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Department for General Assembly and Conference Management

French Translation Service

Although French is commonly referred to as the language of romance, it has long been known in world affairs as the original language of diplomacy and statecraft, which accounts for it having had pride of place in most international organizations of centuries past. Translating into and from French corresponds with the advent of modern international organizations, including the United Nations where French is, along with English, both an official and a working language.

At the Headquarters and the three other major duty stations(Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi), as well as some of its regional commissions, translators from across the “Francophonie” strive painstakingly to render in “la langue de Molière” documents dealing with the whole range of issues of concern to the United Nations, from international peace and security to peacekeeping and peacemaking, budgetary and financial questions, international law, human rights, drugs and crime, environment and development, to name only a few. Because French is a both an official and a working language of the Secretariat, the French Translation Service in New York has a comparatively more varied workload than the other five translation services. Indeed, in addition to regular parliamentary documents, it is responsible for translating all administrative issuances, including materials of the internal United Nations administrative justice system and the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund or messages from the Secretary General.

It is a widely held misconception that translators labour in anonymity, when it is in fact quite the opposite: “les paroles s’envolent, les écrits restent” (verba volant, scripta manent). Take the hallowed phrase “à préserver les générations futures du fléau de la guerre qui deux fois en l’espace d’une vie humaine a infligé à l’humanité d’indicibles souffrances” (to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind : enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and historic Security Council resolutions, this language has gone down in history in no small measure thanks to the efforts of French translators at the United Nations, hailing from countries as diverse as Algeria, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Lebanon, Madagascar, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland or Viet Nam and proud to have “le français en partage”.


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