The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable.
It all started with a faux-pas – to use a French phrase commonly borrowed by English-speakers. On 20 March, when French higher education minister Genevieve Fioraso unveiled the proposed road map, she mentioned that there were only 3,000 Indian students in France. In order to attract more foreign students, she added, French universities would have to start offering courses taught in English. “We must teach in English or there will only remain in France a handful of experts discussing Proust around the table,” she said.
But Proust was an unfortunate choice. The author is actually one of France’s best literary exports and the reason why many students in the world take up French at university.
The influential Academie Francaise, the official authority on the French language founded in 1635, led a chorus of disapproval of Fioraso’s proposals. Few countries guard their linguistic heritage as jealously as France, and defend it so vigorously from foreign threats – such as the growing worldwide influence of English. Though, interestingly, the institution was originally founded by Cardinal Richelieu to fight off the invasion of Italian in the French language. Today, there are as many Italian as there are English originated words in the French language. But Fioraso fought back, saying she only meant to be pragmatic.
Elite French business schools, and Grandes Ecoles such as the Institute of Political Studies also known as Sciences-Po, have been teaching in English for the last 15 years. Why, she asks, shouldn’t other less prestigious universities follow suit? According to the left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation, 790 higher education courses in France are already taught in English, and like Fioraso it sees nothing wrong with the idea. Its all-English front page on Tuesday featured the words “Let’s do it” in bold capital letters. Liberation represents a growing fringe of the French population – young, urban, trendy, the kind which, in the last 20 years, has adopted franglais in their daily life.
For them, the work of the Academie Francaise – which offers grammatical advice and alternatives to new foreign words – now feels irrelevant and obsolete. They like nothing more than adding English sounding suffixes to French words, or combining English words into new terms such as “fooding” (made out of “food” and “feeling”).
The result is a fantasy English that exists nowhere else; this, many think in France, is an inverted snobbery. “Why speak French well when you can speak English badly?” asks with irony the literary critic Bernard Pivot. These people present themselves as pure pragmatists. English is conquering the world, they say, and it would be foolish to resist an inevitable evolution.
Once the language of the world’s elite, French now ranks as only the eighth most-spoken language in the world and its influence is clearly receding. Even within Europe, if one takes a look at the European Union, there is no doubt that since the addition of 10 new member states in 2004 French has lost its appeal.
Once the lingua franca around the negotiating tables in Brussels and Strasbourg, French has given way to English. Though, if the UK were to leave the EU, there would be no reason for this to continue – English would remain the joint official language only of Malta, as well as widely-spoken in the Republic of Ireland (where Irish is the “national language”) and Cyprus.
Those who oppose the introduction of English in French universities are attached not only to the national language, however, but more importantly, to the vision of the world it carries. A vision that differs from the English or American world view.
This is the crux of the matter, and, for a majority in France, the strongest argument in favour of rejecting the government’s bill. Teaching English is very different, they argue, from teaching in English. They support the teaching of foreign languages, and suggest starting it even earlier – in nursery schools – but they oppose the teaching of subjects such as mathematics, history and literature in any language but French.
Antoine Compagnon, a distinguished French scholar who taught at Columbia University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, maintained in a public letter that it would be better to teach foreign students French than tolerate “Globish” (the primitive English of non-English-speakers) and the dumbing down of teaching that would inevitably follow.
Foreign students who choose France over Britain, Compagnon says, are not only choosing the French lifestyle but also its culture and language. Teaching them Proust in English, in France, would be a travesty.
French MP Pouria Amirshahi, who represents French expats in North and West Africa, backed him up. “The signal given out to those everywhere who learn French abroad and in francophone countries throughout the world is not reassuring,” told The Daily Telegraph.
It looks as though, in France, if you want to teach students in English, you have to do it quietly like the elite universities which never asked permission but never boasted about it either.
France’s Académie française battles to protect language from English
The Académie, a council of 40 writers and artists, is entrusted with protecting French from “Anglo-Saxon” attacks and writing an official dictionary, of which the latest unfinished version began in 1992.
One of its tasks is to come up with French equivalents to unwanted English words that slip into French – for example turning “email” into “courriel”.
