"An indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike"

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I'm in Paris for the UNESCO International Conference Language Technologies for All (LT4All), which happens to coincide with another event in France, a national strike that (among other things) created a very long trip from the airport. In my hotel's elevator there was a sign whose first sentence taught me a couple of new words:

Ce Jeudi 5 Décembre aura lieu une grève interprofessionelle reconductible indéterminée.

There was also an English translation:

This Thursday, December 5th, will be an indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike.



  1. AlexB said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 3:21 am

    Both indéterminé and reconductible together would seem redundant to me. If it can be prolonged, the duration must be undetermined.

    On a personal note, this also scuppered my plans to visit Paris this Friday.

  2. John Shutt said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:03 am

    They don't mean the same thing to me. I could imagine saying there would be an indefinite strike /starting on/ a certain day. I could imagine saying there would be a /renewable/ strike on a certain day. But I would never say there would be an /indefinite/ strike /on/ a certain day; that doesn't make sense to me.

  3. LaurentC said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:06 am

    We generally say "à durée indéterminée", as in a contract. I guess this is what means indéterminée, but then it is indeed redundant with reconductible.

    Maybe the author thought of indéterminée as an adverb modifying reconductible (for an unknown duration), but you normally can't do that.

  4. LaurentC said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:12 am

    We often use indéterminée in the context of duration, as in "contrat à durée indéterminée".

    In this case some words seem to be missing for the sentence to be grammatical, but I think the meaning is "renewable for an unknown duration". Because indeed we don't know how long this national strike will be.

  5. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:31 am

    If I had come across 'aura lieu' in a French translation of an English sign, I would have wondered if it was a bad calque of English 'take place'. Interesting that both languages use the same turn of phrase.

  6. Rob Grayson said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:37 am

    "Interprofessionnel" is often poorly translated "interprofessional", which isn't recognisably English. A better translation would be "cross-industry", "cross-sector" or something similar.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 4:57 am

    Not a fluent French speaker by any means, but of the quoted passage only reconductible would have left me bemused; with the aid of the translation I now recognise its etymology but would have struggled without.

    [(myl) Same — but "interprofessionelle" meaning something like "cross-sector" would not have been in my active vocabulary.]

  8. Lai Ka Yau said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 5:43 am

    @Jen in Edinburgh: 'Turn of phrase' actually sounds French to me because of French 'tournure'!

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 8:09 am

    But 'reconductible' doesn't mean 'prolonged' (and continuous), it means 'renewable' (after a break).
    Look out for "La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu".

  10. Bob Ladd said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 8:27 am

    @Jen in Edinburgh: German stattfinden is essentially the same expression as well – it's 'finding' a place rather than 'taking' it or 'having' it. Undoubtedly these are all calques on some original, but I don't know if French is the source.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 8:36 am

    Sorry about your long trip from the airport, but people coming here (Marseilles, not Paris) from a long way away say that the traffic flow was much better than usual today. According to the news that was also true in Paris.

  12. BZ said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 1:41 pm

    I'm still trying to puzzle out the English (I don't speak French):
    "This Thursday, December 5th, will be a … strike" is already wrong, as I'd expect "there will be a strike", but ok.
    What's an indefinite strike? A strike with no definite end date? Because that meaning is not possible in my idiolect. The best I can come up with is "the details of the strike are unknown".

    And what's a renewable strike? The Oxford online gives two definitions of "renewable":
    1. (of a contract, agreement, etc.) capable of being renewed.
    "the 30-day truce is renewable by mutual agreement"
    2. (of a natural resource or source of energy) not depleted when used.
    "a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy"

    I suppose since "renew" in the sense of a contract means "extend", the idea is that the strike can be extended, but I find that, for me, "renew" can only be used in a small number of objects, with "strike" not being one of them. It doesn't seem to be a productive construction that can be applied to new contexts similar to existing ones.

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 2:53 pm

    Part of the difficulty may be that union tactics (against a background of different laws and customs) may differ in France from what they are in some Anglophone countries. One news story I googled up explains:

    "Although some unions have only signed up for a one-day strike others are in it for the long haul, while some others have said they will review how the first day went then make a decision.

    Some teaching unions will go back and a many schools have told parents that they will be operating as normal on Friday (although others will have no afterschool care or canteens because auxiliary staff are striking).

    Unions on Paris transport network RATP have confirmed they will be striking until Monday so services in Paris will again be severely limited."

    Et cetera.

    In the US (I guess maybe I should not be confident that I know how it works in other Anglophone nations) one thinks of a strike as "indefinite" by default, i.e. presumptively continuing until an agreement resolving the precipitating issue is reached with management (and/or support by the union rank-and-file for further continuation crumbles because the union leadership had miscalculated). Could be a few days; could be months, and you generally don't decide to go out on strike in the first place unless you're willing to risk being in it for the long haul. So part of the problem may be coming up with an idiomatic way to translate into AmEng a situation that would be unlikely to occur among AmEng-speaking unions.

