Faux-amis/False Friends in technical translation

Fri 10 February 2023 (verändert am Fri 10 February 2023)   Translation   false friends, faux-amis, technical terms, technical translation, translation

Faux-amis / False Friends (1)

People who have studied both French and English, even at a not very advanced level, will have noticed that there are a lot of false friends between both languages. Yet, the English language has a growing presence in our daily lives and is also playing a leading role when it comes to the creation of terms referring to new technologies. Accordingly, when a term looks very similar to a term available in their own language, people tend to take on the English term and adapt it to their own language rather than using the correct term for it. Unfortunately, I also observe this attitude in linguists and often, when proofreading technical translations made by colleagues, I see English terms that have been simple taken over into the French translation.

Some may argue that languages are always evolving and that an Anglicization of the French language is a future trend, simply part of the natural evolution of language, that the French language has been influenced in many ways in the past and this is just another one of those influences... I beg to differ on this. For some terms, I don’t mind if the English has finally prevailed. The translation for “mobile phone” is an example: I personally don’t find it particularly inconvenient when it’s called “téléphone mobile” (“displaceable”) rather than the originally used “téléphone portable” (“carryable”) – the fact remains that the phone can be taken and used outside a fixed network. However, for other terms, it is just either ignorance and/or laziness not to reflect the actual meaning of the English term and search for a correct, idiomatic formulation in French. And linguists are definitively not supposed to work that way, are they?

Today, I will give a very common example of that: “support”/“supporter” have very different meanings in English and in French.

The English verb or noun “support” has different possible equivalents in French, according to the context:

However, the French verb “supporter” mainly means “to bear” and can sometimes be translated as “cope with”, “hold” or “withstand”, etc. The French noun “support” refers to something that carries or bears something.

These examples do not purport to be exhaustive, but illustrate well, I think, how a linguist should use circumspection to use the right term in his/her language. And, in my opinion, linguists do have a leading role in the use of correct language, even in our everyday life, outside any academic context.

Visit my website