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To Drop or Not to Drop Parentheses in Telephone Numbers

Fanny Vittecoq
(Language Update, Volume 3, Number 3, 2006, page 16)

A few years ago, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) introduced 10-digit local dialling—the mandatory dialling of area codes followed by the seven-digit telephone numbers for local telephone calls. Ten-digit dialling is already being used in some areas of Canada and is becoming standard practice throughout North America. Since June 17, 2006, subscribers living in regions with area codes 450, 514, 519, 613 and 819 have had to dial 10 digits for all local calls.

This measure has become necessary to make up for the lack of available telephone numbers, given increased demand for numbers in Canada. By requiring people to dial 10 digits instead of seven for local calls, between Gatineau and Ottawa for example, the same seven-digit telephone number can be used in both the 819 and 613 areas, thus making thousands of numbers available.

Not only telephone users but also those who write telephone numbers will be "called on" to make the changes. A small adjustment had to be made, since the traditional parentheses around area codes indicate that dialling the code is not necessary for all calls.

Space or hyphen after the area code?

The Telecommunications Alliance—an alliance newly formed by Bell, Rogers, Telus, Fido, Télébec, Sprint Canada, Allstream and Vidéotron, the telephone companies represented by the Association des compagnies de téléphone du Québec and the Ontario Telecommunications Association—recommends inserting a non-breaking space after the area code and a hyphen after the central office code, e.g. 819 555-5555. It also recommends putting a non-breaking space following 1 and 800-, 888-, 900- and 976-type codes, e.g. 1 800 555-5555.

The Office québécois de la langue française and the Guide de rédaction du gouvernement de l’Ontario support these recommendations, and in 2002, a Terminology Update contributor, Barbara Collishaw, made similar suggestions for English usage in her article "How to Write Telephone Numbers in Canada."

However, both the Canadian Number Administrator (CNA) and the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) recommend inserting a hyphen after the area code, e.g. 819-555-5555, which seems logical. In fact, this form is gaining currency. Indeed, CNA and NANPA are working closely with the CRTC, which, in accordance with section 46.1 of the Telecommunications Act, is authorized to administer "numbering resources used in the functioning of telecommunications networks, including the portion of the North American Numbering Plan resources that relates to Canadian telecommunications networks." Numbering issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the CRTC are dealt with by the Canadian Steering Committee on Numbering.

In contrast, the International Telecommunication Union advises using no hyphen in North American telephone numbers in its recommendation entitled "Notation for National and International Telephone Numbers, E-mail Addresses and Web Addresses" (ITU-T E.123, 2001), e.g. (819) 555 5555.

The International Organization for Standardization has produced no standards for writing telephone numbers.

Translation Bureau’s recommendation

The Translation Bureau makes the following recommendation to federal public servants:

From now on, area codes should be followed by a hyphen rather than inserted between parentheses, e.g. 819-555-5555.

This applies to all Canadian telephone numbers, as well as to cell phone, pager and fax numbers. It also applies to toll and toll-free numbers, with a hyphen having to be inserted after 1 and 800-, 888-, 900- and 976-type codes, e.g. 1-800-555-5555. Periods (e.g. 819.555.5555) and spaces (e.g. 1 888 555 5555) between groups of digits should be avoided. Furthermore, with the use of a non-breaking hyphen between groups of digits, telephone numbers will not be truncated at the end of a line.

The Translation Bureau has decided to adopt the same presentation in English as in French, that is, to insert a hyphen between groups of digits, a style also favoured by the Canadian Press Style Book (2004).

Even though 10-digit dialling is not yet mandatory in all areas of Canada, this new way of writing telephone numbers can be used as of now. From a technical point of view, it is accepted almost everywhere.

Sources

  1. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Recommendation ITU-T E.123. "Notation for National and International Telephone Numbers, E-mail Addresses and Web Addresses," 2001. Recommendation ITU-T E.164. "The International Public Telecommunication Numbering Plan," 2005.
  2. International Organization for Standardization (ISO), www.iso.org [link no longer available].
  3. Standards Council of Canada, www.scc.ca.
  4. Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), www.crtc.gc.ca (04.05.06).
  5. Canadian Central Office Code (NXX) Assignment Guidelines (2004). Produced by the Canadian Steering Committee on Numbering (CSCN) and approved by Telecom Decision CRTC 2004-60.
  6. Canadian Steering Committee on Numbering (CSCN), www.crtc.gc.ca/cisc/eng/cisf3f_a.htm (09.05.06).
  7. Canadian Number Administrator (CNA), www.cnac.ca (04.05.06).
  8. North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), www.nanpa.com(04.05.06).
  9. Telecommunications Alliance, www.dial10.ca (04.05.06).
  10. Bell Canada’s Communications Department.
  11. Office québécois de la langue française, Banque de dépannage linguistique (04.05.06).
  12. La Francilettre, No. 20, May 15, 2006.
  13. Le français au bureau (2005). 
  14. Guide de rédaction du gouvernement de l’Ontario, www.onterm.gov.on.ca/guide.pdf.
  15. Canadian Press Style Book (2004).
  16. Barbara Collishaw, "How to Write Telephone Numbers in Canada," Terminology Update, Vol. (Language Update, volume) 35, No. 1 (2002).
  17. Telecommunications Act, laws.justice.gc.ca/en/t-3.4/263796.html.