Monday, August 24, 2009

Semantic shift - Glissement sémantique

The written press in Quebec has covered the worrysome problems of school drop-outs and what society can do about this. Articles speak of the phenomenon of “décrochage”. The verb “décrocher” is used to express the idea of disengagement, of breaking off the action (like studies for example). In the physical world, décorcher may be used when meaning to take down (décrocher les rideaux, uncoupling (a car train). In the telecommunication parlance, décrochage means to switchover. In the financial world, le décorchage du franc par rapport au mark means the unpegging of the Franc from the Mark.

Dernièrement, j’ai remarqué dans plusieurs articles sur les abandons scolaires au Québec que les journalistes parlent des efforts d’encourager les jeunes à retourner à l’école, à reprendre leurs études. C’est là qu’apparaît le terme « raccrochage », utilisé comme antonyme (contraire) de décrochage. Ce qui est, dans mon esprit, un choix surprenant.

Is the use of raccrochage brought about by the influence of the English language? The closest English word for décrochage is “disconnect”, whereas raccrochage is reconnect. So in the context of drop-outs, instead of the idea of abandoning, or letting go (in French), the English uses the idea of leaving the scene.

The problem with raccrocher is that its usual meanings are to hang up (the phone), to retire (as from a sport), to put down (the telephone receiver), or to solicit or accost a customer (by a prostitute). It also means to reconnect or tie together (train cars, facts) or to rescue – a business deal, for example). Not an iota of an idea of resuming one’s studies in school.

The problem that I see with this situation is that if French-speaking Quebeckers continue to use raccrocher to mean resume studies, they will completely confuse the situation and the verbs accrocher, décrocher and raccrocher would have taken meanings which they did not originally have.

Translators have to be constantly aware of changing speech patterns and find solutions to problems that the unilingual users have not even considered.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I liked your article on Semantic shift very much. May we reproduce it on our blog? We will credit you.

Best wishes
Jonathan Goldberg