How Do You Translate “National”?

Quebec flag Montreal Syllabus TranslationIt’s that time of year again when Quebecers unfurl their flags, line up for parades, crowd around stages in parks . . . and get a three-day weekend! While I’ve always loved celebrating the Fête nationale du Québec, I’ve never really known what to call it in English. Probably because the word “national” in French always stumps me.

At first glance, the obvious English translation is “national.” Alas, things are not always as simple as they seem. In Quebec, cultural identity is closely tied to the notion of nationhood—that Quebec is a nation. For many anglophones living in Quebec and the rest of Canada, La Belle Province is first and foremost a province.

I usually try to sidestep the political issue by translating “national” as “Quebec.” For example, I would translate “parcs nationaux québécois” as “Quebec’s provincial parks.”

It’s a different story when it comes to “la fête nationale.” Given that it’s a day that celebrates Quebec, the Government of Canada  says it should be translated as the “Quebec national holiday.”

Again, I think I’ll just avoid stepping on any toes and stick to the less formal—and more inclusive—“Saint-Jean!”

And you, what do you call the Fête nationale du Québec?


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