The change will promote unity across different languages, but artists who enjoyed the short format are not crazy about the update

Twitter rolled out its 280-character feature this week, and many avid Tweeters were less than impressed. Constraints can be great for writing, and for creativity in general (I see you #NaNoWriMo), and many famous authors argue that the loosening will take much of that away, and therefore make Twitter irrelevant.

The update caught my eye too, but for a different reason. Through Proscenium, I have translated many a tweet for national and bilingual organizations. It is always pretty clunky and cumbersome. The message almost always has to be divided out into two tweets, which causes any ensuing replies to happen in two separate spheres, largely preventing any interaction across languages.

Also, English is one of the most concise morpheme-based languages out there, character-wise, and uses fewer in-between words like articles and prepositions. A French translation of an English tweet usually had to lose a couple hashtags, sacrifice a link, or simply say less to fit into that old limit, due to a combination of the language's respective average word lengths and sentence structures.

Some national organizations, like the Canada Council for the Arts, even run different Twitter accounts for their different languages of operation. This is entirely founded upon the old 140-character constraint. In a country where language is perceived as a major cultural divide, this split personality was far from ideal. (I find it especially ironic that @canada150th and @canada150e have been discussing the sesquicentennial separately all year.)

There is a reason Scrabble tiles are assorted differently depending on the language. A Canadian French Scrabble board comes with 3 extra Es and fewer Ws and Ys. (And Qs are worth fewer points, and Ks double the points, than their English Scrabble counterparts.) The 140-character limit was always unabashedly anglocentric. In a compounding language like German, the longest word is 79 characters long, which would take over more than half a traditional tweet. Alternatively, a logogrammic language such as traditional Chinese, for instance, has an average character length of 1.14 compared to English's 4.23. So an average tweet would allow 123 words in Chinese, versus 33 in English. Not so zippy.

The change feels like a fundamental mission drift for Twitter - a shift from its zeitgeistily concise format to a more internationally-oriented, and probably less unique, dissemination method. The update is certain to alter the very style and tone of Twitter, but as long as its relevance as a platform doesn't disintegrate entirely from the change (and it just might), we are chalking it up as a victory for bilingualism in the digital world.

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  • Blanche Israël

Ah, translation. The perennial, quintessentially Canadian quandary. Almost every organization could use a little more of it, but many fail to dedicate sufficient resources to it. It is so important to certain bilingual funders, though, that some of them will go so far as to pay your translation bill in order to receive your application in both official languages. And if you don't take them up on that, they are stuck with translating it for you. So the question is, which one is in your organization's best interest?

By overseeing the translation of your grant, you retain control (sweet, sweet control) of some of the most important parts of your application. Think about how much time you spent, at some point, wordsmithing your mission. A translator has to do much of the same work to reproduce it in a new language, and many tiny choices have to be made. An advantage of hiring your own translator is that you can go through the finished version (even if it is with your grade 3 French), pick out some of the important elements, and get your translator's help with fine-tuning it.

Translation can be a powerful tool in your arsenal.

For instance, last year, I worked on producing copy for a project called The Unsilent Project. The word "Unsilent" was made up and therefore has no translation, but its essence was about speaking out and being a bit defiant. So I invented its French couterpart, "Le projet Insilence", which is reminiscent of "insolence" and also incorporates that same feeling of "not silent" or "anti-silence", just like the original project name had done. The funder's translators will not have the creative license to start playing with naming in this way - this can only be done internally. By hiring your own translator, you get to work with them to develop your messaging in a more thoughtful way.

The Canada Council offers up to $2,200 to cover the translation costs associated with core funding applications, depending on the category. At Proscenium, this will get you over 15,000 words, or 30+ standard pages. This also gives you an opportunity to test the translation process if you are thinking about increasing your French presence in your other communications. Council will give you a 2-week grace period after the deadline of your application to get this done, so it doesn't have to interfere with the hullabaloo of last-minute submissions.

Another major pro is that you will end up with a copy of the grant text (which often includes your mission, your history and other lasting information about your organization) that you can use elsewhere, like on your website and in brochures.

If you're facing the to-translate-or-not-to-translate question, Proscenium has got your back. Per-word rates start at just 13 cents and are based on layout, timeframe, and complexity. To receive a quote, share your word count and deadline with us.

Committed to your success,

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  • Blanche Israël

Updated: Oct 14, 2017

After seeing Soulpepper's show Chasse-Galerie in 2015, I got to thinking about the elements of convincing swearing in French. Portions of this article originally appeared on Schmopera.

Step 1: Know your syntax

As the show captures well, swearing is embedded in French Canadian culture. Therefore, certain grammatical rules apply. (Pardon my literal and proverbial French, I am going to use the actual swear words here.) Words like tabarnak, câlisse, criss, simonaque, ciboire, calvaire, viarge and esti are nouns, so they generally require a "de" after them when they are used to describe something. A few of them were used as adjectives on a few occasions, which sounds off to a native speaker. For example, you can't say "that tabarnak chair". A connector word is missing: "that tabarnak de chair", "cette tabarnak de chaise". It's like saying "that f*ck chair", it just doesn't work, it has to be "f*cking" for it to make grammatical sense.

Same goes for connecting multiple swear words together ("esti de tabarnak de câlisse de bout'viarge de chair!") which one particularly pious character does near the end to great humour - we need some more connector words in there. And in the cursing song, "Esti tabarnak tabarnak esti", there should be a little "de" between esti and tabarnak to make it make sense: "esti de tabarnak, tabarnak, esti". There is a great scene from the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop where a Quebecer hilariously explains swearing syntax to an Ontarian.

Step 2: "Tune" your adjectives

There is a concept in French grammar called "l'accord", which literally means "tuning", which many of you musicians will like. You need to "tune" your adjectives and verbs to match their corresponding nouns. There were some adjectives in the show: "maudit/maudite" ("that maudite chair") and "bête". that needed to be tuned to match the "gender" of the word they go with. Many Quebecers switch back and forth between English and French all the time, and therefore it has its own grammatical rules, believe it or not.

You would generally use the gender of the French word equivalent to determine the gender of your adjective. So you can't say "maudite canoe" because "maudite" is feminine and the French word for canoe (canot) is masculine. Therefore it would be "maudit canoe" (silent T so it sounds like "maudi"). "Bête" is the same for the feminine and masculine, so use it to your heart's content.

Step 3: Pronounce with conviction

There is some room within the 17th-century historical setting here for the pronunciation to be a little different from today's. That being said, "tabernacle" should be pronounced with all A's and cut off at the end: "tabarnak". "Esti" is used but "hostie" is more common (silent H), "simonaque" is not "simônaque" but more of an open "o", think "simonnaque". "Baptême" means "baptism", but is pronounced sans P. We all know that swearing is all about the delivery, so diction coaching is perhaps more important here than anywhere else.

Okay, ast'heure, I need to go wash my mouth out with soap.

This article originally appeared on Schmopera on November 29, 2016.

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