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samedi 20 février 2010

Aide-de-camp (English)

L'article qui suit a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie.

Aide-de-camp is an example of a French term which is used in English in its original French form, without translation. Collins and other French-English dictionaries give “aide-de-camp” as both English and French words.

An aide-de-camp is a personal assistant, secretary, or adjutant to a person of high rank, usually a senior military officer or a head of state (Wikipedia).

If aide-de-camp were literally translated into English, the result would be "camp assistant". Why is the French term exclusively used in English-speaking countries when “camp assistant” would roll off Anglo-Saxon tongues more easily? One explanation may be that it belongs to the family of French words of diplomacy, a relic of the times when French was the principal language used by diplomats.

Professor Dietrich Kappeler, former director of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, describes the history of language use in diplomacy:

"Documents exchanged between countries in the past were written in the single vehicular language then in use in Europe: Latin. In the 18th century French had become the generally accepted diplomatic language, so much so that even diplomatic notes addressed to the British Foreign Office by the Legation of the USA were written in that language. The 20th century saw a gradual emergence of English as a second and later even dominant diplomatic language. At the same time, a growing number of countries insisted on the use of their own language in diplomatic correspondence and joint diplomatic documents."

("Texts in Diplomacy," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001)

Kappeler goes on to note that at its inception, the United Nations recognized five languages (Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), to which Arabic was later added by informal agreement.

As French-English translator Céline Graciet pointed out in a piece entitled LANGUAGE AND DIPLOMACY, on her blog www.NakedTranslations.com:

"Nowadays, despite the French language losing much of its prestige, the English diplomatic vocabulary is still haunted by a few French ghosts, here and there: regime, coup, etiquette, rapprochement. I suspect these words are still in use only because they don't have equivalents in English."

Portrait of Alexander Lanskoy, Aide-de-camp to the Empress, 1782, Russia (source: Wikipedia)

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