Tag Archives: Express International Translations

The heavy influence of French in the English language

France England Flag

Unilingual Anglophones in Canada often despair of their inability to speak French, but may not realize that a healthy portion of the words they commonly use in everyday parlance come from French. A text written in French would indeed be more intelligible to any hopelessly unilingual Anglophone than anything written in Old English.

This heavy influx of French into the English has nothing to do with the bilingual nature English/French of Canada, but can be sourced to the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066 and to the ensuing Norman rule of the British Isles for nearly 200 years during which Normandy (that part of France where the Normans came from) and England were united under one ruler. French became the language of the administration, of the nobility and of the courts. In addition, French enjoys a healthy presence in everything that has to do with home furnishing, food, fashion and luxury (surprised?).


So, what are the French words commonly used in English?

Let us start with politics: govern, parliament, administer, court are all French words.

  • Monarchy:              noble, duke, baron, subject, reign, royal
  • Law:                          people, judge, jury, accuse, advocate, plea, acquit, exonerate. verdict, prison
  • Economy:                 money, finance, revenue, profit, benefit, property.
  • War:                           defense, battle, military, canon, offense, troop, peace, army, treaty
  • Religion:                    saint, prayer, repent, miracle, preach, piety, confession, baptism, clergy
  • Geography:              mountain, plain, pole, equator, latitude, longitude, summit
  • Home furnishing:   table, lamp, paper, chair, mirror

While it will surprise nobody that English borrowed ample words from French for food, food deserves a paragraph by itself, for it denotes the social relationship that existed between the English peasantry (who spoke English) and the French cooks exercising their trade in high social circles.

There is an interesting coupling of English and French words when talking about animals depending on whether the animal is on the field or ready to be consumed.

So, the cow in the field becomes beef (French word) on our table. A pig becomes pork (French word), a calf becomes veal (French word) , sheep becomes mutton (French word).

To finish off with food, let us note that meals, namely dinner and supper come from French as well as good things that may ornament your table such is biscuit, salad and fruit.

A further blog will be devoted to another kind of pairing in which English has borrowed not one, but two French words to express the same meaning.

PS: Underlined words in this narrative are all French words. A sizeable proportion.

Translation and Globalization

It is generally assumed that the English language has gained prominence in the world as the result of globalization and that since English is presumably the business language, most people in the world – both clients and suppliers – speak and understand English.

Furthermore, it is being believed by an increasing number of people and corporations in North America that since most people in the world speak and understand English, there is less need for translations.

This geocentric view is an oversimplification of realities.

While it is correct that the internet affords corporations access to a global audience, globalization and the multiplication of free-trade agreements have dramatically increased competition.

Far from threatening the translation industry, globalization and the increased competition it entails is enhancing the need for translations.

In our increasingly competitive environment, clients around the world have become more demanding in terms of quality and personalized services. Nobody would dispute the fact the clients – be it in Asia or Latin America – would naturally be more inclined to buy a product on line if the website is written in their language. One surprising effect of globalization and the accompanying universality of Internet is that according to Aberdeen Group (a tech-tech research company in the US), while 77% on Internet users were native English speakers in 1997, that proportion has dwindled to just 32 % today. In other words, 2/3 of Internet users are native in another language than English!

Those starting figures enhance the increasing role and importance of translations.

Figures as to the number of people native in a particular language vary widely, but there it is undisputed that there are more Mandarin and Spanish native speakers in the world than native English speakers. Furthermore, Spanish is the official language in 21 countries where as only 6 have English as the official language. This speaks not only to the pre-eminence of Spanish over English in absolute terms, but also to regional disparities in both languages.

If a corporation wants to go international, not only should it feature more than English on its website, but also avoid selecting a language according to the size of its native speakers. Instead it would be wiser to target a specific country or a range of countries instead….countries where the products are likely to be most successful.