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Discussing Digital in French

Tomorrow, September 30, is International Translation Day. For me, talking about digital in French is a challenge: properly naming new technologies and especially - especially - not losing sight of the fact that we are addressing “real people”. Thinking of users first, making them central to our work - that also comes into play with the words that we choose.

In technology, breakthroughs are occurring at a staggering pace. Since things do have to be named, new words in our vocabulary need to be developed quickly. If English is the language of business, it’s also the language of technology. So, how do you keep up? We all know that in instances where French terms don’t exist, anglicisms quickly take precedence and become hard to displace. Have you “liké” a Facebook post recently? Some dictionary entries could raise some eyebrows.

Thinking about users first means doing justice to a language that is evolving faster than what is found in the dictionaries. A term recorded in 2014 is outdated? Or not yet in the dictionary? Yes, it’s possible. Sometimes all it takes is a few months to lead us “elsewhere”, to a place that can sometimes have the feel of no man’s land. Courriel (email), infonuagique (cloud computing), etc. Creativity is definitely not lacking when you put your mind to it.

Thinking about users first is also about ensuring understanding and finding a certain balance. What good is it to use the “right word” if nobody understands it? For example, externalisation ouverte is being suggested as a translation for crowdsourcing. But what the heck is “externalisation ouverte”? Can anyone explain it to me? It’s so much clearer to talk about “XYZ participatif”, is it not?

While our team draws inspiration from organizations like 18F in the United States, the GDS in the United Kingdom and the DTA in Australia, in many respects, we must also deal with unique language challenges specific to the Canadian context.

So, tomorrow evening, do as I do and raise your glass (of some nice French wine?) and toast to those who help translate the digital reality into the “langue de Molière”.