Since the body was set up in 1635, luminaries have included Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, the former French President. Membership is for life and new members only elected when a post is freed up by the death of an “immortal”, as they are known. Criticised for being an elitist club for ageing linguistic reactionaries, the Académie last year decided to ban entry to anyone over the age of 75. The rule was not retroactive as most of the current members would fail to make the grade.
Now, the body has decided to further embrace the 21st century with a section of its website called “Dire, Ne pas dire” (To say, Not to Say”). The site aims to be interactive, with visitors invited to exchange views on points of language and even campaign to “rehabilitate” French words fallen out of common usage. It also contains a section dedicated to Anglicisms. As of Tuesday, the site only had two words on its black list. In pole position was “le best of”, often seen in French magazines and which it suggests replacing by “le meilleur de”. The second was the “franglais” verb “impacter” (to impact), which it urges purists to replace with “affecter”, the proper French equivalent.
“We want to restore courage to all those in France and outside France who endeavour to defend and enrich the language. Let French remain a great language of communication and culture,” Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini of the Académie told Le Figaro.
Agnès Oster, secretary of the body’s dictionary commission, told The Daily Telegraph that more English terms would be added to its online blacklist every month. November’s additions will include the franglais term “supporter” to mean “support” (a team, for example). It suggests replacing it by “soutenir” or “encourager”. It will also urge French-speakers to drop Anglicised superlatives like “top”, “must”, or “hyper” using instead proper French terms like “incomparable”, “très bien”, or “inégalable”. It also hopes to wean them off the cinema term “casting” and replace it with “passer une audition”.
The French culture ministry recently launched a similarly collaborative web site called “wikilf.culture.fr”, short for Wiki French Language, asking people to come up with home-grown terms for anglophone words. It was appalled to discover more than 10 million occurrences of the word “networking” on French-speaking web pages, whereas there is a perfectly good French alternative: “Travail en réseau”.
Recent suggestions from web users were to replace “le binge drinking” with “biture fissa”, “hotline” with “numéro d’urgence” and “brainstorming” with “remue-méninges”. “Naturally, this is in no way about declaring war on foreign terms, English in particular, that have entered into common usage,” like “sandwich” or “weekend”, said the site. “It is about anticipating the usefulness of a foreign term that could be settling into the French language.” However, purists regularly launch virulent media campaigns against creeping English.
Last year, a plan by President Nicolas Sarkozy to teach English to French three-year olds last year drew comparisons to Germany’s wartime occupation of France. Others have voiced deep concern that the French language is losing influence in Europe.
In 1997, 40 per cent of documents at the European Commission were first written in French, compared to 45 per cent in English. In 2006, the ratio had fallen to 14 per cent French versus 72 per cent English. By 2009, French was at 11 per cent.
DEFENDING the French language from the creeping invasion of English has long been a favourite pastime of France’s elite. In 2006 Jacques Chirac walked out of a Brussels summit in protest at a Frenchman speaking in English. It is a point of national pride to defend l’exception française and to protect French music, film, even advertising, from the corrupting influence of English. So why are the French giving up the struggle?
As French children filed back to school on September 2nd, Xavier Darcos, the education minister, announced that he was increasing English-language teaching in the curriculum. “I’ve had enough of hearing that the French do not learn English,” he said. “It’s a big disadvantage for international competition.” By the end of compulsory schooling, he promised, all pupils should be bilingual.
The French are embracing English in less high-minded ways too. When they entered a song in English at this year’s Eurovision song contest, it provoked wry amusement abroad, but indifference at home. For many young French musicians singing in English is now de rigueur. The gravelly voiced French crooners of the past have given way to bands like The Do, Hey Hey My My, or Cocoon, whose latest album is called “My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash”. “The children of globalisation are giving up writing in French,” declared Le Monde, the bible of the French elite—without apparent regret.
Despite rules requiring advertising slogans in English to be sub-titled, French manufacturers brazenly borrow English words to confect brands in franglais. L’Oréal, a cosmetics group, promotes “Age Re-Perfect Pro-Calcium Nuit” and “Revitalift Double Lifting Yeux”. France’s fashion press is another cross-dresser, writing of “Vive la fashion attitude” or “Le Hit des It Bags”. In a post-modern twist, teenagers are importing American slang via the heavily north African banlieues, where hip-hop flourishes and street dress is styled on the Bronx.
