As a French translator, I am constantly on the lookout for innovative or simply intelligent ways to fight some of the most pervasive “anglicisms”. This is NOT a rear-guard battle to protect the “purity” of the French language. Quite often, the word-for-word translation of some English phrases into French only provides meaningless copy, and if your client’s aim is to convince French-speaking people to buy their stuff, be it products or services, or simply to try and influence decisions, you’d better make sure that their message is explicit and their copy “speaks” to people, not just to their assumed knowledge of English.
Which is why, as I was pondering how to translate “make a difference” for a poster today, I hit Google and found this wonderful service from Quebec’s Banque de dépannage linguistique:
I am very appreciative of the work done by our French-speaking Canadian colleagues. Too often, Canadian French is derided in France, because in some respects their French has taken a different course to ours. But they are also making a more conscious effort to preserve our common language.
“To make a difference” is a good example. I often see this used and/or translated in France as “faire une différence”, a straight and meaningless translation. Some people go for “faire la différence”, which has different meanings. Switching “little” words, a common mistake, might sound like a small inconsequential change, but it isn’t, similar to another frequent example, “mettre à jour” and “mettre au jour”. “Mettre à jour” means “to update,” “to change,” “mettre au jour” means “to place in broad daylight,” “to uncover”.
I do sympathize with non-French speakers who find these nuances difficult to grasp. When we learn English, we have similar problems with pospositions. Think for instance of the difference between “to give in” and “to give up”.
OK, languages change over time, and maybe in 10 or 20 years’ time, these mistakes will have become mainstream. But for the time being, they are not, and I feel that my duty as a translator is not to drive this kind of change.