The French Talk Tech in their Mother Tongue: Technology, Culture, and Language
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Ampère. Becquerel. Curie. Descartes. Pasteur. The French are not only proud of their language, but of their important contributions to science and technology. However, French linguists have quite a challenge on their hands. With English continuing to dominate the world of business, science and technology, how can they preserve the French language while embracing modern terminology? In particular, the speed in which terminology is created and globally adopted presents a unique dilemma for a country dedicated to the purity of the French language.

Today, the French have reluctantly included English words into their vernacular – words like “weekend” and “e-mail” can be heard throughout France. For most of us this evolutionary process seems natural due to the spread of the English language, but for French language traditionalists, it is a dilution of their language. In response, in recent years The General Commission on Terminology and Neology of France – which serves to promote the enrichment of the French language – has focused on translating English information-related words, such as “cloud computing,” into French.

In France, and to the French-speaking world “cloud computing” is called “informatique en nuage.” This specific attempt to preserve and enrich French with translated information-related words has quickly caught on among upper level sectors of business and technology – one online search of the term will prove its validity. However, the term has not been adopted among the broader French population. While “informatique en nuage” hasn’t stuck, perhaps once it receives sufficient exposure the general population will adopt it to their everyday conversations like they have with “mot-dièse” since hashtag was banned.

It is not the obligation of a non-native speaker of a language to be knowledgeable of new words adopted by native speakers. Instead, the responsibility is with translation service providers to be aware of the on-going evolution of the target language. This is especially important when it comes to technology translations as new terms are frequently introduced. Just another competence to evaluate when retaining the services of a translator.

In the meantime, here’s a list of some popular computer terms approved by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication. 

  • A browser = “Un navigateur”
  • A font = “Une police de caractère”
  • An (email) attachment = “Une pièce jointe”
  • Blog = “Un blog”
  • Blog post= “Un billet”
  • Bookmark = “Le marque-page”
  • Database = “Une base de données”
  • File = “Le fichier”
  • Follow = “Suivre”
  • Following = “Abonné”
  • Hacker = “Fouiner”
  • Hard drive = “Un disque dur”
  • LOL = “MDR” (mort de rire)
  • Mouse = “Une souris”
  • Password = “Un mot de passe”
  • Retweet = “Retweeter”
  • Scroll bar = “Une barre de defilement”
  • Search engine = “Un moteur de recherche”
  • Shareware = “Un partagiciel” (literal), or “un logiciel à contribution”
  • Software = “Un logiciel”
  • Software library = “Une logithèque”
  • Spamming = “Arrosage”
  • To crash = “Planter”
  • Tweet = “Tweeter”
  • Unfollowing = “Se désabonner”
  • Web = “Le web”
  • Wifi = “Le or la WiFi” (pronounced wee fee)