Once this might have had official France spluttering with indignation. The rules designed to fend off English remain—and are an obstacle to new musicians who do not qualify for the quota of radio time reserved for singers in French. Yet in the globalised, internet age, the French seem to realise, as Mr Darcos put it, that the losers from a refusal to learn English are themselves—and that speaking it need not make them less French. Even ministers host un chat on le web. Part of this is down to Mr Chirac’s successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who, although no linguist, rejects the atavistic anti-Americanism that underpins much hostility to English. Appropriately, “Comme si de rien n’était”, the new album by his wife, Carla Bruni, has a track in English—presumably not one his predecessor will listen to.
Language barrier: French resistance to Franglais
The French government’s recent decision to scrap the English word “hashtag” and replace it with the Gallic word “mot-dièse” not only sparked a Twitter frenzy but it also reignited an old debate over the future of the French language and an ongoing battle for the authorities to protect it from the invasion of “Franglais”.
With English continuing to dominate the world of business, technology, science and even the offices of the European Commission where most documents are now produced first in English, the French language authorities could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel.
But they have not and continue to battle to promote and protect the French language. The word “mot-dièse” comes ten years after France threw the word email into its deleted items and asked people instead to use “courriel”. Two years ago a similar brouhaha was stirred when Paris scrapped a raft of IT terms such as “spamming” and “hacker,” replacing them with “arrosage” and “fouineur”.
But one of the problems for authorities is that the efforts of the fabled Academie Française and other government organizations are not always appreciated by their compatriots, many of whom believe they are wasting their time.
In this week’s Tête-a-tête, The Local examines this divisive debate, hearing first from one of the guardians of the French language, Bénédicte Madinier from the Ministry of Culture, as well as from some of those Twitter users who ridiculed the authorities during the recent Hashtag-gate.
Is it right to invent new words to protect the French language from Franglais?
Yes, says Madinier…
“People say ‘it’s impossible’, or ‘it’s ridiculous’ to use a French word, but is it really? Is it really that ridiculous to ask people to use ‘nuage’ instead of ‘cloud’? For some it’s just fashionable to want to use English, but like all trends, this will change. We found that up until recently a lot of young people would say ‘c’est cool’ but now more and more people are saying ‘c’est frais’.
Is it really asking too much for people to use ‘mot-dièse’ instead of ‘hashtag’, and ‘courriel’ instead of ‘email’? I don’t know why there was such a big reaction to ‘mot-dièse’. We introduced some other new words on the same day but nobody talked about them. What people need to understand is that although there was a certain amount of ridicule on Twitter – a reaction we are used to – this does not reflect the views of all the French people.
Twitter users are mostly young people but I would say, go into the street, speak to people of all ages and ask them what ‘hashtag’ means? The majority of the population does not know what it is. I read an opinion poll that said 33 percent of the population were ready to use ‘mot-dièse’ from now on.
Someone emailed me recently to see whether we had a French word for Masterclass and I told them yes, it’s the same ‘Classe de maître’. They were shocked and said, ‘we can’t use that, it’s not fashionable enough’, and I replied, ‘Do you think the word masterclass is really fashionable in English? Of course not’.
It’s true that French is more rigid than English. In English you don’t hesitate to create words but in French we often have to check the construction and prepositions, and so on. French is a bit more timid but it’s not incapable of changing. We need to respect the language. We can’t just invent nonsense. If the word is well chosen and people understand it, then it will be used. The world is becoming smaller and we have to adapt.
We do not want to fight against English, but rather to promote the French language. It’s completely different. We are French, we are in France but we favour multi-lingualism. The prevalence of English is much greater now than before but not just in French, in pretty much all languages.
We don’t do this for our own pleasure. We need to show people that if you love the language, you need to use it. Some people are totally indifferent. They criticize us and say it’s ridiculous. But we need to show them that that attitude is dangerous.
The French language is alive and well. It is still an important international language. Obviously, everything dies out at some point, including languages (including English, for that matter) but for the moment, French has a bright future.”
