IBM engineer in the 1950s, prevented France joining the computer bandwagon. The French term for email - courriel - was approved in 2003 and has since become popular.

It sounds like there is a bit of leeway given to people too cool to abandon foreign terms (unless you happen to work for the state, that is). Quoted in the WSJ article, the head of the French Delegation for the French Language said:
"We won't cut people's heads off if they don't use it [but] language is what brought this country together."
Want to make sure that you don't commit the faux pas of calling un hotline instead of dialing un numéro d'assistance? Be sure to consult the glossary of indigenous terms published by the Ministry of Culture's language agency.

For other examples of language-tweaking, see:
Medical device and pharmaceutical companies require French translations with that certain je ne sais quoi - ask ForeignExchange Translations for a detailed proposal!

1 Comment:

  1. Translation Paris said...
    Here in France, we are fighting to add Englishisms to our language and only the old fuddy duddies are opposed to it.
    Younger people think it is "cool".

    Anna Augustin
    Medical Translator
    Paris France
    PS. We do say in French: a cloud of milk in a cup of tea rather than a drop of milk....

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