Slap heads?

I always find myself irked somewhat when I hear English translations of Québécois terms. When “dépanneur” becomes “convenience store” or “St. Jacques” becomes “St. James”. It just seems so weird, as Quebec anglophones tend to use the French terms, almost as if they were untranslateable.

So while I’m reading this Globe and Mail piece on Têtes-à-claques, their translation of the term into “slap heads” threw me for a loop.

I suppose the translations are necessary for the English-speaking population outside Quebec, but the language loses something in its flair.

A similar feeling came over me with the English media’s reporting of Girouettegate. After an insult by Mario Dumont, the word “girouette” has been added to the list of banned words at the National Assembly. But the CBC and The Gazette, among others, have used the term “weathervane”, which is an accurate translation but again loses some of its flair.

Maybe knowing both languages makes me overly snobbish about these things.

13 thoughts on “Slap heads?

  1. princess iveylocks

    “Convenience store” is not a direct translation, Steve, it’s what the rest of the world calls a corner store. Unless you’ve got a specific example to complain about, that sentence fragment doesn’t make any sense.

    Griping about how Second Cup should Frenchify its trademark, and then claiming that Anglos shouldn’t anglicise French terms, is quite the ideological shift in four days — face it, mon ami, the linguistic double standard just smacked you in the face. I realize you’re trying to compensate for your anglophone upbringing, but let’s ease up on the PC commentary and pick a spade, any spade. :P

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  2. princess iveylocks

    Holy crap, emoticons. Sorry, Fagstein readers. I just needed to challenge a wholly unconvincing pro-Bill 101 post without disparaging Fagstein personally… he’s not as pussyfooted about issues in real life. (Emoticon!)

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  3. Fagstein Post author

    It’s not a pro-Bill 101 thing. There’s no government regulation involved here. It’s about how translation into English loses some of the character of the language.

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  4. Christopher DeWolf

    I generally agree. Translations are good, but they’re too often provided without the original context, which gets you into nasty things like the whole yeux bridés controversy. (The problem with that, I would argue, is not the actual term, which isn’t offensive in French, but the way that Boisclair used it. Of course, that flew right over the heads of most people in the ROC.)

    At the same time, I have to admit a contradiction in my own view, since I am irked with people use certain French names while speaking English (like those anglos who insist on saying every street name à la française).

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  5. princess iveylocks

    Okay, but translating copyrighted/well-known English terms into French doesn’t result in similar linguistic dissonance?

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  6. Peter

    It’s not true that quebec anglophones always use the French terms. It would be unusual to say the least, for an anglo to say “avenue des Pins” in lieu of Pine Ave, or “du Parc” instead of Parc Ave.

    You have to remember that before the Quiet revolution, many of the street signs were in English. “Mountain Street” for example, and yes “St James” too. I have an anglo friend who recently moved here from Alberta. She questioned my anglo pronunciation of Saint Urbain Street (Saint Urban). Like Chris says, I find it strange that most of my friends from out of province seem to go out of their way to pronounce place names in French (St Viatuhhrr vs. St Viater).

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  7. Josh

    Peter and Chris, it’s because (I’m assuming) you’ve grown up with it. And you’ve grown up with an understanding of language politics in this province that people who didn’t grow up here do not have.

    I’m 8 years into my time in Montreal, and yet, whenever I go to pretty much *any* store, or have to interact with pretty much *any* stranger, I start in French. I’ve noticed that most of my friends who’ve lived their entire lives here almost always start in English, and maybe switch if it’s necessary. Similarly, people from out of province would have no way of knowing that, for example, anglophones here are supposed to pronounce St-Urbain and Av. du Parc the English way but, for example, l’Esplanade and Hotel-de-Ville don’t become “of the Esplanade” and “City Hall”.

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  8. Fagstein Post author

    Depends on who you talk to. Some people still use names like Dorchester, St. James, Craig (St. Antoine) and Church (De l’Eglise). I tend to limit it to things like Mountain, St. John’s and Park, whose translations are obvious and don’t cause confusion.

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  9. Ww

    It happens here too. The locals call Greenwich, NS- “Green – itch”. The come from aways call it “Greh-nitch” as in England. Our rule is – “when in Rome …” we accommodate to local usage as much as possible.

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  10. Christopher DeWolf

    Josh, I didn’t grow up in Montreal, I simply picked up on the local (anglo) usage of certain names. As Peter said, it’s only recent transplants who say “des Pins” instead of Pine or “de la Montagne” instead of Mountain. Anyone who comes into extensive contact with longtime Montreal residents tends to adopt the more common local usage of street names.

    It’s the same in every city, even in those with only one main language. Nobody in Calgary says “Cal-gary” — they all say “Cal-gree.” Nobody in Toronto pronounces Yonge the way it’s written; they say “Young.” Montreal just happens to be unique in that it’s bilingual, so there’s often two ways of referring to the exact same thing.

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  11. Christopher DeWolf

    By the way, Josh, you mention the language you speak when you go into stores, which is interesting because it’s related to the way people say street names. In public, there are a set of social cues that tell you which language you should speak. Anyone who has lived here for any length will be able to pick up on them: if a cashier is speaking English to someone else, that’s a good bet that you can speak English to them, too. If there are a lot of other English-speakers in the store, chances are the cashier won’t insist on speaking French.

    It depends on the neighbourhood, too — if you’re in Westmount, NDG, Chinatown, Victoria in CDN, Park Ex, etc., there’s a good chance that people will either be anglophone or will speak more English than French. In the Latin Quarter, around the Jean Talon market, in the east end of downtown, in Verdun, St. Henri, anywhere on the Plateau except the Main, etc., it’s just the opposite and chances are people will be speaking mostly French.

    As for strangers, “when in doubt, speak French” is usually a good rule, but again this depends on the neighbourhood.

    Of course, all of this is moot when you’re in parts of town with which you’re familiar. In my own neighbourhood I can tell you which businesses are mostly francophone and which are mostly anglophone. I *know* that when I walk into Navarino on Park Ave. that most of the staff and a huge chunk of the customers will be anglo; I *know* that when I walk into Le Dépanneur Café on Bernard it will be mostly franco.

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