Ukraine, Language, Elections, and False Friends—Oh My!

Here in Quebec, the belle province, it’s March break for some of us. For others, it’s a regular workweek. If you happen to have a winter holiday, you may be interested in reading some articles or seeing videoclips I came across late last week and this week.

Most of you are aware of the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Because a lot of mainstream media are talking about this developing story, and are doing so in my languages, André Racicot didn’t hesitate to give us an overview of writing Ukrainian names in French. Read his text here (“Les noms ukrainiens”). You’ll soon discover that Ukrainian, like Russian and other Slavic languages, uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Of course, this alphabet is not used in the Western world; consequently, Slavic names must be transliterated (usually into English) before they are translated into other languages. Voici un billet qui intéressera sûrement mes collègues et lecteurs francophones.

Picture this: you’re sifting through a collection of magazines, and you come across one that has an English title. You’d presume this is an English-language magazine, right? What if you end up flipping a few pages, only to find out that this magazine is written in another language? This is exactly what happened to my colleague Christian Bergeron a year ago. In this blog entry, “This Blog Post is in French,” Bergeron talks about the rise of English in France’s media, and contrasts this phenomenon with the use of language here in Quebec. No worries, Christian is not trying to start a revolution! (Oh, I won’t tell you the language Christian used to write this article. It’s a secret!) Aside from France and Quebec, and the use of English in French-language media, have you noticed an increase of languages in other linguistic circles, e.g. the rise of Russian in the Ukrainian press or in daily life, or the rise of Turkish in neighbouring countries?

“For whom am I translating or writing this text?” “What language variant(s) should I use?” “What level(s) of speech is (are) the most appropriate to convey the message(s) effectively?” “How will potential readers perceive my text?” As writers and translators, I’m sure you have asked yourself or your clients these questions several times. The answers may be ambiguous or complicated. In “Traduire pour qui?” [For whom do we translate?] Christian Bergeron talks about a comic strip that was translated in…France. Although we appreciate the contributions our “neighbours” make to translate major works, we may have to wrap our heads around translating some expressions, realities, or themes related to hockey, politics, arts and culture, and other day-to-day topics. In this case, the comic strip Christian talks about is related to hockey; the terms he came across may not necessarily reach unanimity with French-language readers across the Atlantic Ocean. Clearly, answering the last question above comes into play.

Ça sent les élections! You understood correctly: Quebec’s premier has called a general election. Quebeckers go to the polls on Monday, April 7. Provincial—and perhaps national media—will undoubtedly be talking about the election between now and the beginning of next month. Vous êtes journaliste ou rédacteur francophone? Vous aurez intérêt à consulter ce blogue d’André Racicot au sujet de la langue française dans un contexte électoral, « Élections et anglicismes ». How might English translators and writers deal with electoral terms unique to Quebec? I’ll be sure to share my findings with you if I come across anything interesting. Stay tuned!

I leave you with a one-minute videoclip presented by Fundéu BBVA, an advocate of the Spanish language. The clip underscores the difference between the English term billion and the Spanish billón. Though the two terms look alike, they don’t mean the same thing! You may not necessarily understand what is said, but the illustrations are clear enough to make the distinction. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

What were some of your reading favourites or views this week? I’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy the texts and videoclip, and enjoy the rest of your winter break!

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