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Is there a general rule regarding all-uppercase words in French to English translation?
Thread poster: Irene Johnson

Irene Johnson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
Jun 1, 2016

In French documents, particularly legal documents, certain words are usually, but not always, written in all uppercase. This sometimes includes people's last or family names, company names, city and country names and sometimes titles of documents.

This always looks odd on the page to me, as if the author is shouting out those names in the middle of the text. My tendency has been to put those words in normal English form, that is to say I capitalize the first letter and put the rest of the word in lowercase letters. My reasoning is that:
1. the rules for capitalization are not the same in the two languages, such as days of the week, months, nationalities etc., so I see no reason to make an exception for proper nouns and write them in all uppercase, when that's not usually done in English.
2. the rule in French, including for legal documents, seems to be more of a preference than a rule. I have seen this "rule" applied in some documents, and not in others, and I even often see it applied or not, willy-nilly, to the same words in the course of a single document. So I tend to harmonize my translation and only capitalize the first letter of these words.

So I have two questions:
1. Is there a generally agreed-upon policy among translators to respect or not the French usage? I.e. to write the same words all in uppercase as in the French document?
2. Specifically in legal documents in English, would it be normal to put these types of words all in uppercase?

Thanks for your input on this!

[Edited at 2016-06-01 09:43 GMT]


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
It means nothing Jun 1, 2016

I've read a few articles about questions like that in English, including silly terms such as "any and all" and other cases of typical 'scattergun' approaches by solicitors, lawyers, attorneys or whatever they call themselves.

According to what I found, judges often take a dim view of such 'theatre'.

Writing sections or words in all capitals adds no meaning and makes it more difficult to read.

The perceived need for "any and all" instead of just one of the words has been struck down by judges too.

Solicitors probably learn theatre as part of their education, but that doesn't mean that part has to be taken seriously.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:18
French to English
I'm with you Jun 1, 2016

Irene Johnson wrote:

1. Is there a generally agreed-upon policy among translators to respect or not the French usage? I.e. to write the same words all in uppercase as in the French document?
2. Specifically in legal documents in English, would it be normal to put these types of words all in uppercase?



1. I dunno about a policy, but I agree in general it looks strange in English language documents. We don't do it, and they often do, and not just in formal or legal material. Despite having noticed this fairly consistently different approach to surnames/company names in the UK and French staff of my ex-employer (which had offices in both countries), I took me a couple of years to change such nouns in my translations, and I still sometimes review translations where it is not done.
I would point out that it can involve extra work other than just changing the case, because i) you might need to double check the situation with accented characters and ii), especially with company names, sometimes the name is actually a string of initials that look like a word, and you'd need to keep it upper case in English too.

2. I tend not to bother (i.e. I make it look like a normal English document) BUT you do need to be careful if terms are defined along with a style, along the lines of "the following terms in upper case have the following meanings....", and the terms include a company name, and then obviously you need to keep upper case.


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Defined lists Jun 1, 2016

Charlie Bavington wrote:

"the following terms in upper case have the following meanings....",


In many cases, the author(s) then forget(s) to apply boldface or uppercase to half the occurrences in the following text, as I've found out when translating from English, just as many of them inevitably end up getting linguistically lost when they go on with those endless lists spanning countless lines. Sometimes the end of such lists is complete nonsense, as when they finally reached the end, they'd forgotten how the 'monster' sentence began.

As for uppercase names in French, my experience in France is that the many layers of administration take up so much space in people's lives that people have ended up finding it normal to see their names written for example DUPONT Jean-Machin even when it isn't necessary for computer sorting, and they have forgotten that "prénom" means "before the nom". Hence, many believe the only way they can figure out what the surname is is by writing it in all capitals. Of course, there are many exceptions, as with everything else in France.

Many English T&Cs and similar do have SHOUTING SECTIONS, though, in which you are threatened with 500 hundred years of imprisonment on Mars and untold disasters if you think you may possibly consider the eventuality of violating section one zillion and seven of their licence conditions or whatever.


