Part I: Quebec’s Language Law
We’ve sifted through our thousands of past tweets to compile this Essential Guide to Quebec for Translators. We will be posting it gradually over the next weeks by subject theme. Part I is about Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, also commonly referred to as Bill 101. Read our tips to learn about the Charter’s impact on translators.
2: Think of it as a style guide for the Quebec government. It applies to that one client only.
3: All names of government departments, agencies, ministries, etc. always remain in French, even in English texts.
4: “Gouvernement du Québec” does not count as a government department, ministry, or agency name. It can be translated.
5: Quebec’s National Assembly and all the laws and regulations it passes have official English translations. Look them up here.
6: International Affairs is another exception. It may use other languages than French with foreign correspondents.
7: All professional orders must use their French names only when communicating with the public or their members.
8: Contracts signed in English require a clause saying the parties have agreed to use English. Suggest adding such a clause.
9: Place names chosen or approved by the Quebec Toponymy Commission must remain in French (but remember point #1).
Re 9: Notice we said Quebec Toponymy Commission, in English. This Twitter feed does not belong to the Quebec government so we can use English however we want.
10: Nothing in the law says you cannot translate the name of a Quebec government program into English.
11: Nothing in the law says you cannot translate a Quebec civil servant’s job title into English.
12: The law does not apply outside Quebec. For instance, all ministries in France have official English names.
13: Nothing in the law says you cannot translate the names of white papers, strategy documents, etc.
14: The only parts of Quebec addresses you must keep in French for the Quebec government are place names (street, city, province).
15: Other parts of Quebec addresses you may translate IF YOU WISH (Floor/Suite/P.O. Box/etc.).
16: Nothing in the law says you must punctuate addresses as in French. You may remove the comma after the street number and the parentheses around the province.
17: Nothing in the law says you cannot provide a courtesy translation of an official name that stays in French.
18: Nothing in the law says you cannot use italics to visually signal that a name is in French.
19: Nothing in the law requires you to follow French capitalization rules. Capitalize however you want.
20: It is completely permissible to invert an organization name and acronym to make your sentence more reader-friendly.
Part II: The French of Quebec
We’ve sifted through our thousands of past tweets to compile this Essential Guide to Quebec for Translators. Part II is about the French spoken in Quebec and some of the common anglicisms that can cause translators grief.
Special Meanings in Quebec
1. Be very careful when you see national, pays, or d’ici in Canadian French. It can mean Quebec or Canada, depending on context.
2. Gilet is a “vest” in English, but some people (particularly in Quebec) use it to mean “sweater.” Always check.
3. Quebec’s biggest financial institution, Mouvement Desjardins, goes by the English name of Desjardins Group. Don’t make the mistake of calling it a “movement.”
4. Plusieurs ALMOST ALWAYS means “many” in Quebec French, yet I keep seeing translators use “several,” even when it’s illogical in the context.
5. If you can’t decide whether plusieurs means “several” (France) or “many” (Quebec), say “a number of” in English to remain vague.
6. We pointed out in a recent tweet that plusieurs almost always means “many” in Quebec French, yet many translators persist in saying “several.” Keep in mind, however, that sometimes it does indeed mean “several.”
7. J’ai plusieurs autos = I have several cars. Plusieurs électeurs ont voté pour Macron = Many people voted for Macron
8. If you don’t know for sure, say “a number of”: Il a plusieurs autos = He has a number of cars.
9. The takeaway? Please pay attention to context! If you know that plusieurs refers to 4 or 5 things at best, “several” is fine.
10. Before translating 1er étage, check whether it is used in the European way (2nd floor) or the North American/Quebec way (ground floor).
11. Ever had to translate the Quebec verb patiner in the sense of “not answer a question”? How about “to fudge”?
12. A quirk of Canadian French: trente sous means 25¢ (a quarter). Remember this if you come across it in dialogue.
13. Despite impressions to the contrary, the Quebec expression c’est de valeur means “that’s too bad,” not “that’s valuable.”
14. The standard translation of choqué is “offended/appalled/shocked/shaken,” but in Quebec French it often means “angry.”
