Archive for French vs. English

how to translate evidence into French?

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on July 6, 2014 by xi'an

I got this email from Gauvain who writes a PhD in philosophy of sciences a few minutes ago:

L’auteur du texte que j’ai à traduire désigne les facteurs de Bayes comme une “Bayesian measure of evidence”, et les tests de p-value comme une “frequentist measure of evidence”. Je me demandais s’il existait une traduction française reconnue et établie pour cette expression de “measure of evidence”. J’ai rencontré parfois “mesure d’évidence” qui ressemble fort à un anglicisme, et parfois “estimateur de preuve”, mais qui me semble pouvoir mener à des confusions avec d’autres emploi du terme “estimateur”.

which (pardon my French!) wonders how to translate the term evidence into French. It would sound natural that the French évidence is the answer but this is not the case. Despite sharing the same Latin root (evidentia), since the English version comes from medieval French, the two words have different meanings: in English, it means a collection of facts coming to support an assumption or a theory, while in French it means something obvious, which truth is immediately perceived. Surprisingly, English kept the adjective evident with the same [obvious] meaning as the French évident. But the noun moved towards a much less definitive meaning, both in Law and in Science. I had never thought of the huge gap between the two meanings but must have been surprised at its use the first time I heard it in English. But does not think about it any longer, as when I reviewed Seber’s Evidence and Evolution.

One may wonder at the best possible translation of evidence into French. Even though marginal likelihood (vraisemblance marginale) is just fine for statistical purposes. I would suggest faisceau de présomptions or degré de soutien or yet intensité de soupçon as (lengthy) solutions. Soupçon could work as such, but has a fairly negative ring…