European vs. Canadian French Translations

Canadian French translation

Translating different versions of the same language

With developments in communications technology and transportation, potential customers for products or services are increasingly located all over the globe. Providing your clients with information they can understand is therefore essential. On one hand, that means translating content into universal languages, like English, French and Spanish. On the other, it means creating localised versions of content: translating to lesser-known languages for which there is a sizeable target audience, but also paying attention to the different variants and dialects of a single language.

Canadian French and European French offer one clear example of this: two versions of French that are often mutually intelligible, yet can differ substantially in certain cases. However, unless you are French or French Canadian, it is unlikely that you will know how different the two versions of the language really are, whether they require specialized translation and if so, under what circumstances.

In this article, we outline the key differences and explain under which conditions a specialised dialect translator may be necessary.

 

Fundamental differences between Canadian and European French

1. Expressions

One significant and very noticeable aspect by which Canadian French differentiates itself from European French is its use of expressions, many of which will not make much sense to a French person from France:

  • J’ai la langue à terre

Literally, “my tongue is on the floor”, this expression can be used to indicate that you are very hungry or very tired. Of course, if you use it without further clarification, you may be dragged out for poutine, (a typically Canadian a dish of fries, cheese curds and gravy) when all you want to do is sleep!

  • Avoir mal aux cheveux

Used to describe an intense headache, this expression more or less translates as"to have a hair ache” – presumably it means the head hurts so much that even the hair seems to hurt.

  • Se laisser manger la laine sur le dos

“Allowing someone to eat the wool off your back”. It means to allow someone to make a fool of you.

  • Lâche pas la patate!

“Don’t let go of the potato!” This expression can be used to give encouragement to continue a challenging task, but usually it is used to warn people against breaking a promise or chickening out on a bet.

 

2. Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the largest differentiator between the two countries (read an extensive list of the different words used in Canada and France). These differences are the result of several factors that have influenced the development of Canadian French as separate from European French:

Anglicisms

An obvious differentiator is the direct influence of the English language on Canadian French, coming from both the English-speaking part of Canada and the neighbouring USA. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Canadian French is full of anglicisms, while European French remains free of them! Rather, the two have taken different approaches to the introduction of English terms into the French language.

Europeans, though still resistant to anglicisms, will usually keep English words as they are when they include them. By contrast, Canadians tend to integrate English influences indirectly, either by conjugating English verbs with regular French endings, or by literally translating English phrases or even single words into French (for example, ‘cloud computing’ becomes ‘infonuagique’):

European French

Canadian French

English

week-end

fin de semaine

weekend

aller se promener

prendre une marche

to take a walk

tomber amoureux de quelqu’un

tomber en amour avec quelqu’un

to fall in love with someone

donner un coup de pied

kiquer

to kick

verifier

checker

to check

vomir

barfer

to vomit, barf

garder à l'oeil

ouatcher

to watch

donner son appui, son accord

baquer

to back, support

c’est logique

ça fait du sens

that makes sense

beurre d'arachide

beurre de pinottes

peanut butter

une pastèque

un melon d’eau

watermelon

 

Influence of indigenous languages

English isn’t the only language that Canadian French borrows from. Some of its vocabulary includes loan words from indigenous tribes:

European French

Canadian French

English

sandales

babiches

sandals

canneberge

atoca

cranberry

perche noire

achigan

black perch

tabac

tabagie

corner store

renne

caribou

reindeer

 

16th- and 17th-century French vocabulary

Canadian French experienced a separate development from its European counterpart and as such, some 16th- and 17th- century vocabulary that fell out of use over the course of centuries in France, or developed different meanings, remain current in Canada today – it’s the reason that Canadian French can often sound old-fashioned to those in France:

European French

Canadian French

English Translation

parce que

à cause que

because

parier

gager

to bet

l’obscurité

la noirceur

darkness

s’asseoir

s’assir

to sit down

voiture

char

car

 

3. Grammar

While less noticeable than vocabulary differences, there are also differences in some aspects of grammar:

Syntax

The syntax of informal, spoken Canadian French often replaces specifiers with ‘que’ as a relative pronoun. A Quebecois might say “J’ai trouvé le contrat que j’ai besoin,” whereas a European speaker would use “J’ai trouvé le contrat dont j’ai besoin.”

