In Canada, how good does a business' French have to be?

OK, I understand that in Canada businesses have to have French signs and labelling a certain size relative to their English text. Does the law enforce how good that French is, assuming the business can’t afford a competent translation service? (I suppose having incomprehensible French would be the same as not having French at all and would therefore not satisfy the law.)

That’s not true. You’re thinking of Quebec.

I’m not sure, though, regarding the question reframed in a Quebec context.

Huh. So all that bilingual packaging I’ve seen was just to conform to the law in a single province?

OK, sure. Please rephrase in terms of Quebec.

Bilingual signage is not required only in Quebec. It is required at all Federal buildings and National Parks.

Bilingual packaging is required for all products sold in Canada.

The summer student staying with me is from France.

She bursts out laughing at some of the ‘French’ translations she sees on some products.

In Quebec the mandate is that primary sinage is in French (even if it means changing a company name - i.e. Second Cup) with smaller sinage in English. During my recent trip to Montreal some of the English translations were pretty fanciful.

I suppose my answer is that as long as the translation kind of makes sense, the grammer doesn’t have to be perfect.

However, as Ginger mentioned, government communication is bilingual and the traslations are pretty precise.

Heh. I thought it was the opposite - bilingual signage is required everywhere in Canada except Quebec. You can tell when you enter Quebec because all the English disappears off the road signs. :smiley:

Oh, my mistake. I thought you were just asking about business signage, of which there is no requirement in non-Quebec Canada for any French whatsoever.

Packaging is a different story, but not everything on a package needs to be translated. Only a few key things, such as the product descriptor (eg laundry soap) and any mass or volume declarations need to be translated.

That’s really interesting. I don’t normally find errors in the translations of Canadian products, or even American, come to think of it. I do see errors on products from overseas, like China.

Perhaps our experiences differ because we are coming from two very different kinds of French. There are Québécois words and phrases (often archaic usage) that don’t exist in the French that comes from France. Is it possible that constructions she thinks are in error might be Québécois?

Mind you, it could also be because she’s an actual Francophone, and I am not, so maybe I’m missing some mistakes. It is very, very possible my French is just rusty.

This may not be because it is incorrect, but rather that it is correct Canadian French and simply unfamiliar to her.

Canadian French developed in isolation from “French” French for generations; they are significantly more dissimilar than North American and British English.

Product packaging (especially food) is regulated by the laws of CANADA, not any province, and so federal law applies. Since the law requires that French be on product packaging, most companies simply make all packaging bilingual.

The federal government and the government of the Province of New Brunswick are bilingual and so all their offices, services, buildings and properties are bilingually signed.

Outside of Quebec there is no law requiring a private business have its commercial signage in any particular language. Around here (southern Ontario) it’s actually very, very unusual to see businesses with French signs. In fact, it’s not too hard to find business that don’t have French OR English on their signs.

IN Quebec, signs must be at least in French. Other languages can also be signed but French must be clearly predominant. This doesn’t apply to trademarked names, though.

As to alleged “errors” in French translations, no big company’s going to have their text translated by anyone other than a professional translation firm. General Foods is not stupid enough to use Alta Vista Babel Fish to translate food product information. The differences are simply because Quebecois French is different from continental French. After the British conquest of Quebec in the Seven Years War, Quebec was cut off linguistically to some extent. The version of Quebec spoken there is in many ways truer to Louisian-era French than what is currently spoken in France. In any case, they’re different.

Let me try to get this straight. Labels on consumer products are usually completely bilingual, although it may be that only parts of the label are required. Apparently, it is common complaint in Alberta that they are “forced” to read French on their cereal boxes. Signs in places under federal jurisdiction (offices, airports, etc.) are required to be bilingual. In practice, this means French is first in Quebec and second elsewhere. Nearly all signs in Quebec are required to have French first and twice the size of any second language and third languages are not permitted. The exceptions involve political signs and religious organizations. Enforcement can get awfully petty. There was a famous editorial cartoon, showing someone on a ladder removing the apostrophe from a sign saying Ed’s and the apostrophe hitting a language inspector (called "tongue trooper) on the head. Then there is the issue of business names. If a business is chartered in Quebec, its name must conform (Ed’s is not allowed); otherwise, and despite what was said above, there is no restriction. Second Cup and Home Depot keep their names if they wish (and they have), but Staples has chosen to do business in Quebec under the name “Bureau en Gros” (which could be translated as Office Wholesale, although it is certainly a retail company. And Circuit City uses the name “La Source”. There are also special rules for mail-order companies that blanket the province (but not for ones that send catalogs only to customers or on request).

OK, well, I’m not Canadian or a Francophone, and I think Kilgore and I both got a little confused early on in this thread. Thanks for clearing all of that up, everyone else.

One acute accent and some people just lose it. Poor, sensitive souls. :stuck_out_tongue:

Only the old people complain about that. Like my step-dad, who is nearly 70, and at the time the laws changed to require Francais he was completely bilingual. The rest of us are used to it (ok, I’m not used to it anymore, since I don’t live in Canada anymore).

I’ve lived in Alberta for almost 30 years and never heard this complaint. Not even from my crusty old father.

Its unfair to pick on Albertans alone for this, as we all did it. Some folks might be under the impression that change is pretty seamless and we all sang kumbaya when the country was designated as being bilingual.

It is almost a dinosaur issue for the most part except for the cereal packaging that comes up every time a quebec thread pops up.

Since I have never worked in a supermarket, I have never stocked any item, but logic would dictate that a fifty percent chance of getting either english or french on the eyeball side.

Other factors may contribute as well but to this day, I can expect to still see the french side and enough time has past that supermarkets should be sensitive to the reaction.

But simply singling out alberta , is to ignore the rest of us that have issues with it.


This is something that really struck me when I was in Quebec City a couple of weeks ago; I was sick and wondering in a pharmacy looking for cold & flu medication, and for the first time it hit me that the packing uniformly displayed the French side. It’s one of those funny little things that I’d never thought about before having never worked retail. Having been completely oblivious before to this nuance, I’d never thought about the fact that the stockers of packaged goods obviously spend some of their time checking to make sure which side shoud be displayed.

So if a guy named Ed wanted to start an eponymous eatery in Quebec, what would he put on the store sign?

This thread is interesting in French.

FYI, link isn’t working.

It works for me.