15. Oh là là! 😉 RT @benoitmelancon: @offqc Everything you ever wanted to know about the Québécois use of LÀ http://wp.me/p1glYg-5KK
16. Quebec French trap: faire du temps supplémentaire les fins de semaine = work overtime on weekends NOT work extra hours at the end of the week
17. 5 à 7: This is not literally from 5 to 7 p.m., but rather Quebec French for happy hour or any form of late-afternoon drinks in a bar. Not to be mistaken for a European French 5 à 7, which designates a little bit of after-work philandering.
18. Quebec French alert: You may encounter température used in the sense of “weather” (la belle température). Don’t let it fool you.
19. Don’t be fooled by déjeuner: It means “lunch” in France, but “breakfast” in Quebec.
20. Don’t be fooled by dîner: It means “dinner/supper” in France, but “lunch” in Quebec. Supper in Quebec is souper!
21. Don’t be fooled by lunch (and its counterpart luncher) in Quebec French: It can mean a midnight snack/late-night meal.
22. In Quebec: table d’hôte. In France: formule or menu. In English (surprisingly enough): prix fixe. Or simply say “full-course meal.”
Anglicisms in Quebec
23. Careful—some Quebecers use délai incorrectly to mean “delay” instead of its true meaning of deadline/turnaround/lead time/delivery time.
24. Définitivement: Very often an anglicism meaning definitely/absolutely, so be on your guard for when it actually means “permanently.”
25. In Quebec, courrier is sometimes an anglicism meaning “courier.” Let the context guide you so you don’t mistranslate as “mail/post.”
26. Veste is a “jacket” in English, but some people (particularly in Quebec) use it to mean “vest” (a sleeveless garment). Always check.
Part III: Quebec Geography and Place Names
We’ve sifted through our thousands of past tweets to compile this Essential Guide to Quebec for Translators. Part III is about Quebec geography and place names. It also provides advice on how to translate the actual words Québec and Québécois. We hope you’ll find it instructive.
The Geography of Quebec
1. Quebec City has no “downtown” in the traditional sense. Try saying city center/center of town/heart of the town/historic center.
2. If a French text from Canada says fleuve without naming the river, it’s probably the St. Lawrence. Give the full name in English to avoid confusion.
3. Even though the St. Lawrence is a river, we talk about its shores, not its banks. So Montreal’s Rive sud is the “South Shore.”
4. Quebec texts say fleuve majestueux and translators write “majestic St. Lawrence,” but we actually say “mighty St. Lawrence” more in English.
5. The Quebec government says en région for everywhere except Montreal but it wouldn’t cross the mind of someone in Ontario to say “in the regions” for everywhere except Toronto. Try “in rural/remote areas,” “in outlying regions,” or “in rural Quebec.”
6. Capitale nationale: In Quebec this can mean “Quebec City” (most often) or Ottawa (sometimes). Don’t send readers to the wrong city!
7. Estrie: This Quebec region is referred to as the “Eastern Townships” in English. Except in Quebec government texts, it’s usually best not to leave it in French.
8. Grand Nord: “the North” or “northern Canada/Quebec.” “Great White North” was a Bob and Doug McKenzie invention.
9. Île-des-Sœurs near downtown Montreal is generally called Nuns’ Island by English Montrealers, but remains Île-des-Sœurs in official texts.
10. Métropole: Does not mean “metropolis” or “metropolitan area,” but a geographic area’s biggest city. In Quebec, la métropole is Montreal.
11. Rivière des Prairies, which flows along the north side of the Island of Montreal, is sometimes called “Back River” in English by locals.
12. Québec in French refers to both the city and the province. Be sensitive to context and add “City” as needed in English.
Place Names in Quebec
13. In Quebec capitale nationale can mean Quebec City. Don’t blindly translate as “national capital” or people may think you mean Ottawa.
14. In Quebec if Capitale-Nationale has capital letters and is hyphenated, it refers to a Quebec administrative district. Keep in French.
15. Ville de Québec: “Quebec City” if naming the geographic entity in English, “Ville de Québec” if referring to the municipal apparatus.