  14. JPL said,

    December 5, 2019 @ 7:35 pm

    "a duree indeterminee" expresses the property of an event of open-ended (and presumably continuous) duration; the sense of "reconductible" does not seem to be redundant wrt "indeterminee", but rather implies that the activity making up the event is not continuous, i.e., it disappears for a while although the "event" defined wrt purpose is ongoing. It's sort of like a married couple renewing their wedding vows.

    Although as Mark says we might express the sense of "interprofessionelle" as "cross-sector" ("cross-professional", "cross-field"), we do have expressions like "interdisciplinary". Since multiple sectors of the economy are involved in the strike, does it qualify as a "general strike", or does it fall a bit short of that, and thus require maybe a new expression?

  15. V said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 1:36 am

    I deduced that "interprofessional" means something like "cross-industry", but it stood out as a non-professional translation.

  16. Martin Sullivan said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 8:52 am

    @J.W. Brewer:

    > In the US […] one thinks of a strike as "indefinite" by default, i.e. presumptively continuing until an agreement resolving the precipitating issue is reached with management

    That definitely isn't how most strike actions seem to work in the UK. Only a small proportion of employees would be able to afford to undertake continuous indefinite strike action.

    The general pattern seems to be that the union will announce an intention to strike on a certain day; they might announce a schedule of strike days, eg striking every Friday for the next six weeks, which usually gives the employers time to work out (expensive) alternative arrangements (most of the heavily-unionised industries are things like healthcare, transport, and education; the intention is to make it expensive for employers, not to stop the service completely). And obviously the strikers can generally maintain recurrent strikes for longer because they'll still be receiving pay for the days on which they do work, rather than the short sharp unplanned shock of an indefinite strike.

    There might be something similar going on in the example cited (if we're looking to understand the distinction between 'reconductible' and 'indéterminée'). I can imagine how you could have a 'renewable' strike that wasn't 'indefinite' (we'll strike every Friday for one day only, but we'll keep doing it until/unless you cave) and an 'indefinite' strike that wasn't 'renewable' (we're only planning to strike this once, but the strike will last until you're ready to talk).

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 9:05 am

    @Martin Sullivan: It should follow from what you say that it ought to be easier to translate the French into idiomatic BrEng, since the thing being described is less alien to their experience and thus (one would assume) to their at-hand lexical resources, yet I take it this particular translation does not succeed in doing so.

  18. Martin Sullivan said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 11:31 am

    @J.W. Brewer: It may well translate better into BrEng; certainly, to me, the 'indefinite' and 'renewable' didn't seem particularly incomprehensible, but 'interprofessional' definitely sounded unidiomatic (I suspect that idiomatic BrEng might instead use 'general strike', 'sympathy strike', or 'solidarity strike', depending on the precise circumstances).

  19. Trogluddite said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 12:17 pm

    Though it took a little pondering, I was confident that I'd correctly understood "strike action by workers from multiple professions, of unknown duration and possibly subject to temporary suspensions". The trouble is that this sits so poorly with "on [day], [event] will take place" or "this [day] will be [event]" (assuming that the French "aura lieu" would usually convey the same sense of beginning and ending on the given day). Does the notice apply only to the day in question or not?

    If there is any redundancy, I'd say that it's pragmatic rather than semantic. The primary intent of the sign is presumably to inform guests that the hotel is not operating as it typically would. As a guest, I'd first want to know what the consequences are for me (expected services may be unavailable or delayed) and how likely they are (often on Thursday; maybe/not on Friday). I _might_ then be interested to learn about the cause, assuming that I can't already guess this and that there's nothing else competing for my attention (and "due to strike action" seems sufficient – I know where to seek greater detail). Maybe it's just me, but I find public notices which force me to parse incidental details before getting to the point rather annoying!

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 2:56 pm

    Trogluddite — "I find public notices which force me to parse incidental details before getting to the point rather annoying". I find private communications that do that equally if not even more annoying — someone who had better be nameless frequently recounts multiple things that are tangential to the main theme before getting to the point of her utterance, by which time I have to explain that I have completely lost track of what I am being told, and could she please start again but this time omitting the needless digressions …

  21. RachelP said,

    December 7, 2019 @ 8:25 am

    This to me is archetypal 'Euro English' as formalised by the institutions of the EU and other European level bodies.


    This kind of result is very typical; not quite 'wrong' but unidiomatic, carrying a translated-from-another-language feel, as well as being overly legalistic and somewhat opaque.

  22. James Wimberley said,

    December 10, 2019 @ 9:00 am

    "Interprofessionnel(le)" might refer to different types of employee, not necessarily different industries: managerial and administrative staff, train and bus drivers and so on. IIRC French unions are both militant and fragmented, along political as well as caste lines, so an effective transport strike probably involves an ad hoc coalition. I'd go for the vaguer "multi-sectoral".

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