Language selection

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Digital words: mots vs. maux

Why a lexicon?

When I started keeping a list of the technical terms we use at CDS it was to ensure some consistency in translations. The longer the list became, the more I noticed that the way people name digital things varies enormously, ranging from using English terms directly to using terms that couldn’t do justice to the meaning.

The lexicon became a very personal project. Surely there was a way to speak digital in proper, easy-to-understand French. As I’ve said before, thinking of users first should also be reflected in the words we choose. Hence the importance of striking a balance between what is dictated by the dictionaries (always behind in usage), what is entirely missing from the dictionaries, what is practiced in the field, and what is used by ordinary people.

For the team, the lexicon has become a tool that centralizes the results of research done in Termium Plus, the Grand dictionnaire terminologique by the OQLF, documents already (well) translated such as the Service Design Playbook by the Ontario Digital Service, and from conversations with terminologists from the Translation Bureau, French-speaking digital practitioners (thanks Raluca!) or from large university faculties. We have to give credit where credit is due.

The lexicon is not comprehensive. It contains a bit of everything:

  • terms that apply to our own context (such as Code for Canada ‘*fellows*’)
  • technical terms that had to be researched
  • more generic terms with multiple possible translations (making a choice for consistency’s sake)
  • buzzword terms that had to be pondered (such as ‘*fail fast*’).

It also reflects a willingness to stop dancing around the issue. Agile is agile - not “souple” or anything else.

Lastly, whenever I came across great finds (like illectronisme to refer to digital illiteracy or identiqueter to say ‘tag’), I added them. You have to be a pathfinder in the language as well. Thanks cybernauts. :)

So why am I still seeing English terms in French?

Do you know any Hydro-Québec employees who wear their “*grimpettes*” with pride? Probably not. Why has “*courriel*” come into common use, but not “*gaminet*” (for t-shirt)? It’s a mystery. For the sake of clarity, in some cases, we’ve opted to keep a partly English wording. For example, we’ve kept back-end and front-end because the concept of “frontal” reminded me too much of a front-loading washer-dryer combo. In the meantime, I’ve thought about translating them as “*avant-plan*” and “*arrière-plan*”. I’ll let my colleagues continue the discussion.

All this to say that it was necessary to adapt and iterate (debating about test d’utilisabilité, for example) even in our vocabulary!

So I invite you to consult the CDS lexicon. Do your own research and innovate, but do give special thought to francophone users. Being inclusive also means ensuring that the message is clear for everyone.