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The standard of French in use at the Government of Manitoba's Translation Services Branch

Laurent Gimenez, C. Tr.
Translation Services
Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism


Of all the tools that the Government of Manitoba has at its disposal for addressing the province's French-speaking population and the broader Canadian and international Francophonie, its Translation Services Branch is fundamental. Created in 1974, Translation Services employs thirteen translators, four interpreters and two terminologists, backed by a host of freelancers, to produce some 20,000 pages of text a year.

Ever since the courts' recognition in the 1980s of the constitutional status of French in Manitoba, the provincial government has been steadily expanding the array of French-language documentation and communication tools (especially web-based tools) it makes available to the public. Except for legislative documents—mainly statutes and regulations—which are translated by a separate legal translation branch, most of these documents are translated by the Government of Manitoba's Translation Services.

Willing or not, Translation Services has thus become one of the arbiters of standard French in Manitoba, along with other traditional prescriptive bodies such as the education sector, print and audiovisual media, writers (Manitoba has two French publishing houses) and community organizations.

The standard of French used by the Government of Manitoba's Translation Services Branch is essentially the same as the one used in Quebec and French Canada. This standard is characterized by gender-neutral, polished, and socially acceptable language that is adapted to the sociocultural, historical and geographical context, and is widely understood.

For example, Translation Services will invariably use the terms traversier, magasinage and station-service, as opposed to Franco-French ferry and shopping or African essencerie (gas station). Similarly, the neologisms proposed by the Office québécois de la langue française (courriel [email], clavardage [chatting], and mot-clic [hashtag], for example) are consistently given preference over those coming from the Francophonie outside Quebec and Canada (mél, dialogue en ligne, and mot-dièse).

Nevertheless, the branch also takes geographical variants peculiar to Manitoba into account, if only to designate certain specific realities. Reference is thus made to credit unions to designate Anglophone financial cooperatives and distinguish them from the Francophone caisses populaires, and the neologism balle au chaudron (pots-and-pans baseball) is an apt designation for this local variation on baseball that has not—at least, not yet—spread beyond the province's boundaries.

This local standard for French is also the consequence of a geolinguistic heritage that is unique in Canada. Unlike the situation in other provinces, where French has a single origin (Quebec stock in Ontario, for example), the French-speaking community in Manitoba can be traced back to three separate lineages: first, starting in the early 18th century, the Mitchifs (Métis), the descendants of the original coureurs des bois; then, throughout the 19th century, French-Canadians from Quebec and Francophones from certain states in the U.S.; and finally, from the 1880s on, Europeans from France, Belgium and Switzerland.

As researchers Robert A. Papen and Anne-Sophie Marchand point out, "[Translation]...while the French, Belgians and Swiss emigrated in fairly large numbers elsewhere in Canada, it was only in Western Canada and, to be more precise, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, that they were numerous enough to influence the linguistic profile of the Prairies Francophonie for almost a century."1

Although the linguistic diversity of Manitoba French is becoming less stark, it nevertheless remains a reality. It is especially apparent at the phonetic level and often makes it possible to determine a speaker's geographic origins. Thus, Francophone Métis from the village of St. Laurent, northwest of Winnipeg, are readily identified by their accent, and Francophones from the Pembina Mountain region in the southwestern part of the province reveal their European ancestry by the way they pronounce certain sounds and roll their r's.

Lexical variants, though they are few and are in the process of disappearing, still distinguish certain villages and regions of Manitoba. As authors A. Amprimoz and A. Gaboriau amusingly put it, "[Translation] a 'gamin' [small boy] or a 'gosse' from Notre Dame de Lourdes should not be surprised to see his tie [cravate] become a 'col' worn by a 'gars' from La Broquerie."2 (Notre Dame and La Broquerie are villages in the Pembina Mountain and Red River regions, respectively.)

Since the turn of the millennium, a new geolinguistic component has come to enrich Manitoba's Francophonie. It results from the decision on the part of the provincial government and Franco-Manitoban organizations to energize the Francophone community demographically and economically by turning to a large extent to international immigration. Manitoba has thus gone from thirty-odd Francophone immigrants a year at the end of the 1990s to 349 in 2009, 430 in 2010, and 464 in 2011 (a rise of nearly 33% from 2009 to 2011). The stated objective is to increase the proportion of Francophones in Manitoba's annual immigration to 7% (from less than 3% in 2011).

For its part, the University of Saint-Boniface, whose study programs are all French, has boosted its number of foreign students from 43 in 1998-1999 to 260 in 2007-2008, a 600% increase in 10 years. A portion of these Francophone foreign students settle in Manitoba, mainly through a mechanism that allows temporary residents who obtain a post-secondary diploma in the province to apply for permanent residency through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program.

In 2011, the five main sources of Francophone immigration to Manitoba were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, India, Morocco, and Mauritius. The Government of Manitoba's Translation Services is gradually adapting to this geolinguistic development on a "case by case" basis, one could say. The advisability of using a heavily connotative and linguistically highly "localized" term like traîne sauvage (toboggan), for example, would likely give rise to passionate debate within the team of translators.

One of the basic priorities of Manitoba's Translation Services is to produce texts that will be understood by the target audience, which is to say the Francophones of Manitoba, in all their diversity. Some linguistic choices reflect the desire to avoid any incomprehension or misunderstanding, a consideration that is all the more essential when public safety is at stake. Thus, when the term embâcle (ice jam) is used in translations, it is systematically accompanied by an explanatory paraphrase for the sake of immigrants unfamiliar with this natural phenomenon that dominates the headlines in Manitoba every year during spring breakup.

If the African term essencerie has not yet made it into the Manitoba government's lexicon, nothing is impossible in the long run; perhaps this clever linguistic invention will one day be as universally familiar to Manitoba's Francophone community as pots-and-pans baseball.


Back to the note1 "Un aspect peu connu de la francophonie canadienne de l'Ouest : le français hexagonal," Revue de l'Université de Moncton, 2006.

Back to the note2 "Les parlers franco-manitobains," L'état de la recherche et de la vie française dans l'Ouest canadien, Centre d'études franco-canadiennes de l'Ouest, St. Boniface, 1981.