The City of Montreal Style Guide:
A Handbook for Translators, Writers and Editors
by Victor Trahan
Ville de Montreal, 2001
$22.00 Cerlox bound
ISBN 2-89417-719-4, 293 pages
Reviewed by Kathy Sauder
A style guide, like any reference work, is not so much read in
the ordinary way, from front to back, as referenced and applied
to one's own work in progress. A style guide for writers and editors
that addresses the added challenge of translating French into English
is going to be especially appealing to anyone working in Canada.
Its value is broader than the title would suggest. At the same time,
The City of Montreal Style Guide is a fine example of how
good "house style" evolves, and how any organization can
shape its own.
The story behind the guide, though not part of the book, will interest
the user. Six years in the making, it began essentially as a style
sheet connected to a specific project. Some style decisions are
taken at the outset, the rest evolve through the life of a project.
In this case the project was a major by-law consolidation undertaken
by the City of Montreal in the late 1990s. The huge revision of
10,000 by-laws included their translation into English. Certified
translator Victor Trahan was involved in it for four years, and
for this project he developed a style "sheet" of about
40 pages, his log of usage and style decisions necessary to keep
the consolidation work consistent throughout. By the time his guide
had ballooned to 500 pages, it had long since become a labour of
love consuming all his non-work hours.
Its usefulness throughout city government was apparent as Trahan
regularly answered queries from employees, contractors and freelancers.
For publication, he refined it to its current 293 pages, at which
length it is both wide-ranging and concise. On any given topic,
he surveys the other published guides, and includes them in a comprehensive
bibliography at the back of the book
As you would expect, much of the material is specific to the City
of Montreal, interpreting, for instance, the city's system of by-law
numbering, naming and referencing; elsewhere four pages are devoted
to the prescribed style for referring to city departments and committees.
Yet the guide also addresses the more universal considerations of
capitalization, grammar, hyphenation and non-sexist language, for
example. Organizing all this material alphabetically by topic or
key word was probably the wisest course. (These alphabetic entries,
sub-topics and cross-references are fully indexed at the back of
Each entry includes many examples of correct and incorrect usage
or style or translation. These are often followed by a clarifying
summary of the issue-and the issues are legion. Trahan writes about
controversies surrounding the use of particular words and phrases
in a way that makes the reader's ultimate choice easier. He helpfully
distinguishes between matters of correctness and matters of style,
and he frequently condemns vocabulary that is "worn threadbare."
But his bottom line in many disputes is: "There are weightier
matters to consider."
The book's lightheartedness is intimated by page 2, where Trahan
addresses the rule for using "a" or "an" in
the example "a historian," then brings it home with "a
hysterical historian." He relies rather heavily on clever or
inadvertent historic quotes to sum up a dilemma or to provide an
example. I marvel that he found a Diefenbaker quote to illustrate
the proper use of "that" and "this." His own
opinions are often quotable. On the tendency to capitalize for emphasis:
"It's an escalating war that never ends, and it's really up
to us to stop it."
If the distinction among possible usages is clear to the editor
but likely lost on the reader, Trahan's advice is to seek a simpler
way. His guide is not rigid in its recommendations; rather, consistency
is its motto. Another might be "Eliminate redundancy,"
making it useful to writers at all levels of government.
Reviewers have all emphasized the book's value to translators and
editors whose first language is not English. The entries that deal
with inadvertent Gallicisms in English, or Frenglish, are most instructive,
showing how they creep in when French is translated literally. "Three
days' delay" may in fact be "three days' notice,"
"manifestations" actually "demonstrations,"
and "a reunion in my bureau" much more accurately "a
meeting in my office."
My particular problem is the opposite one, and I found the guide
goes a long way to solving it: how best to include French in an
English context. How does one translate style? Copy editors and
proofreaders who are not trained translators can use Trahan's work
because he deals with what we have suspected instinctively, that
apart from rules for written French and rules for translating French
into written English, we must have conventions for incorporating
French into an English context. The Canadian market is full of "hybrid"
text, such as this very publication.
As a simple example, I will no longer feel doubtful when I retain
the accents in Montreal and Quebec in an English description or
the hyphens in a French street name; yet I may jettison the conventional
parentheses from a mailing address, or substitute "Street"
for "rue" while maintaining "Ile." In all these
decisions, individually minor, consistency is still the overarching
Ordering information: Electronic versions also available. $22 all-inclusive:
cheques should be made payable to the City of Montreal and sent
Victor Trahan, Direction du greffe, Ville de Montreal, 275, rue
Notre-Daame Est, bureau R-134, Montreal, QC, H2Y 1C6
Phone: (514) 872-2666
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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