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How important is the accent in the French booth?

As interpreting students from Canada, my colleagues and I have often been told that we would need to "neutralise" my Quebec accent if we ever wanted to work in the French booths in Europe. I'd like to point out here that we don't use slang, and that our "working" accents are easily intelligible - the most common comment we got is that it was simply a matter of tastes.

I was wondering if anyone had some insight on that? It doesn't have to be Quebec-specific, just accents that aren't from France. I know mentalities are changing, but the feeling I got from the professionals I spoke to is that it would be difficult to find work if we don't adopt a French accent or at least an "international" accent.

I would love to hear from your experiences :)

asked 19 Feb, 15:03

marielavigueur's gravatar image

marielavigueur
71127

edited 19 Feb, 15:03


Hi Marie, I’ll see if I can find out more but the fact that this is still an issue in 2019 bothers me to no end.

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answered 21 Feb, 09:48

Alexander's gravatar image

Alexander
271127

Thank you, I really appreciate it!

(25 Feb, 16:52) marielavigueur

I don't think you should necessarily see this as a Canada-versus-France thing. It's really a Paris-versus-the Rest of the world. The "French" interpreting market in France is huge, (80,000 interpreter days in 2008 which was the same size as the EU Commission at the time) but it is a Paris market and the Parisians (one could argue) don't like anything from outside Paris. That includes Belgian French, Swiss French (try saying octante-cinq at a meeting in Paris!!) and of course Canadian French. And it doesn't just affect interpreters. There have been press articles about politicians mocking other accents and how hard it is for anyone to get on in Paris if they have an accent. It's a shame and doesn't do France, Paris or the French-language any favours but it's there and as interpreters we have to adjust to the customers.

To give you a comparison from the English booth - most American and British colleagues have softened their accents, either deliberately or by just dint of being in an international environment for so long. There are no hard New York accents the one Kentucky drawl I can think of is probably just the exception that proves the rule. Similarly British regional accents are detectable amongst colleagues but very very gentle compared to the originals.

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answered 04 Mar, 14:15

Andy's gravatar image

Andy
7.4k222839

edited 04 Mar, 19:52

I'd like to point out here that we don't use slang, and that our "working" accents are easily intelligible (…) I know mentalities are changing, but the feeling I got from the professionals I spoke to is that it would be difficult to find work if we don't adopt a French accent or at least an "international" accent.

Je rencontre de nombreux étudiants belges francophones qui sont convaincus qu’ils sont compréhensibles et qu’ils n’utilisent pas de régionalismes… jusqu’à ce qu’au cours de leurs études, ils soient confrontés à des étudiants français qui ne comprennent pas le signifié de certains mots qu’ils emploient.

A même titre, je suis convaincu de ne pas avoir d’accent et d’être facilement compréhensible de tous… alors que dès que je quitte ma région parisienne natale, on me fait remarquer que la moindre phrase qui quitte mes lèvres trahit où j’ai été scolarisé (autant que le sens que j’accorde à certains mots m’expose à des malentendus).

Donc, d’emblée, j’aurais tendance à me méfier de l’affirmation que l’on serait facile à comprendre. Il faut garder à l’esprit que :

  • écouter un interprète est éminemment fatigant ;

  • les grandes langues ne sont pas uniquement écoutées par des locuteurs natifs, et ces allophones auront généralement appris la version standard de la langue (RP English ; Hochdeutsch ; français de France, voire parisien) ;

  • les deux considérations précédentes s’appliquent aussi aux collègues tributaires d’un relais que l’on est amené à donner ;

  • (tous) nos clients ne sont pas en mesure de (pleinement) juger la qualité de notre travail et seront (peut-être) plus ou autant sensibles à la forme qu’au fond ;

  • un biais inconscient vis-à-vis des accents comme indicateurs d’origine sociale est possible (alors qu’on s’évertue à se présenter comme des professionnels, d’éducation universitaire, particulièrement qualifiés) ;

  • si l’on vend une solution, l’acheteur ne se contentera peut-être pas d’un service qui ne sera « pas trop compliqué » et ne demandera « qu’un peu plus d’efforts » comparé à la concurrence, mais voudra quelque chose d’intuitivement utilisable ;

  • quand la vitesse s’accroît, que la fatigue s’installe, que les choses se compliquent, le naturel revient au galop. Si dans ces moments-là, l’intelligibilité diminue de manière exponentielle, il y a une dissonance entre ce qu'on fournit et ce qu'on devrait fournir.

