The Linguist

The Linguist 59,5 - October/November 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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18 The Linguist Vol/59 No/5 2020 IN CONTACT As citizens return to work, contract tracing has become vital, giving rise to various terms in French Why Covid-19 raises issues for French. By Beatrice Murail N ew scientific words tend to appear first in journals published in English and then gradually make their way into other languages via the media. However, with Covid-19, because the virus was unknown to the scientific community and spread so fast, French journalists had to deal with the issue in real time. They did this by adopting related vocabulary in English wholesale, adapting it or improvising translations. This resulted in a number of words and expressions that seemed hastily cobbled together. From the start, traditional media outlets in France, including Le Figaro, talked of distanciation sociale, which echoed 'social distancing' but was a bit of a mouthful and soon evolved to a more easily pronounced distance sanitaire. Journalists mentioned unités de soins intensifs, not realising that the French equivalent of an ICU is a service de réanimation – réa for short. On the website of the national radio, France Info, 'sedated' became sédaté, which was so opaque that an explanation had to be given next to the word: avoir reçu un calmant ou un antidouleur ('having received a sedative or a painkiller'). Le Monde, which used to eschew Anglicisms, used monitoré and le care. It also had a story about the British government being "criticised for a lack of tests and fans", though readers might have expected the quality daily to know that 'ventilator' does not translate as ventilateur ('fan') but respirateur. Le Monde also seemed torn about the way 'contact tracing' should be rendered. In early April it spoke of suivi de contacts but four weeks later it ran with cas contacts, each time with the English in parenthesis. Later it opted for 'contact tracing' with traçage de contact in brackets. ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a medical technique that provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support. Its widespread use during the pandemic meant that it cropped up a lot in the French media. However, the totally opaque acronym was used in French alongside its translation (oxygénation par membrane extracorporelle). Beyond vocabulary specific to the virus, Le Figaro, Le Monde and France Info threw caution to the wind and mistranslated 'suggest' as suggérer, although it meant variously laisser entendre, insinuer and laisser penser. "To test for the virus" should be faire un test de dépistage du virus but the verb tester has been ubiquitous in French over the past few months. Across the Channel, covering the pandemic in English from French sources had its own challenges. When French bookshop owners protested that they should be allowed to open at the height of lockdown – just like food stores and chemists – in a bid to counter what they described as "unfair competition" from big online retailers, The Guardian reported that libraries (bibliothèques), rather than bookshops (librairies), wanted to open. In its live coverage, the paper also wrote 'rest confined' instead of 'remain confined' (rester confiné). It had more false friends in éventuel, which translates as 'possible' rather than 'eventual', and progressif, the equivalent of 'gradual' not 'progressive' in the context of a pandemic. Taking control News bulletins in France being awash with Anglicisms, the Culture Ministry waded in. Its Commission d'enrichissement de la langue française (CELF), which makes suggestions to the Académie française, decreed in April that foyer, grappe or groupe should replace le cluster; faire face or affronter une situation éprouvante should be used instead of coping; maladie et éléments pathogènes should be chosen over comorbidité; and THE FRENCH MALADIE IMAGES © SHUTTERSTOCK

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