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La Traducteure: Feminization of Professions in French

You've no doubt noticed the difference in accent between the French and the Québécois. But have you noticed that the vocabulary, and even the grammar, is different? There are a lot of words that are unique to Québécois French—for example, the word blonde in the band name Ma blonde est une chanteuse (see the video of the same name) means "girlfriend"—the French would say copine or, more informally, nana.

These linguistic distinctions are simple enough, but sometimes there's something even trickier at play.

Annie Chartrand says that she spoke good enough English as a kid to act as la traducteure (the translator) for her mom or dad:

Ça m'a permis beaucoup de voyager et d'être parfois même la traducteure pour mon père ou ma mère lorsqu'on on partait en vacances dans le sud.

It's allowed me to travel a lot and to sometimes even be the translator for my dad or my mom when we went on vacation in the south.

Captions 18-20, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue 

But if we look in the dictionary, the "correct" feminine form of the masculine traducteur is traductrice—and this in fact is the form you will find used both in Quebec and in France. So where would Annie have gotten this other form (which, as far as we know, is not in common use anywhere)?

Annie's use of the phrase la traducteure is probably related to the fact that Quebec, historically, has been in the vanguard of the movement to feminize professional titles in the French language. In fact, the period Annie is talking about in the video was not long after the election of the progressive Parti Québécois in the provincial election of 1976. What does this have to do with anything? To make a long story short, a lot of women were elected to positions of power that used to be held by men, and they wanted feminine titles in cases where traditional French lacked them. They petitioned the Office de la langue française, Quebec's authority on all things linguistic, and got official approval. Specifically, the OLF decreed that feminine titles (in those cases where none previously existed) could be created by "spontaneously creating a feminine form that respects French morphology." Thereafter, the Québécois got in the habit of feminizing titles when appropriate.

Ingénieur (engineer), for example, had no feminine form, so, respecting French morphology, we get une ingénieure. Or we get une professeure from un professeur (professor) as well as une auteure from un auteur (author).

And this, we speculate, is why Annie came up with la traducteure. Even though traducteur already has a traditional feminine form in traductrice, Annie applied the logic behind the many "modern" feminizations that she grew up with to produce this novel alternative.

Examples of other modern feminizations of professions which traditionally had no feminine counterpart include these:

Un député/une députée (deputy)

Un chirurgien/une chirurgienne  (surgeon)

Un praticien/une praticienne (medical practitioner)

Un pilote/une pilote (pilot)

Un juge/une juge (judge)

Un guitariste/une guitariste (guitarist)

Though the tradition-bound French have been slow to keep up with the progressive Québécois in this aspect of the language, the term la ministre is now common in French politics. The French generally agree that the issue is all very confusing, and they sometimes aren't even sure how to feminize a title. A good rule of thumb: say it in Québécois!

Grammar

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