No, say several Twitter users…
“I find it all impractical. We want to preserve the language, OK, why not? But instead of making it more user-friendly, for instance having simpler verb conjugations, shortening words etc, they prefer to force people to use words created from scratch when people are already happily using the originals, for example hashtag, manga or handball.
This kind of approach is totally ineffective. Does anyone in France really use the words baladeur (Walkman), coup de pieds de coin (corner kick) or even courriel (email). It borders on the ridiculous. We have a huge public deficit and we are paying people to create words that no one uses.
Deep down, French people still have memories of France’s previous grandeur, but we cannot accept that this is all in the past.”
– Jean-Francois Naud, a web project manager who tweets under @frenchpolitics
“I’ve always thought it was a bit silly and unproductive to make rules for the protection of the French language. The world is evolving, we live in the technological age, it’s obvious people would speak English. Coming up with French equivalents of English expressions is to me a really useless idea — and in the case of ‘motdièse’, actually ridiculous.
I’m not sure I have the right solution to promote the French language, but I’d rather have festivals or poetry months or whatever, rather than measures that make the French look stupid.”
– Gaelle Laforest, a French national living in London. @gaellelaforest
“I actually support the idea to preserve culture, or language in this case. But banning the use of certain words is never even an option.
There are lots of other ways to encourage people to use their own language, i.e. through literature or poetry. Show them the beauty of their language instead of forcing them.”
– Twitter user ajeng @anjaparamitha
“From an educational viewpoint, teaching French as the natural second language in Britain is now outdated since Polish is now officially the second language of Britain. From an EU perspective, German is the most widely spoken language in the European community, with English being widely spoken, heavily used and well understood.
Logically, German and English should therefore be the two principally protected languages that are upheld for and by EU operations. Furthermore, German should become a natural second language taught in British schools, given its strong and wide presence in the EU and its relations.
Jacques Chirac was booed and jeered for using English at an EU summit in 2006, but the French people ignored the fact that their request for all EU legal operations to be conducted in French was a high and unrealistic demand.”
Franglais as She Is Spoke
… French leaders have labored at it ever since then- Prime Minister Georges Pompidou created the High Commission for the Defense and Expansion of the French Language in 1966. He warned that it must “think big and act quickly to clean French of the filth it has picked up.” There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the “filth” in question was American terminology in the form of Franglais: the wholesale, indiscriminate, often ludicrous, use of English and pseudo-English words instead of French. President Nicolas Sarkozy, never known for being overly concerned about things cultural, took up the cudgels at the last IOF summit. He bitterly criticized French diplomats who “are happy to speak English,” rather than French, which is “under siege.” “Defending our language, defending the values it represents—that is a battle for cultural diversity in the World,” he insisted. The problem was not English itself, he said graciously, but “ready-to-wear culture, uniformity, monolingualism.” All code words, of course, for the spread of English at the expense of French.
Hélas, the sad truth for Francophonies is that Molière’s tongue is being coated by a bad case of Franglais. Some nations, like the practical Dutch and Scandinavians, easily adopt American expressions while retaining their cultural identity. The Spanish wield Spanglish and the Germans Denglish with relatively little travail. In culture-proud France, however, this pidgin version of American English is fraught with painful self-consciousness. As the commentator Eric Zemmour put it dolefully to Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, “The end of French political power has brought the end of French. Now even the French elite have given up. They don’t care anymore. They all speak English.”
INDEED. Witness shopkeepers who want to be up-to-date, to use the current French expression replacing the perfectly serviceable au courant (which, ironically, American sophisticates might prefer to “up-to-date”). A trade journal published a handy guide to terms they must learn: “Today’s retailer is a businessman who has his job in his shop. Self-made man or not, owner of a discount, of a self-service, of a drugstore or a building, the retailer uses brainstorming to analyze the tests guiding his marketing.” Advertising execs, in particular, can’t get enough of English to booster, as they say, their effort to appear hip. Peugeot cars promise “Motion and Emotion.” French ads for a handy tool tout it in English as a “Companion for Life.” Evian bottled water’s slogan is “Live Young,” while L’Oréal has cosmetics products like “Age Perfect” and “Revitalift Total Repair.” You can read all about such companies in their newsletter, or go online for a chat, not to be confused with a French sex kitten.