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
depends on the client Jun 1, 2016

My clients asked me to deal with such all-ups words as usual (capitalized proper and non-capitalized common nouns), HOWEVER mark them in italics or something, so it would be easy to select and proceed.

I just used auto-replacement or added a temporary glossary, when they asked to provide a list of such words, so no much ado either.

Cheers.


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The Misha
Local time: 13:18
Russian to English
+ ...
It may indeed look somewhat strange in English Jun 1, 2016

but I am not aware of any formal rule in English that says you cannot have it in all capitals when you want or need to. Is anyone? Consequently, this being legal translation we are talking about, I don't think it's my job as a legal translator to INTERPRET what the author meant to say by these all capitals or why he or she chose to write some words this way. If the lawyers reading my output decide all capitals are inappropriate, they can always change them back, or better yet, instruct me beforehand to disregard this alien capitalization. Otherwise, I don't think I have much of a choice but to replicate it in English. Following this logic, when editing French to English legal translations, I make a point of restoring such capitalization where the original translator is sloppy enough to have failed to maintain it.

Generally, I would say capitalization in legal (and that's a very important caveat, we don't want to do that anywhere else) translation should match the original exactly, errors and all, subject only to established rules of English grammar and usage. That is, unless the client instructs me otherwise.


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Huw Watkins  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:18
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
It happens in other languages too like Italian for example Jun 1, 2016

The Misha wrote:

but I am not aware of any formal rule in English that says you cannot have it in all capitals when you want or need to. Is anyone? Consequently, this being legal translation we are talking about, I don't think it's my job as a legal translator to INTERPRET what the author meant to say by these all capitals or why he or she chose to write some words this way. If the lawyers reading my output decide all capitals are inappropriate, they can always change them back, or better yet, instruct me beforehand to disregard this alien capitalization. Otherwise, I don't think I have much of a choice but to replicate it in English. Following this logic, when editing French to English legal translations, I make a point of restoring such capitalization where the original translator is sloppy enough to have failed to maintain it.

Generally, I would say capitalization in legal (and that's a very important caveat, we don't want to do that anywhere else) translation should match the original exactly, errors and all, subject only to established rules of English grammar and usage. That is, unless the client instructs me otherwise.


I am with you on this, I tend to replicate unless told otherwise and I have never been told otherwise or received feedback on the matter in over 10 years of doing it. Hopefully it's right to replicate, otherwise I've been doing it wrong for over 10 years - imagine that!


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Irene Johnson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Okay, so it looks like no actual rule. But my other question? Jun 1, 2016

Wow! I think I've stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest here! Responses going from "Make the document look like normal English" to "Judges look down on theatrics" to "Translators that don't respect the French usage are sloppy"...

My takeaway so far is that each translator makes that choice for themselves, unless the client specifies otherwise. If I'm dead wrong about this, please let me know.

My second question was: Specifically in legal documents in English, would it be normal to put these types of words all in uppercase?

Not being a lawyer, I don't know. Do lawyers in the English-speaking countries put all of the defined terms, for example, in all-uppercase? Or all of the surnames? Here I'm no longer talking about translated documents, but regular legal documents written by English-speaking lawyers.

Thanks!


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The Misha
Local time: 13:18
Russian to English
+ ...
The answer to your question is no Jun 1, 2016

Irene Johnson wrote:


My second question was: Specifically in legal documents in English, would it be normal to put these types of words all in uppercase?


If my 25+ year experience with legal documents originally drafted in English is any indication, there is no such capitalization in the US and UK drafting tradition. At best, some of the defined terms may be capitalized (i.e., first letters only) throughout, but quite often this would also be inconsistent enough since the quality of legal writing (and writing in general, but don't even get me started on this) is abysmal and no one gives a damn.


