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Quebec government finds 74 per cent of businesses make language errors on public signage

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign reading 'Bonjour, Hi' in Montreal, Sunday, October 25, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign reading 'Bonjour, Hi' in Montreal, Sunday, October 25, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
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No less than three-quarters of businesses do not respect the standards of written French in their public signage in Quebec, according to the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

The language watchdog published the results of a study Tuesday that pointed out in most cases, the errors do not affect the overall understanding of the communication.

The exhaustive research focused on more than 10,000 "messages" written on the signage of companies in 2021, in four major regions: Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Gatineau.

It found that one-quarter of businesses (26 per cent) have outdoor public signage that does not deviate from the standard, but 74 per cent of businesses have messages that do.

The average number of deviations in signage was higher on the Island of Montreal than elsewhere.

The discrepancies included typos, spelling or grammatical errors, anglicisms, and syntax errors. Among the errors examined were redundancies, English quotation marks, inappropriate additions or missing letters.

However, the OQLF specified that in nearly half of the cases, the discrepancies found can be "considered difficult to detect without an advanced knowledge of the rules of written French."

One third of the errors identified were typographical errors, "related, for example, to the use of a capital letter instead of a small letter, or to the writing of telephone numbers, times, dates or prices in a format that did not correspond to the prescriptions of reference works such as the Banque de dépannage linguistique, the Grand Dictionnaire terminologique or the Antidote software," it explained.

Only one per cent of the errors reported could actually diminish the clarity of the message.

The average number of discrepancies was higher in businesses such as grocery stores, butchers, supermarkets, convenience stores, and entertainment and manufacturing establishments. On the other hand, there were fewer discrepancies in clothing stores.

Many of the errors are attributable to the time period chosen to conduct the study. The sample was collected in the spring of 2021, in the middle of the pandemic.

Nine per cent of the messages analyzed were related to the health measures in place, but they accounted for no less than 17 per cent of the discrepancies noted.

Many of these short-lived messages [often printed with a simple desktop printer or even handwritten] may have been written without going through the usual processes that businesses go through before posting text in their windows or on their buildings," the OQLF said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 28, 2023. 

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