Similarly, in some cases a Canadian might omit the relative pronoun altogether: “J’ai un enfant à m’occuper,” instead of the European variant, “J’ai un enfant dont je dois m’occuper.” 

Prepositions

Canadian French tends to abbreviate or alter some prepositions, though this applies to spoken rather than written French. For example, s’a replaces the regular sur la, dins is used instead of dans les, and s’es is used for sur les.

Language attrition

Linguistic research has found that in places in Canada where French speakers are in a minority and the French language is not being passed down through the family, a process of ‘language attrition’ is underway. This means that grammatically incorrect French is used, often under the influence of English grammar and syntax (read this article on the Canadian Encyclopedia website). For example, the adverb juste is often placed between the subject and the verb: ll juste travaille le matin (he only works mornings). While possible in English, this word order is incorrect in French. It should be noted, however, that this is a question of adulteration rather than a regional variation. 

 

Choosing keywords for an SEO translation

Often the difference between the two types of French is a matter of how easily understood your text will be, but sometimes the product or service that you’re describing could have multiple names and choosing the one that most people in your target country use will mean that you rank higher for that particular keyword.

In Canada for example, "balayeuse" or "aspirateur" can both mean hoover, with terms like "balayeuse sans fil", or "balayeuse portative" having around 200 searches a month each.  In France, "balayeuse" refers to large street sweeping machines, so "balayeuse sans fil", and "balayeuse portative" only have 10 searches a month each.

Another example is in France, "Beurre de cacahuète" is more commonly used, whereas in Canada, "Beurre de peanut" is more common.

A final example is the translation of "Optician", the chart below shows the number of monthly searches from French speakers in Canada and France:

Monthly Searches

CA-FR

FR-FR

Opticien

2,400

74,000

Optométriste

22,200

4,400

As you can see, for some products making this kind of mistake could mean you lose 95% of your business.

 

Choosing a translator in function of the nature of your content

Given the nuanced differences that exist between Canadian and European French, when selecting a translator, your first consideration should always be the nature of the translation job. Is it a written text? If so, is the text formal (for example, a government memorandum or a company statute) or informal, full of slang, such as a modern novel or social media posts? Or perhaps the content in question is not written at all, but is a video or audio recording of an interview? In each case, a different version of the language will be used, requiring a different set of skills.

 

Semi-formal and formal written content

With some exceptions, as outlined above, European French is readily understood and reads in a natural manner to a Canadian. As a general rule, relatively formal written French content will be mutually intelligible, and thus you can have formal content translated into other languages by French speakers from either France or Canada. However, if you require content translated into French, while formal European French will sound perfectly normal to Canadians, the reverse is not the case. The Canadian-French anglicisms and archaic-sounding words will sound odd to French speakers from France. When translating relatively formal content into French, you can safely opt for a native speaker from France, knowing that the content can be used perfectly well for both markets.

 

Informal and spoken content (audio or video)

Unlike more formal written content, informal and spoken French is not necessarily mutually intelligible between the two countries. Between the accent and local idioms and expressions, Canadian French can present several difficulties to native French translators. Therefore, if you have an audio or video recording that you need translated from Canadian French, you will want to find a bilingual French Canadian translator. Informal written content in Canadian French may also contain extensive amounts of slang that will not be familiar to French speakers from France. Likewise, informal European French, especially spoken (e.g. song lyrics, interviews, social media comments) may contain French slang or argot that Canadian translators would struggle to understand and translate correctly.

Translation is a tricky business, and finding the right translation fit for your needs can be difficult, especially if you’re not quite sure what you should be looking for. When searching for translation services, the above information can help to figure out what kind of translator you should be looking for. Indigoextra offers extensive multilingual translation services, including native French translation with keyword research, where required, both to and from French, and we are happy to consult on what kind of translator is the best fit for your translation needs. Contact us for advice, or a no obligation quote.