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Beware of semantic shifts!


L’EXPRESS (Toronto) – Very recently, a study published by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) noted a significant decline in French in the workplace. After polling 2,500 businesses, 180 municipalities and 16 boroughs, the OQLF unveiled figures alarming.

Michèle Villegas-Kerlinger – L’Express

French in Quebec, and especially in Montreal, is losing ground in both the public and private sectors.

But how to explain this backtracking? It seems that a certain number of Quebecers would like to go back to a pre-René Lévesque era, even to the age of English imperialism! Could it be that, after so many years of bitter struggles and hard sacrifices, Francophones are voluntarily giving up the gains so hard to acquire?

The semantic shift

As worrying as the results published by the OQLF may be, there has been, for some time now, another much more subtle, but just as dangerous trend that awaits us. This is called “semantic shift”, that is, a shift in the original meaning of a word or expression.

In this case, it is a question of giving an English meaning to a French word. To begin with, let’s take the French word “Schedule” and the English word “Schedule”. The two terms are similar, but have different meanings. They sound like “false friends” to be wary of.

It is when we actually give the meaning of one word to another, without really realizing it, that we are in the presence of a case of semantic slippage.

By digging a little, we see that the terms “schedule” and “schedule” are indeed in the Quebec-French Dictionary by Lionel Meney, but they are not accepted as the standard of French in Canada in the sense of “schedule” and “to schedule”.

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The true definition of the word “schedule”

According to National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources, “the scheduleIs an old word for, among other things, a writing by which a person makes a commitment, recognizes a debt. As for the word “schedule”, it alludes to what relates to schedules.

However, when it comes to something else, such as a plan or a program, we must have recourse to expressions like calendar, timeline, timetable, timetable, execution plan, workplan, forecast, program.

Here is for the only English word “schedule” the great variety of French equivalents offered by the Great Glossary of Anglicisms in Quebec :

1- Annex of a contract

2- Schedule of rates, interest, salaries

3- Cadence of a job

4- Calendar of activities spread over a long period of time

5- Schedule of deadlines to be respected during any activity

6- A person’s schedule

7- Schedule of certain activities that take place within a short period of time,

8- Order of departures, coach timetable, railway indicator

9- Plan, work program of a project

10- Production forecasts, which determine the progress of a site

11- Conference communications program, conference activities, radio or TV broadcasts, etc.

12- Role in which the cases to be heard by a court are entered

13- Table of reservations in a sports center, etc.

14- Tariff, scale which indicates the prices, rights or costs of services and products

The choice will naturally depend on the context, hence the potential difficulty for the francophone here: he will have to analyze the situation and clarify his thinking. A simple password everywhere like “schedule” has no equivalent in the language of Molière. However, solutions in French exist, as we have just seen, and it is important to favor them.

Here are some more examples. The faulty expressions “being ahead / behind on the schedule” and “following the schedule” will be replaced respectively by to be ahead / behind, to have been ahead / behind and by progress as planned, be on schedule / forecast / on schedule.

Read the full article on the L’Express website

The verb “céduler”, not found in French dicos!

Fortunately, there is also a panoply of French terms that can advantageously replace “céduler”, a pseudoverb created from scratch. Again, the choice will depend on the context.

If it is about things, we will privilege expressions like add to, set up calendar / schedule / program, set an appointment, register / place in calendar/on the schedule / program, plan on the schedule, program, etc.

In the case of people, we will prefer expressions like affect, designate someone to do a job at a certain time, to have to do (something at a certain time), to be on duty, etc.

The faulty expression “to be scheduled for” can be replaced by the following expressions, inspired by the work of Jean Forest:

1- Mr. Martin is due to take up duty shortly.

2- The show is scheduled for Saturday evening.

3- The meeting is scheduled for this afternoon.

4- The plane must take off / land, is expected at / announced for 13:25.

5- The coach must leave at 11:35 p.m.

6- The appointment is set at a very late hour.

Here are two small tests, inspired by the OQLF’s Linguistic Troubleshooting Bank, for those who would like to check their knowledge. The answers follow.

Little test number 1

1- The schedule baseball games are not finalized.

2- Here is the schedule of all our activities.

3- The architect did not respect our schedule.

4- Do you have a schedule trains?

5- The works are carried out according to a schedule precise.

6- I have a schedule loaded this quarter!

Answers: 1.schedule, 2.program, 3.schedule, 4.time, 5.work plan, 6.time schedule)

Little test number 2

1- The animators have schedule several activities.

2- It is necessary schedule a guided tour for the museum.

3- It only remains schedule this new course.

4- Do you want schedule a meeting for next week?

5- You should call the pediatrician to schedule an appointment.

6- You are schedule to present the first.

7- Are you schedule to work tonight?

8- We will discuss it with the staff schedule for the day shift.

9- I can’t schedule the landscaper for Friday.

Answers: 1. established the schedule of activities, 2. reserve, 3. register for the program, 4 plan, 5. fix, 6. Depending on the program, it is up to you, 7. on duty, 8. assigned, 9. bring … Friday)

On a slippery slope

One might wonder why one should be wary of semantic shifts. After all, this is just a noun and a verb. Unfortunately, the shift in meaning is not limited to the terms “schedule” and “schedule” alone.

The phenomenon is not new and it seems to be gaining ground in North America and Europe, as is the use of English in Quebec in private companies and the public service.

It starts with one word, then two, before expanding to phrases. Then it’s a sentence, a paragraph and, finally, a whole written text, a whole conversation, a whole language that the interlocutor will be unable to understand if he does not speak English. It will no longer be French, but English with French words.

From the loss of a language to the loss of its culture and identity, there is only one step. Wasn’t that what motivated the Quiet Revolution, and all that followed in Canada, and made Quebec a distinct society and Canada a bilingual country?


lefranco.ab.ca