The word “fun,” like the concept itself, does not exist in French, so le fun has been cheerfully adopted, along with cool. And when having le fun, the French often now exclaim “waa-oou!”: two syllables, which is how the English word “wow” is pronounced in this diphthong-challenged nation. Mixing and matching at will, a shrugging Frenchman might express his indifference by saying, “Je ne care pas.” If something makes sense to him, he will simply translate word-forword from the English: Ça fait sens, though that means nothing in French. You would have thought the French, of all people, could at least swear in their own language, cursing and counting generally being the two things one reflexively does in the mother tongue. But though French has no lack of naughty words and expressions, a number of pungent four-letter Anglo- Saxon expletives are now in use, along with an insulting gesture involving the middle finger instead of the traditional Latin forearm.
In their eagerness to speak chic pidgin, the French even invent “English” words we would never use or recognize, often by adding “-ing.” So they now leave their car in un parking, instead of stationnement. Similarly, a campsite becomes un camping, a makeover is un relooking, shampoo froths into un shampooing. Manic invention goes further, making a bartender un barman, a tennis player un tennisman, an up-and-coming politician un comingman. To get in shape, un rugbyman will do his footing. Word order can be reversed, for reasons only a Frenchman understands, so when you meet him he will not give you a handshake, but a shakehand. A recent lexicon has no fewer than 620 pages of English words now current in French.
At one time or another, I have seen Paris shops both Right and Left Bank with names like Dream Store, Bus Stop, Broadway, Fashionable, 5th Avenue, Western House, Modern House, Please, American Breakfast, and To Day (yes, two words). Parisians are no longer surprised by un drugstore on the corner. These things come and go with the seasons, but cheek by jowl on the Champs Élysées at one point were New Store, Grill Shop, and Drug West, with its restaurant Snob Snack, where un hamburger is named The Classic.
Perfectly good justifications are thought up for such absurd nomenclature. At the Bus Stop store they explain that there is indeed an arrêt d’autobus across the street; besides, an English name is the way things are done now. Clients even ask if they have branches in America, the ultimate mark of success in picking a name. At the clothing store Ranch, an employee admitted, “When we opened, the ranch thing was fashionable. It’s not anymore, so we’re looking for another American name.” A young salesgirl at Murphy’s haberdashery, pressed for the etymology of the name, furrowed her pretty brow, then replied brightly, “Why, that’s from Greek mythology, isn’t it?”
BUT HOLD ON. The Francophonies are not about to quit without a struggle. English is clearly a symbol of Anglo-American cultural imperialism. It must be resisted at all costs. Thus the patriotic pilots of Air France, for one, fight a rearguard guerrilla action by occasionally bridling at air traffic control instructions given in English, the official language, for safety reasons, of international aviation.
The august Académie Française has entered the fray by issuing lists of Franglais words which it proscribes, together with suggested equivalents. The frequently used check-up, in the sense of medical exam, should be replaced by bilan de santé, it dictates. Likewise, open, whether an airline ticket reservation or a tennis tournament, should be ouvert or libre. It waffles on “management” and “mass media.” The former can be used in a pinch, the Academy says, as long as it is pronounced à la française, something like mahnagemawn, while the latter should become the awkward masses-media. The Gaul in the street has shrugged this off and gone on merrily inventing more “English” expressions.
If the number of organizations determined to defend French is any sign of concern, then the Francophonies appear to be in a paranoid state of near panic. They include—take a deep breath—the Study Commission for French Technical Terms, the Treasury of the French Language, the French Association of Normalization, the Young Francophones Association, the Association of Partially or Entirely French Language Universities, the Research and Study Center for French, the Consultative Commission on Scientific Languages, the national French radio system’s Committee for Defense of the Language, the Federation of Universal French, the General Inventory of the French Language, the Office of Good Language, and the International Council of the French Language.
