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English-to-French translation: from one world language into another

The Normans brought French to the British Isles around 1,000 years ago. This arrival left an indelible mark on the English language, but the resulting similarities make an English-to-French translation rather challenging.

Estranged relatives

French has its roots firmly planted in Latin, whereas English is a mélange of several languages that swept over the British Isles in successive waves. These linguistic waves are responsible for English’s large vocabulary, which is not always congruent, and its abbreviated endings and verb forms.

The last wave arrived in 1066 with the Normans, who introduced a precursor of today’s French to England. French then became the official language of the nobility and the royal family for several centuries. The estrangement between England and France did not take hold until the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War.

French: world language of the modern era

French remained the language of the European nobility and elites for centuries. Like England and other European empires, France grew into a colonial power, which ensured the spread of the French language to all of the world’s continents.

Today, French is spoken daily by around 235 million people in over 50 countries. It is considered a world language and is also the official language of many international institutions such as the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union.

The Académie française, founded in 1635, still guards the language with great zeal and successfully prevents loan words, especially English ones, from creeping in. French people are, as a rule, very proud of their language and expect to be spoken to in their mother tongue. Despite this, only three per cent of all websites are in French – less than there are in Persian. There’s certainly a great deal of potential demand in this area.

English-to-French translations: too close for comfort

Due to the strong influence French has had on the English language, they share many similar-sounding words that nevertheless have a different meaning. Close attention must be paid to these “false friends” when translating.

Although both languages follow the subject-verb-object model, there are no fixed rules in French for structuring the remaining parts of the sentence. This means that an English-to-French translation can’t follow the same sentence structure of the source text without sounding awkward. A professional linguist has to expertly deal with many challenges before a translation is correct and also sounds idiomatic.

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