Some Thoughts on the Translation of "Volet" into English

Charles Skeete
(Terminology Update, Volume 31, Number 2, 1998, page 6)

Federal translators should proceed with caution when translating volet into English. A perusal of official government publications provides a variety of English terms used to render volet in connection with federal programs, policies and initiatives; component appears to be the one most commonly used in translated texts.

We read of "life insurance contracts … that separate the savings component (volet) from the insurance component"; or of the minister requiring assistance in order to carry out an important "volet (component) de son mandat"; or of a personnel management policy stipulating that the "volet (component) humanitaire" be part and parcel of the duties and responsibilities of a particular office. We can refer to programs by their components: the health component (volet) of Established Programs Financing "qui constitue le plus important des programmes fédéraux de transfert aux provinces"; a Public Service Commission program which includes a "volet (component) de perfectionnement des femmes qui occupent des emplois non traditionnels"; "dans le cadre de ce volet (component) du programme d’orientation des cadres intermédiaires du ministère," middle managers analyze areas for improvement in policies, systems, and processes to make the Department more effective; and the NAFTA desk described as the "volet (component) canadien d’un programme spécial de promotion du commerce international."

Also documented in some of these government publications are a number of other English equivalents for volet, some of which might be useful to explore. Where component is not the appropriate translation for volet, the translator must find another solution. In some cases, component may be interchangeable with another English expression that seems more natural in the context. Let us consider the following English equivalents, together with their respective usage samples which were taken from general and administrative texts dealing with federal programs, policies, services, documents and course titles:


  • On a élargi le volet perfectionnement en mettant à l’essai des affectations interfonctionnelles et opérationnelles. / The program’s developmental aspects were broadened by piloting cross-functional and operational assignments.
  • Un autre volet de la question : le libre échange / Another aspect of the issue: free trade.


  • Le Secrétariat a réalisé une évaluation du volet éducatif de ce programme. / The Secretariat provided an evaluation of the educational content of the program.


  • Le volet études commerciales / The Business Studies element.
  • Le volet Innovation / The Innovation element.


  • Le volet des projets environnementaux vise à promouvoir l’action communautaire par des projets. / The Green Projects initiative is intended to promote community action.


  • La nécessité de s’abonner à un volet de services pour obtenir un autre volet de services. / A requirement whereby subscribers subscribe to one level of services to obtain another level.


  • Nous poursuivons deux volets d’activités. / We have two lines of business.


  • Ce budget représente le premier volet d’un processus en deux étapes. / This budget represents the first phase of a two-stage process.


  • Le programme d’échanges EVE comporte un volet de formation, un volet d’échanges et un volet d’exposés. / EVE’s exchange program includes training, exchange and presentation segments.
  • L’école ne doit pas négliger ce volet de sa mission. / Schools must not neglect this segment of their mission.


  • Le volet souple de la stratégie d’habilitation vise donc la capacité de l’employé de répondre aux besoins du client. / The soft side of the empowerment strategy addresses the employee’s capability to act on the customer’s needs.
  • Le volet rigide de l’habilitation aide à définir le lien avec le client. / The hard side of the empowerment strategy helps to define the link with the customer.


  • Le volet des projets de développement / The developmental stream.


  • Processus du Volet deux sur les questions de sécurité en Asie / Track Two Process on Security Issues in Asia.


  • Le volet de programme / The program unit.

Although several of the equivalents are interchangeable with component in some of the examples given, e.g. aspect (un autre volet de la question), element (volet Innovation), segment (volet de sa mission), and stream (volet des projets de développement), it is the translator’s responsibility to determine which term best renders the nuance and shade of meaning intended by the author of the source text.

In the first example, aspect may be better suited to the context because of the requirement to specify that the subject can be viewed from another angle, rather than to provide a simple reference to its constituent part, which selecting component would do.

In the third example, element may be the preferred term simply because the essential and basic part of the whole needs to be emphasized. In a later example, segment may have been chosen to communicate that the mission in question was given clearly defined sections and divisions, which component would not have conveyed.

The translator may also find that there are occasions when the term volet requires no translation or that its meaning is transparent. Here are a few examples:

  1. Un programme résidentiel comprenant un volet traitement pour jeunes délinquants. / A residential program providing treatment for juvenile offenders.
  2. Le volet Accès communautaire sera également étendu. / Community Access will also be expanded.
  3. Expérience jeunesse - volet international / International Youth Experience.
  4. Le régime à double volet / The combination plan.

The contexts and examples presented here illustrate that translating volet in administrative and general texts requires careful analysis. Simply consulting a bilingual dictionary would not give an adequate answer, but only yield an abundance of scientific and technical meanings.

In technical texts, the term volet conveys a less abstract idea, more easily understood than the one evoked in administrative texts. Although the concept of a constituent part or element may still be relevant, the image most common in technical texts is one of a device opening and closing to cover, protect, block or regulate. Translators must therefore recognize other possible English translations worthy of consideration. Here is a sampling of English equivalents, together with their respective usage samples and contexts:

registre coupe-feu à volet simple : single-blade fire damper (mechanical equipment)

volet à double fente : double-slotted flap (aviation)

volet avant : forward aperture plate (heating equipment)

volet compensateur : trim tab (aviation)

volet costal : flail chest (respiratory ailments)

volet coulissant : sliding shutter (construction/fire safety)

volet coupe-feu : fire damper (fire prevention)

volet coupe-fumée : smoke baffle (fire prevention)

volet d’admission : throttle (internal combustion engines)

volet d’atterrissage : landing flap (aviation)

volet d’avertissement continu : constant ringing drop (safety equipment)

volet de base : basic tier (television)

volet de contrôle des fumées : smoke damper (fire prevention)

volet de culasse : breech block carrier (firearms)

volet de débit : butterfly valve (automobile and mechanical equipment)

volet de décharge : dump door (aviation)

volet de départ; volet d’air : choke (internal combustion engines)

volet de la fenêtre d’éjection : ejector port cover (small arms)

volet d’entraîneur : tractor cover (printers)

volet de protection : dark slide (photography)

volet de réchauffeur : heat control valve (automobile and mechanical equipment)

volet de stabilisation : yaw duct (rail transport)

volet d’étiquette : label stub (labelling)

volet-déversoir : overpour gate (hydrology)

volet électronique : electronic wipe (television/cinema/computer graphics)

volet facultatif : discretionary tier (telecommunications/television)

volet intérieur : inboard flap (aviation)

volet interne : inboard surface (aviation)

volet lingual : lingual flange (dentistry)

volet obturateur : blocker door (aviation)

volet optionnel : optional tier (television)

volet optique : optical wipe (television/cinema/computer graphics)

volet orientable : adjustable flap (aviation)

volet réglable : adjustable louvre (air transport)

volet simple/double : single-unit/double-unit slide (photography/astronomy instruments)

The list of terms and solutions presented in this article is not exhaustive. It is intended only to identify some of the terminological and conceptual problems encountered when translating this polysemous French word.

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