16. 89 geographical names stay French in Quebec but are used in English in neighboring provinces. See them here.
17. It’s often wise to check the official spelling of Quebec place names. Do it here.
Putting an Accent on Quebec
18. If you are not translating for the Quebec government, YOU decide whether to put accents on Quebec and Montreal.
19. Most English-speaking Quebecers and private businesses use “Quebec” and “Montreal” without accents and pronounce them as English words.
20. In some business contexts, such as tourism, it can be a good idea to use the accent to draw attention to the “Frenchness” of Quebec.
21. In some business contexts, using an accent can draw unnecessary attention to the fact that Quebec is not English.
22. Our advice: Keep the accent on Quebec when translating for the Quebec government or a tourist account, take it off for private business.
Naming the Province and Its People
23. The English word for Québécois is “Quebecer,” with no accents. It is sometimes spelled “Quebecker,” particularly outside Quebec.
24. If you write Québécois in an English text, your readership may, perhaps wrongly, think you’re referring only to French speakers.
25. Translating Québécois? Always check context to see whether it refers to the province (Quebecers) or the city (Quebec City residents).
26. Québécois has 3 translations: Quebec(k)er (province), Quebec City resident (city), or Québécois if you mean only French-speaking Quebecers.
27. Québec: If used as though a country (les ports du Québec et du Canada), dispel the confusion in English (“ports in Quebec and across Canada”).
Part IV: Quebec Government, Politics, History, and Cultural References
We’ve sifted through our thousands of past tweets to compile this Essential Guide to Quebec for Translators. Part IV is about Quebec government, politics, history, and cultural references. We hope you’ll find it instructive.
The Government of Quebec
1. The names of Quebec government institutions (ministries, agencies, directorates, corporations) have no official English versions. Best to keep in French.
2. If a text uses a shortened name to refer to a Quebec government organization (ministère/conseil/commission/etc.) you may translate the shortened name.
3. In diplomatic circles, the Quebec government translates its organization names as a courtesy. This is an exception. Keep in French otherwise.
4. Quebec government says to keep Quebec government names in French, but you can break this rule for a private sector client if doing so aids comprehension.
5. French universities in Quebec are government run, so their names should stay in French in government texts: Université Laval, not Laval University.
6. Know your context: In Quebec, délégation générale = Québec Government Office (embassy-like offices located abroad).
7. Société d’État = “Crown corporation” across Canada, except in Quebec where people prefer to avoid crowns and say “government corporation.”
Quebec Politics and Parliament
8. Articles of Quebec legislation are called “sections” in English, except for codes and charters, which remain “articles” in English.
9. Bear in mind that a commission parlementaire in Quebec is a parliamentary COMMITTEE in English, not a commission.
10. Don’t translate Quebec government ministry names, but for actual ministers’ titles consult this list.
11. The historic Paix des braves between Quebec and the First Nations/Inuit is the “Peace of the Brave” in English (sing.), not “Peace of the Braves.”
12. Say “regulation” (singular) in relation to acts of the Quebec parliament and “regulations” (pl) for acts of the Canadian federal parliament.
13. Parc national du Québec: Provincial parks in other provinces, but “national” is OK in Quebec—Canada’s Parliament has declared Quebec a “nation.”
The History of Quebec
14. Quebec City was not a “city” at the time of New France but a mere settlement, so for historical texts just write “Québec” (with an accent).
Cultural References in Quebec
15. Montreal Canadiens’ nicknames: In English “the Habs,” but in French La Sainte Flanelle, Le Tricolore, Les Glorieux or Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
16. Canada and canadien are often used in Quebec to mean “out-of-province/the other provinces/rest of Canada.” At one point in the past, this was a political statement. Today it is just a linguistic phenomenon common to all political allegiances.
17. When translating French>English, it’s often best to switch Quebec to Canada: une entreprise québécoise = a Canadian business.
18. Why is “Canada” often a good translation of “Québec”? Because in marketing, English audiences rarely have an emotional connection with Quebec.
19. The notion of “Quebec” or “France” doesn’t pull on the heartstrings as much in English. Consider dropping or deemphasizing it in marketing texts.