The International Council produced a glossary that carefully divided Franglais words into four categories. Those on red pages are unequivocally and forever condemned without recourse as unacceptable at any time. Green pages are reserved for marginal words, possibly of tainted American origin but usable all the same. Blue pages hold words and expressions current and acceptable in wretched little Francophone countries in Africa, but not worthy of France itself. The absolutely okay words are on white pages. It sank without a trace.
Another commendable Council project is its word bank. When a conscientious Francophony is at a loss for a good French word and sorely tempted to use an Americanism, he can call the Council in despair and request a quick fix from the bank. Examples include the predictable communiqué for press release, as well as the more creative technocrate or chef de service for manager, and phono mécanique, surely more elegant than the humble jukebox. Sometimes even Council stalwarts throw up their hands and accept the inevitable. There is just no word in French for “climax,” for example, so they accept it on condition of a French pronunciation, kleemax. It warns solemnly, however, that “one should not use it without justification. Abuse would be reprehensible.”
Such touching concern for the language would be laudable if it were really about saving the mother tongue. It’s not, of course. As one perceptive French writer, the late Pierre Daninos, put it after surveying the Francophonie scene, “All this strikes me at first glance as being extremely healthy. At second glance (often the one that counts), as extremely unhealthy. This whole subject, and in particular the crusade led by some, has a wicked whiff of anti Americanism.”
Let’s parler Franglais
About 25 years ago, my wife and I were both made redundant in the same month. Losing our jobs seemed to me to be disastrous. My wife, who is French, saw things differently and set out to convince me that this was a sign we should leave England and go and live in France.
So, in a moment of recklessness, I agreed to apply for a job in Paris. The idea, at least for me, was to spend just a year or so there as an adventure. Having got the job, and speaking nothing but O-level French, I found myself catapulted into a world of difficulties and incomprehension.
Despite all the initial problems, however, that first year has inexplicably extended to 25 years. During that time, our children, Sarah and Sebastian – now at university – were born. And therein lies an unexpected bonus of living abroad: you receive a set of bilingual children more or less free.
It is a lot simpler than you might imagine: all that is required is that each parent only ever speaks their mother tongue to the children. In our case, I have always spoken English while Inès has only ever spoken to them in French. What was slightly harder to do was to make sure each child replied in the same language. As they were born in France, French is undoubtedly the dominant language for them – they have always spoken French together – and so, given the chance, they would probably have answered me in French. I found the solution when they were very small: I told them that there was no point speaking French to me because I didn’t understand a word of it. By the time they discovered that this wasn’t exactly true, it was too late.
The term bilingual is usually defined as meaning a person fluent in two languages. While this is true of my children, the way they speak and use the two languages is very different. Most people speak a language like the people who live around them. So our children grew up speaking French like any other French person, with accents and speech patterns that reflect their environment. Unfortunately, there are very few English speakers around my children, so while they speak English perfectly fluently, their accent is a bit characterless and neutral. What’s more, because they weren’t brought up in any particular part of the UK, there is no regional character to the way they talk. In fact they sound more like BBC newsreaders than typical British young people. Neither of them has said “whatevah” in their lives.
Also, as they learned their English in a relatively formal environment, whether with me or at their bilingual schools, they have never really had the chance to master the use of day-to-day swearwords or even the really good insults – words that you need to “feel” in order to use properly. This means that I managed to get through the whole of the children’s teenage years without ever really being sworn at or insulted like a normal parent. It was surprisingly relaxing, but vaguely unfulfilling compared with what our friends seem to have put up with. Unfortunately, while they didn’t swear at me, their command of French adolescent insults – which they can feel only too well – meant that they could, and did, use them with my wife. All their anger and frustration seems to have bypassed me completely and hit her. This was restful for me but perhaps a bit unfair on Inès.
The only advantage to bilingual shouting matches and arguments is that they seem to hurt less, and be forgotten quicker, than arguments in a single mother tongue. The shouter – let’s assume, just for example, that it’s me – gets it out of his system in the usual way and feels that he has made his point most eloquently, but the victim, for whom the words lack some of their essential character, is perhaps not wounded or upset quite as much as they might otherwise have been.
