Road Signs and Signposts in Delirium!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Okay… Ottawa has not yet been officially declared bilingual, although it is the National Capital of Canada… a country that has two official languages (English and French). Since this city shelters the Federal Government, one would think City Hall would have embraced the law and policies on bilinguism a long time ago! Nope! Quite a dichotomy, don’t you agree? Nevertheless, both Ottawa and the province of Ontario make every effort to “translate” road signs in French… yet the results are often pathetic, if not hilarious!

Personally I am rather ashamed of living in a city where almost everything that is written in French sucks! It seems even more obvious this summer with all the road repairs across town and the widening of the highway 417 in the west end. Actually I would prefer having all the signs in English only! I am convinced I am not the only Francophone here having noticed how bad the translation is… One would guess that both the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation have translators and editors… it seems they do not use them unless the ones they have can only do literal translation… and if it is the case, well… replace them with staff qualified for the job! Professionals who do understand the language nuances and can adapt texts in a way that the message will be clear to all.

Because of the nature of my work, I travel across town daily to go from one client to another and… I cannot help it! All these road signs and postsigns are flashing before my eyes and, at the end of the day, I am irritated… I am thinking of the tourists from Québec, France, Belgium and other French-speaking countries: we (myself included! unfortunately…) must look like Barbarians! Both my city and my province bring disgrace on me! I have to admit this is something I take personally… go figure why!

I collected a few horrific samples (rather an easy task by the way!)… For instance streets, roads, highways are fermés around here (of course they do not agree the past participle, which most of the time reads fermé – masculine, singular – and often the accent is missing ferme… then I think of a farm!). Yes, fermé is the translation for closed… but all depends on the context! Unless there is a door, a lid or a trap, we cannot fermer something in French… the correct translation of street closed is rue barrée! But, the winner is without a doubt: La nuit Fermetures des voies Eagleson-Moodie! I admit I do not really understand this road sign (even in English!), since both Eagleson and Moodie are exits, not lanes…

Speaking of exits, there are a couple of them closed on the 417 at the time and we have to use alternative ones… In English, I have to use Moodie, in French they want me to utiliser Moodie! To do what with it? I utilise a pen for writing… tell me, what is the use of an exit? In French, we borrow an exit (a road, a street, a highway, an elevator, stairs, etc.)… Use Moodie should read Empruntez Moodie

Because of the works on the 417, there are warning signs for motorists to pay attention to the trucks entering and exiting the construction site using the left lane… For months, Truck Entrance was translated with Entre de camion: entre means between and camion should be plural camions (I doubt there is only one single truck entering the site)! I do not know what happened but, this week, I noticed this sign had been corrected (although the accent is still missing… yet it is an improvement! There is still hope!) and replaced with Entree (if they had written Entrée, it would be peeeeeeerfect) de camions.

Downtown, Bank (one of the busiest streets in Ottawa) is closed for major repairs (for a third year in a row) and because stores’ owners were furious, the City decided to install a sign saying Business as usual… In French one can read Commerces (or Magasins? I admit of being a little fuzzy on this particular detail) ouverts comme d’habitude… L’art de compliquer les choses! Commerces ouverts would be enough for every Francophone to understand (we speak French, but we are not retarded!).

Deers are continuous threats to motorists’ lives around here… therefore there are plenty of road signs to warn them of the possibility of being hit by one of those mastodons (not a pleasant encounter, trust me!). There is one close to the exit to my place that says Night Danger Next 15 kmDanger de nuit Prochaine 15 km… would it be that difficult to agree the adjective prochain with kilomètres (masculine, plural) and write Prochains instead?

And the list goes on… and on… and on… but I kept the best one for dessert! Believe it or not No Standing has been translated with Ne Pas Rester Debout!!! Okay then, if I cannot stand up, give me a bench or even better a couch where I can sit or lie down for a while!

Perhaps I should offer my services? Well… I do not think so… I am convinced there are a couple of excellent translators and editors out there who would be thrilled to get a job with the City Hall or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. May I make a suggestion though? It would be so simple to send a few inspectors to Gatineau, Québec (it is only a bridge away!) just to take a look at road signs and postsigns… it would not cost anything to the Ottawa tax payers and it would make the Francophones happy! And I am sure that the Ville de Gatineau and the Ministère des Transports du Québec would be more than flattered to help their neighbour with a lexicon on correct terminology… free of charge, as pro-bono!!! Because the Québécois are proud of their language and they will do anything to protect it and keep it in good shape…

At least, no one has translated “Dead End” with “Fin Morte”!!!

My pride as a Francophone, although severely endangered, is still alive…

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2 Comments

  1. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    July 29, 2008 at 2:28 am

    This was a fantastic read! And I learned quite a bit along the way, too, since French is not my first language. I do often wonder why people just don’t go the extra mile to verify a correct translation. My kids even have a mass produced Madeline cartoon video. Little French phrases are sprinkled throughout the dialogue, including one that is used over and over again: “la maison vieux.” Even this anglophone CRINGES. My first year French students (I hope) would know better.
    BTW, although I originally studied in France, I later spent time in Quebec (Quebec City, Chicoutimi). My heart belongs in Quebec 🙂

  2. July 29, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Me too! My heart belongs in Québec… I am originally from Montréal… I moved in Ottawa in 2000. Fortunately, I am only at 90 minutes from Montréal… every time I have a long weekend, I go there!

    You are right, some translations are just horrific and I can’t stand it! Around here, it is pathetic sometimes… I don’t know if you read those posts: “A Breath-taking Plunge into Hades”, “Why do I sometimes feel like a second Citizen?” and “Welcome to the Land of Bienvenue”… but they could interest you! I try to be humorous about it though… You’ll find them in Archives (June and July).

    Also, if you go on my website http://ladamedragonserviceslinguistiques.com, in Resources, you will find a few tips : movies, theater, books, softwares and a place I call “Corrigez-vous”… I try my best to educate on the correct expressions to use.

    Time to go to bed… Later!


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