Whenever you do a concordance reading or translation, you certainly notice that the two or more languages you are working with show many stylistic differences. English and French are no strangers to this phenomenon. For instance, have you observed that French texts and translations are often longer than texts written in or translated into English? Have you noticed, as mentioned in one of my previous posts, that French makes more use of transitional words and expressions than English does? What about capitalization? Use of rhetorical questions? Negative versus affirmative structures? These stylistic components set our two official languages apart.
And there are more. Here are some other stylistic points to watch out for in your work.
Beware of generic placement
In building and street names, French places the generic term before the specific. Some francophone clients or authors, however, may not realize that English puts the generic after the specific term.
Théâtre Centennial Theatre
Centre Shaw Centre
rue Main Street
Note that the specific term is never translated. It would be incorrect to write *Théâtre du Centenaire or *rue Principale in a French context. Similarly, if you translate a street name such as rue Principale into English, you cannot translate it as *Main Street; instead, use Principale Street. Remember, municipalities and villages use street names that Canada Post will recognize as official.
Keep the above generic terms in front in English copy, since no official English equivalents of these place names exist.
Hyphenating award and structure names
French has a greater tendency to hyphenate award, building, bridge, university hall and park names. English, however, prefers not to hyphenate, leaving instead a space between the person’s first and last name.
Oscar Peterson Hall / salle Oscar-Peterson
Tom Fairley Award / prix Tom-Fairley
Tom Davies Square / place Tom-Davies
Sir John A. Macdonald Building / édifice Sir-John-A.-Macdonald
Jacques Cartier Bridge / pont Jacques-Cartier
If the award, building, bridge, university hall or park has no official English equivalent, use the French name in English copy. In this case, be sure to hyphenate the name as you would in French.
As a rule, French hyphenates award, building, bridge, university hall and park names when the personality in question has died.
French uses some punctuation marks more frequently than English does.
When French authors begin a list, draw a conclusion or summarize a point, they will often use a colon to set off the main clause. In English, you can either use a dash (—) or replace the colon with connectors like such as, namely or for example.
Mais il y a des gens qui gagnent bien leur vie : les médecins, les ingénieurs, les avocats.
But there are people, such as doctors, engineers or solicitors, who earn a lot of money.
Et il échoua : c’était à prévoir.
And he failed — which was to be expected.1
In a French context, commas replace English decimal points. When working into English, the reverse is true.
35,8 % (French); 35.8% (English)
In French, commas are not used in thousands, millions, billions or trillions. They are, however, common in English:
34 057 434 (French); 34,057,434 (English)
Note the non-breaking space2 between the number and the per cent sign, as well as between the millions in French. This space avoids bad breaks at the end of a line. Such a space is non-existent in English, although many English-language publishers call for one in certain situations — for example, to make sure a scientific measurement stays with its unit (“3.2 cm”).
In writing techniques courses, we are often told not to overuse ellipses. French uses them a great deal, especially in unfinished lists.
Il y a tant de grands romanciers au 19e : Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray …
There are so many great 19th-century novelists, such as Dickens, Eliot or Thackeray.3
In the above example, notice how the coordinating conjunction or separates Eliot from Thackeray, thereby avoiding the ellipsis. In the same line of thought, French texts often place etc. at the end of examples. According to Grant Hamilton, founder of Anglocom, a copywriting and translation company in Quebec City, etc. is not an example in English. You can safely drop it without changing the meaning.
Careful with monetary symbols!
In French, monetary symbols follow a figure. In English, they precede it.
35 500 $ (French); $35,500 (English)
Again, note the non-breaking space between the thousands and before the dollar sign in French. Also note the comma in English.
No spaces between words or symbols
As mentioned earlier, non-breaking spaces are non-existent in English. When writing in or translating into English, do not insert a space between words and punctuation, or between numbers and symbols.
That was such a wonderful performance!
Our laptops cost $800.
Do you know where I can find the nearest post office?
Aside from the tips I’ve pointed out in this post, what other stylistic differences do you notice in your concordance editing or translation work?
Previous “English Editing in Quebec” post: Mind Your Noun Strings, Please!
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1Françoise Grellet, Initiation au thème anglais : The Mirrored Image. Paris, Hachette Supérieur, 1992, p. 24.
2In French, this space is known as an espace insécable. In typography contexts, the noun espace is feminine, not masculine. In other words, instead of writing un espace, write une espace.
3Grellet, p. 25.