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:18
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
No right or wrong, BUT ... Jun 1, 2016

Given that what I am producing is a translation and not a document drafted in English in the first place, I tend to reproduce the capitalisation from the French, to avoid unnecessary changes and because that makes it easier for a reader to refer from one document to the other. However, I disagree with the comment below by The Misha: " ... when editing French to English legal translations, I make a point of restoring such capitalization where the original translator is sloppy enough to have failed to maintain it." It is not a question of sloppiness, but of stylistic preference and I believe that a proofreader should respect the translator's stylistic preferences (unless they know that the client would disagree with them) and only correct genuine errors.

There is another reason for retaining uppercase for surnames. If I translate DAVID, Jean as Jean David, a francophone or an anglophone familiar with French usage may find it unclear which is the surname. So, I'd translate it as Jean DAVID.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:18
French to English
Meh Jun 1, 2016

Irene Johnson wrote:

"Translators that don't respect the French usage are sloppy"


I made it fairly clear why I tend, these days, to adopt a more English looking style, and pointed out the extra work involved. The ill-considered and clearly nonsensical opinion of anonymous posters that making extra work for myself, instead of just copy-pasting what the source says, is somehow the "sloppy" approach, matters little.

There are a number of common, but by no means universal, aesthetic differences between French and English business documents, including upper case surnames and company names, as you said, but also upper case names of towns and the use of " - " in addresses, usually where the line break would go when addressing an envelope, the use of italics when quoting speech or legislation, the use of a degree symbol (as in Celsius, not university) when numbering paragraphs, and probably some others besides.

In general, my view is these are all quirks of French style and, all things being equal, my inclination is to remove them, just as I remove the space before colons and question marks (which I presume is less controversial!).

However, as I pointed out and Barbara has further emphasised, there are occasions when I would divert from my preference. That said, sometimes a bit of licence can provide an answer. If your document refers more than once to Jean DAVID by his full name and in that style, you could consider using M. David later to reinforce which is the surname.

Depends on the document. I probably wouldn't do it in a contract (there again, they tend to refer to people by their role - the Tenant, the Policyholder, the Service Provider - after the first mention) but probably would in other situations.

And there you go. As so often with translation questions, my conclusion is... it depends.


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Texte Style
Local time: 19:18
French to English
When translating into English, we use English capitalisation! Jun 2, 2016

The French will often put the surname first eg DUPONT Catherine, but they do also write Catherine DUPONT sometimes. No particular rule apart from the empirical rule that the more red tape is involved the more likely it is for the surname to come first.

All French people with an ancestor who was abandoned at birth were given a first name as a surname, so very often it's difficult to tell what is what, hence capitalisation of the surname: MARTIN Eric

When you fill in official forms it mostly goes
TITLE Mr
SURNAME MARTIN
FIRST NAME Eric


In English we always put the first name first and the last name last and there's much less likelihood of getting confused between the two. And in government forms you're more likely to get
TITLE Ms
NAME Jane Bloggs
and it would never occur to any Brit to put Bloggs Jane


As far as I'm concerned, it's the translators who don't respect English capitalisation who are not doing their job properly! Why should a British official have to know French (and Italian and Danish and ....) to realise that it's Mr Martin or Mr Eric they're dealing with?


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Huw Watkins  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:18
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
What about capitalisation of the first letter of words? Jun 5, 2016

I am just finishing translating the recitals of an agreement as we speak and just at the top of the definitions section I am confronted with these two sentences to translate:

"Les termes ci-après énumérés et dont la première lettre figure en majuscule dans le présent Pacte ont la signification suivante.
Les définitions de l’ ci-dessus s’appliquent aux formes tant au singulier qu’au pluriel, et tant au masculin qu'au féminin des termes définis."

If I translate the first sentence, I am pretty much constricting myself to replicating the French in capitalisation of the first letter of the word. This I believe, however, is not uncommon practice in English contracts too though right? Generally we capitalise the first letter of the Party/Company/Partner/Agreement etc etc in English too if I am not mistaken.

