Highlights from the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference

As anyone who browses through enough of this blog will likely discover, my research interests are rather varied. I love technology, and I’ve presented and published papers and posts on crowdsourcing, website translation, and translator blogs. I spend a lot of time teaching, so I often post blog entries about my experiences in the classroom. But I also love history and politics–so much so, in fact that my doctoral thesis focused on the English and French translations of non-fiction texts related to Quebec nationalism, independence movements and the sovereignty referendums. So this month I’m attending two very different conferences held two weeks–and two continents– apart: the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the 12th Portsmouth conference “Those who can, teach”, in the UK. I’ve just returned from the Moncton conference, and I’ll be flying to the UK later this week.

Writing more than just a brief overview of the two conferences is beyond the scope of a short blog post (which is unfortunately all I have time to write), so I’ll share a few thoughts from the Moncton conference right now, and a few comments about Portsmouth later this month.

Some of the presentations I found particularly interesting were Chantal Gagnon‘s presentation on Liberal, Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois translation policies around the time of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum, Kyle Conway‘s research on (non)translation policies at Radio-Canada and the CBC, and Mathieu Leblanc‘s talk about translation in a Moncton public-service agency.

Gagnon’s comparison of speeches made by the Bloc Québécois, Parti Québécois and Liberal leaders during and after the 1995 sovereignty referendum really underscored, to me at least, the advantages of having an official translation policy: while the Liberal Party was able to target voters differently by adapting the French and English versions of speeches to the two audiences, the speeches made by politicians from the Quebec parties (Bloc and PQ) were translated in newspapers by journalists. Thus, only partial translations of the speeches were available, and these translations often contained minor shifts in meaning and omissions of politeness markers that the Quebec politicians may have wanted to retain. Not providing an official English translation meant the two Quebec parties weren’t able to control the message English-speaking Canadians (and English speakers outside the country) were receiving.

Conway, by examining statements made by policymakers and executives in the 1960s and 1990s, explored the question of translated news at the CBC and Radio-Canada. His presentation compared the current style of presenting news to Canadians, namely having two separate, but parallel, national news services to report on events and interview Canadian figures, and an alternative model periodically recommended by policymakers who wanted to see more bilingual or translated news. For instance, a politician’s might be broadcast in French across the country, but subtitles would be added to broadcasts appearing on English networks. Conway explored why this alternative model has not been successful in Canada, raising questions along the way about how French- and English-speaking Canadians understand one another.

The interviews Leblanc conducted in a Moncton-based federal department gave him some insight into the attitudes of bilingual public servants toward translation. The vast majority of the documents in the department were produced in English and then translated into French, even when the writer’s mother tongue was French. What I found fascinating was that many of the public servants Leblanc interviewed didn’t view translation negatively (as it often is in cases like this where the target language is the language into which texts are usually translated rather than the language from which translation generally take place). Instead, the French translations were viewed as a model to be followed. Some of the interviewees commented, for instance, that they wished they could write in French as well as the translators. Often, these interviewees didn’t write in French because they didn’t feel confident enough in their mother tongue, but the fact that the bilingual public servants also worked with unilingual anglophones also played a role: French speakers wanted to ensure their drafts could be read by everybody in the department before the document was finalized (and translated).

Moncton isn’t the only place where non-native English speakers are producing texts in English and having these texts translated into their mother tongues (and other languages). During the panel discussions and plenary talks with representatives from organizations like Canada’s Translation Bureau, the European Commission and Amnesty International, one point that came up several times was that language professionals are less frequently translating official documents into English and are instead revising English documents produced by non-native speakers and then sending these documents on for translation into other languages. Partly because non-native speakers are writing in English and their texts are being revised rather than translated into English, public-sector English translation work seems to be on the decline. This is a trend I’ll have to mention to my students, as editing (rather than translating) may be the kind of work they’ll have to look for post-graduation, given the current economy.

All in all, this was a very interesting conference, and it’s given me some new points to consider as a revise my doctoral dissertation into a book. I’ll start posting more on political and historical translations as I focus more attention on my book in the new year.

Translation and the October Crisis

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the October Crisis, an event that was sparked by the FLQ’s October 5, 1970 kidnapping of British trade commissioner James Cross and which worsened when a second FLQ cell kidnapped Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte on October 10. Although Cross was held for 59 days before being released in return for safe passage to Cuba for his kidnappers, Laporte’s lifeless body was found in the truck of a car on October 17. During the Crisis, the federal government implemented the War Measures Act, which banned the Front de libération du Québec and made membership in the association illegal. This legislation was replaced by the Public Order (Temporary Measures Act), which remained in effect until April 30, 1971.

To help commemorate the Crisis, the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa is holding a conference entitled “Just watch me!” 40th Anniversary of the October Crisis and War Measures Act in Canada next Thursday and Friday (October 14 and 15). I’ll be speaking about a specific case where translation helped make available a work that was technically banned in Canada: French copies of Pierre Vallières’ Nègres blancs d’Amérique had been seized, but the English translation was released by McClelland and Stewart in early 1971, when the Public Order (Temporary Measures) Act was still in effect.