Si à l’aune des éléments qui précèdent, la compréhension de l’accent ne pose pas de difficulté majeure, y compris pour les auditeurs dont le français n'est pas la langue maternelle, c’est que le code-switching est suffisant. Ce changement ne se limite pas aux accents régionaux, mais porte aussi sur le registre. A accent constant, ce que je produis comme français en cabine est à des années lumières des mots que j'éructe dans la vie de tous les jours et qui laisseraient croire que je viens d'une famille de chiffonniers. La doctrine parlerait probablement de convergence telle que définie dans la théorie de (Howard) Giles.

Pour ce qui est du marché UE, l'accent n'est pas évalué en tant que tel. Le formulaire qui sert à structurer les réflexions du jury, on trouve cependant une section intitulée form and delivery, sous-divisée comme suit :

1) quality of the target language (correct grammar, idiomatic language, rich vocabulary, correct terminology, appropriate style/register, interference from source language).

Là, des régionalismes, surtout lorsque des calques à partir de l'anglais (qui sont peut-être plus admissibles au Canada mais ne sonneront pas bien pour un auditeur de l'ancien continent), pourraient faire perdre des points.

2) communication skills (fluency of delivery: quality of the voice, intonation, diction, verbal fillers, microphone discipline ; stamina).

Cette fois-ci, l'accent pourrait nuire, en termes de diction.

Au moins une organisation à Bruxelles compte parmi ses fonctionnaires deux collègues qui ont travaillé ou étudié à Ottawa... mais si accent il y a, celui-ci n'est que présent en doses homéopathiques et leur français est, si je ne m'abuse, un excellent B plutôt qu'un A.

Deux autres collègues qui travaillent à Ottawa à ce jour doivent parfois s'y prendre à deux ou trois reprises avant que je ne comprenne leur flot de paroles, et c'est lié tant à l'accent (ou plutôt : à mon oreille) qu'aux expressions idiomatiques qui me sont inconnues, quand ce n'est pas les différences de syntaxe qui instillent le doute. Mais on ne converse qu'en dehors de la cabine et dans des situations où la fatigue est souvent déjà présente, ce qui rend difficile toute spéculation sur ce que ça donnerait au micro.

Bref, si l'on veut boucler la boucle, on peut retenir qu'il est aussi difficile que quantifier l'intensité d'un accent qu'il va être difficile de dire où se situe exactement le curseur.

Et peut-être que la question mérite d'être formulée de manière plus large : qu'est-ce qu'un jeune diplômé d'outre-atlantique a à offrir au marché européen, que les vieux singes n'ont pas déjà ? L'accent n'est peut-être qu'un élément parmi d'autres dans la dimension de proximité et de confiance : est-ce que les marchés qu'on brigue n'ont pas tendance, à supposer que la qualité de la formation et l'expérience soient égales, à favoriser les jeunes diplômés des écoles locales (dont on aura eu les étudiants en stage, dont on connaît les formateurs qui auront fait remonter informellement des informations, écoles dans lesquelles on se sera rendu en tant que recruteur privé ou institutionnel) ?

Enfin, rien de tel que le retour d'expérience : que sont devenus les diplômés de (je présume) Glendon, sur quels marchés ont-ils fini, combien ont tenté le pari de l'Europe et l'ont relevé avec succès, etc. ?

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answered 24 Feb, 14:37

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦
7.3k141829

edited 24 Feb, 14:42

Nous exerçons une profession et prêtons un service à des clients qui souhaitent comprendre sans effort. L'accent et la qualité de la voix sont des avantages comparatifs pour un interprète. Cette formation fait partie des curricula universitaires. Un client qui doit faire un effort additionnel pour comprendre un accent ou pour supporter une voix désagréable, préférera recruter un autre interprète (ou s'en passera de l'interprétation).