Incidentally, when translating that second sentence, I am going to leave out the bit about word gender altogether and therefore localise the text a bit and not replicate. Do you guys also do that too?

And despite what I said in my first post on this thread, this also makes quite a lot of sense to me:

Charlie Bavington wrote:

There are a number of common, but by no means universal, aesthetic differences between French and English business documents, including upper case surnames and company names, as you said, but also upper case names of towns and the use of " - " in addresses, usually where the line break would go when addressing an envelope, the use of italics when quoting speech or legislation, the use of a degree symbol (as in Celsius, not university) when numbering paragraphs, and probably some others besides.

In general, my view is these are all quirks of French style and, all things being equal, my inclination is to remove them, just as I remove the space before colons and question marks (which I presume is less controversial!).

However, as I pointed out and Barbara has further emphasised, there are occasions when I would divert from my preference. That said, sometimes a bit of licence can provide an answer. If your document refers more than once to Jean DAVID by his full name and in that style, you could consider using M. David later to reinforce which is the surname.

Depends on the document. I probably wouldn't do it in a contract (there again, they tend to refer to people by their role - the Tenant, the Policyholder, the Service Provider - after the first mention) but probably would in other situations.

And there you go. As so often with translation questions, my conclusion is... it depends.


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Irene Johnson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Most important is that your translation says what the French says and is comprehensible in English. Jun 5, 2016

Huw Watkins wrote:

Generally we capitalise the first letter of the Party/Company/Partner/Agreement etc etc in English too if I am not mistaken.

Incidentally, when translating that second sentence, I am going to leave out the bit about word gender altogether and therefore localise the text a bit and not replicate. Do you guys also do that too?


I always capitalise the first letter of defined terms. I just haven't been doing the all uppercase bit that the French do.

I also wholeheartedly agree with Texte Style's comment about uppercase last names:

In English we always put the first name first and the last name last and there's much less likelihood of getting confused between the two. And in government forms you're more likely to get
TITLE Ms
NAME Jane Bloggs
and it would never occur to any Brit to put Bloggs Jane


I have said the same for years. So the problem of Martin BERNARD or MARTIN Bernard doesn't exist in English. In the first case, we would write Martin Bernard, and in the second, Bernard Martin, and be done with it.

In addition, as I understand it, the terms designating the parties to a contract become proper nouns in English, so we also drop the "the". So for instance it's no longer "the Company" and "the Service provider", but rather "Company" and "Service provider". These terms replace the names of the company and the service provider, and become proper nouns. We wouldn't say: The Mary, so when Mary is the customer, we simply say Customer.

I've never seen a contract yet where they mention the gender of the nouns. I agree with you, this is not applicable in English. If you want to be sure not to leave anything out, you could put in a translator's note: [Translator's note: The French text also states that the definitions below apply to both the masculine and feminine versions of these words, which is not applicable in English.]

For me, the most important thing, in translating a legal document, is that the translation says what the original document says, and that it's understandable. If that means I have to turn a sentence around so it's comprehensible in English, I do that. If it means splitting a long sentence into two or more sentences, I do that. If it ever came down to a dispute over what the document says, the French text would prevail. But I certainly wouldn't want to provoke a dispute by mistranslating or allowing the text to be ambiguous in English due to the French sentence structure.


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:18
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
"If it ever came down to a dispute over what the document says, the French text would prevail" Jun 5, 2016

How do you know that?

If it's a consumer contract, the company can't just come running with a contract in a foreign language the consumer has not seen and cannot understand. In the EU at least, the company would be bound by the translated version.

If it's an informational translation, for example of a deed, it would most likely be the original that prevailed.

In other cases, it could depend on legislation and what the contract itself says about which version prevails. What if a translation agency has an original standard contract in their local language but make international translators sign a translated English version? Unless the contract specifically says another version will prevail in case of a dispute, I don't see how they could suddenly demand it (although that would not prevent some from trying).

We may not even know if we sign a translated version.


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