In 1966, Pierre Vallières, an ardent supporter of Quebec independence and a member of the FLQ was being sought in connection with the deaths of Jean Corbo, a sixteen year old who was killed while planting a bomb near Dominion Textile Co., and Thérèse Morin, who was killed when an FLQ bomb exploded in the LaGrenade shoe factory. Vallières and his colleague Charles Gagnon were eventually arrested in New York, where they were protesting in front of the United Nations in an effort to help raise awareness about their belief that Quebec should become a free, socialist nation. While in prison, Vallières penned Nègres blancs d’Amérique, an autobiographic essay in which he argued that French Canadians in Quebec were like the Blacks in the United States: alienated, hated, exploited, and second-class citizens. Nègres blancs was finally published by Parti Pris in 1968, and by 1969, the Attorney General of Quebec ordered that all copies of the book be seized—including the one deposited in the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec—and that the author, publisher and distributors be accused of sedition and conspiracy to overthrow the provincial and federal governments. Vallières, however, claims this ban served only to increase the number of copies of his book that were sold in secret (1994: 9).

White Niggers of America: The Precocious Autobiography of a Quebec ‘Terrorist’, the first (and only) English translation of Nègres blancs d’Amérique, was published by New York-based Monthly Review Press, an independent socialist publishing house. The translation was republished in Canada—virtually unaltered—by McClelland and Stewart in 1971, the same year it was released by Monthly Review Press. American translator Joan Pinkham was responsible for translating Vallières’ book into English, and she corresponded with Malcolm Reid, a Canadian journalist who agreed to act as a consultant on the translation. In my presentation, I’ll be tracing the English translation’s journey from Monthly Review Press to McClelland & Stewart, exploring its effects on Canadians, and illustrating the different motivations behind its publication in Canada and the United States.

References: Vallières, Pierre. (1994). Préface (1994): Demain l’indépendance?. Nègres blancs d’Amérique. Montréal: Typo.

Targeting Quebec

While going through a pile of articles I had printed out a few years ago in case I could use them in the future, I came across a Globe and Mail article that mentioned a study commissioned by Headspace Marketing, a Toronto-based marketing company. It described a survey conducted among 1000 Quebec women to determine how effectively 12 retail brands (e.g. Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire) met their needs and expectations. The survey itself indicated that some brands, like Starbucks, which made an effort to market directly to Quebecers by adapting to their needs (e.g. changing the brand name, introducing products specifically for the Quebec market) actually scored the lowest with respondents, while other brands, such as Tim Hortons, which offer the same products throughout Canada and did not change their name for the Quebec market scored the highest.

I was intrigued by this study, because its results apply not just to marketing, but to localization as well. It demonstrates that when targeting a specific locale, adaptation is not always necessary, which may explain why many global brands have not adapted their websites specifically for the Quebec market: in my last research project on localized websites, I looked at the websites of twenty-five of the largest global brands (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Pampers, Intel, Apple) and found that none of them specifically targeted Quebec: instead, they targeted English and/or French Canada. And for the most part, the English and French versions of the Canadian websites were identical in form (same images, similar content, identical layouts). My PowerPoint presentation is here if you want to see more of my findings.


Strauss, Marina. (2005, September 27). “The secret to gaining success in Quebec.” The Globe and Mail, B4.

Localizing for Quebec

One of my many in-progress-but-on-the-back-burner projects is studying the ways in which websites are localized for Quebec. I am particularly interested in how and when Quebec is targeted separately from the rest of (French) Canada. Yahoo!, for example, has been localized for English Canada and French Quebec, which ignores the official-language minority groups: the French speakers outside Quebec and the English speakers inside it. And while the latest Yahoo! International page does list Yahoo! Quebec as a locale within Canada (in the map) and as a special Yahoo! homepage within the Americas (in the list of country names), not too long ago, the page was a little different:

Yahoo! Quebec map

In this version, the table above the map lists available locales in alphabetical order. In the Americas column are: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Quebec and the United States. Unlike the rest of these locales, however, Quebec is not an independent country. And unlike the various US locales (US in Chinese, US in Russian), which are clearly variations of the larger US-EN locale, Québec was not listed as a subset of Canada. What is interesting is that only Canada and the United States had separate links for the various languages in which their sites are available. Even though Yahoo! Switzerland is available in French, German and Italian, only one hyperlink (to the Swiss-German site) was listed in the text box, and this has stayed the same in the updated Yahoo! International page. Click on the link in the first paragraph to see for yourself.

By contrast, in the map, a part/whole relationship between Quebec and Canada was apparent, as a dotted arrow led from Canada to Y! Québec, just as dotted arrows led from United States to US in Chinese and Y! Telemundo. Switzerland, by contrast, had only one hyperlink on the interactive map, and no indication that three locales were actually available: Swiss-French, Swiss-German and Swiss-Italian.

Does this have political implications? Possibly. In the previous table, Yahoo! was depicting Quebec not just as a distinct locale (one in which French is spoken) but as a nation with the same status as independent countries like Canada and Argentina. And, in both the old and new Yahoo! International pages, Yahoo! has indicated that Quebec is either the only area in Canada where French is spoken, or the only one important enough to target, since it is the only French-language version available for Canadian Internet users. Where does that leave the French-speaking minorities outside the province? There’s some intriguing room for research here, but I’d like to collect some more examples of Quebec as a targeted locale before I draw any conclusions. Any thoughts would be welcome.