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answered 25 Feb, 09:16

Angela's gravatar image

Angela
3.3k82448

Like Alexander, I really find it patently absurd that this continues to be an issue in 2019.

It is obvious that we all have to use a pronunciation and register leaning towards the formal in order to do our jobs effectively in an international environment. This is not that different from the way we might speak in formal settings even in our countries of origin. It should be equally obvious, however, that we cannot expect to attend international conferences and only hear our particular language variety. Because if you only wanted to hear English from Southern England, French from Paris, or Spanish from Madrid, it would make more sense to stay in Southern England, Paris, or Madrid, n'est-ce pas? (Although even then, it wouldn't work). If we all have to deal with different accents and ways of speaking while making slight efforts to "converge" with other speakers, why is it that a very small minority of speakers from comparatively minuscule geographic areas should be the only people in the World spared from this apparently heavy and insurmountable burden?

I would challenge the idea that this state of affairs could be justified on the basis of mostly technical or practical reasons (ex. mutual intelligibility, a preference for non-marked language features). Everyone, including speakers of prestigious dialects, have accents and can be potentially marked by their accents depending on the circumstance. Received Pronunciation, which passes as neutral in the UK, is very identifiably foreign in the US and would not go unnoticed in the typical North American's ear. Furthermore, one of its key characteristic features (the aspirated "r") is typical of American dialects which are considered non-standard. Similarly, many Andalusian interpreters are often encouraged to imitate the central Spain/Madrid accent, even though Andalusian Spanish (with its aspirated final "s") more closely aligns with majority of the Spanish-speaking world whereas the Madrid accent is a very clearly identifiable outlier. The same linguistic feature which apparently hinders comprehension or marks the interpreter in one context is perfectly acceptable and even preferable in another.

As someone who studied French in Quebec and was only able to distinguish between European French accents after a couple of years of living in Europe, I find it very hard to believe that anyone fluent in standard Parisian French would have significant difficulties understanding standard Belgian or Swiss French. And yet, I have heard French colleagues complain or draw attention to a colleague who has a "heavy" Swiss or Belgian accent. I'm an American who has shared booths with Jamaicans, Kiwis, Australians, Ghanians, etc. in a variety of circumstances who have spoken in their local standard without incident. I have also shared bilingual English/Spanish booths with Mexicans, Spaniards, Colombians, Cubans, Argentines, Bolivians, Peruvians, Uruguayans and others similarly without incident.

Why is it then that some people imply that there are entire national accents in their language that have to be almost entirely camouflaged in the booth to the point of being totally unrecognizable?

The answer is good old-fashioned prejudice.

The status of a language variety parallels the status of the groups that use it. If the group is held in low esteem by the powers-that-be (as is the case of colonized people vis-a-vis their colonial powers), then the language variety tends to be as well. If someone says that a perfectly understandable standard Quebec accent is unacceptable in the French booth, they are effectively saying that Quebeckers themselves are unacceptable in mixed company. We could wonder why otherwise perfectly nice people would not be embarrassed to express such an extreme and reactionary sentiment. I feel that as a traditionally high-class service profession we have largely complied (sometimes uncritically) with the dictates of the powers-that-be so as not to put our personal well-being in jeopardy. I understand the argument for doing so because it's much harder to challenge that power structure than to simply keep your head down.

I certainly wouldn't tell people what choice they have to personally make, but I do want to suggest that we should be honest about the reasons for our choice. If we advise budding interpreters or interpreting students to change their accents, let us not pretend that "nonante" is genuinely obscure to anyone who understands French for example. Let's just tell the truth. "This particular organization was run by upper-class prejudiced Parisians who only wanted to hear people who sound like them and we've kept doing the same ever since." Voilà. Once we're clear on that, then we can make an informed decision about what stance we should take both individually and collectively.

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answered 28 Mar, 10:06

Jonathan's gravatar image

Jonathan
39626

edited 28 Mar, 10:54

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question asked: 19 Feb, 15:03

question was seen: 924 times

last updated: 28 Mar, 10:54

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