Committing yourself to only ever speaking to your children in what appears to outsiders to be a foreign language is not always easy. You have to do it in shops, in front of school teachers, in restaurants, at other people’s houses and, most importantly, in front of the children’s friends. This is perhaps the most difficult. When they were young, it must have been tough for their little friends, who obviously didn’t speak a word of English. As our children grew, so did their friends’ command of English. Once, after a particularly spectacular argument about homework, one of Sarah’s friends who had witnessed the whole scene exclaimed proudly that she had understood everything except the bit at the end about pocket money.
When they were small, Sarah and Sebastian discovered that you could select a language with a view to producing a desired result. They both knew that if they started squabbling together in French I wouldn’t take much notice. But when blows started to be exchanged, the quicker off the mark would switch into English, crying something like, “Stop it, you’re hurting me!”, safe in the knowledge that this would attract my attention and hopefully lead to some form of retribution landing on their sibling. It worked surprisingly well until I realised I was being taken for a ride.
Misunderstandings arose in odd places. When they were very small, we tried to encourage them by explaining how lucky they were that, while some people could speak English and some French, they could speak both. Some time later, Sarah was heard proudly telling a friend that she spoke three languages: English, French and Both.
On trips to England to see my parents, Sarah and Sebastian were obviously expected to speak to them in English. Out of politeness, and knowing my parents’ command of French was limited, Inès always spoke to the children in English when my parents were in earshot. We also urged Sarah and Sebastian to speak English together – something they never normally do – in front of my parents and other English people. Sarah played the game to the full, even going as far as switching from saying “Maman” to “Mummy”. Sebastian, on the other hand, was happy to speak English to absolutely anyone anywhere except to his sister. My parents viewed this philosophically as just another facet of their son’s life and resigned themselves to just following half of each conversation.
Another aspect of being bilingual came to light when the children went to junior school. If you learn two languages from birth, you don’t have to make much effort – the languages are just absorbed without you having to try too hard. It seems both Sarah and Sebastian assumed that when they started learning German or Spanish it would be just as easy. I can still remember their indignation when they discovered it wasn’t like that at all and they were actually going to have to make an effort to learn all that new grammar and vocabulary.
I asked the children how all this bilingual business had been for them. They were both kind enough to reassure me that having a father who spoke to them in another language, whatever the circumstances, hadn’t been that embarrassing at all. Indeed, none of their friends had apparently made much reference to it. It was just the way things were. I also learned that being bilingual has led to an added complicity between the two of them. It seems they have an odd selection of favourite English words – naff, spooky and prat – that they like to slip into French sentences when chatting between themselves and which none of their French friends understands.
This may explain why Sarah and Sebastian are invariably known by their French friends as being English. They are always assumed to support England in any sporting endeavour or to take the English side in any event that hits the headlines. What’s more, any manifestation of eccentricity or odd behaviour is always put down to their Englishness. But at least when they are introduced to others, their friends apparently say, “Ils sont anglais, mais sympas” – “They are English, but quite nice really.”
Franglais et anglicismes: quand le français se met à parler anglais
Quel(le) Français(e) peut prétendre ne jamais prononcer un mot d’anglais? Du point de vue linguistique, tous les secteurs de la société moderne sont influencés par «la» langue considérée comme internationale: l’anglais.
Empruntés à l’anglais et, de plus en plus, à l’anglo-américain, les anglicismes se sont incrustés dans de nombreuses langues, dont la nôtre.
Certains d’entre eux squattent l’espace francophone depuis si longtemps que les puristes ont intérêt à se balader en se bouchant les oreilles pour éviter qu’elles ne soient écorchées par ce qui se dit dans les médias, à la télé, à la radio et, en somme, dans la bouche de tous les Français.
Des fans de foot aux adeptes du camping, ou simplement ceux qui partent en week-end avec un bon best-seller à dévorer! (Qui d’entre vous part en vacancelle avec un bon roman à succès?!)
Trois types d’anglicismes
Distinguons trois sortes d’anglicismes, qui ont tous pour point commun d’être «empruntés-adaptés»:
1. Quasi inévitables
Il y a tout d’abord les termes entrés dans l’usage plus-que-courant: «football» ou «week-end» par exemple. Certains de ces idiotismes pas idiots, propres à l’anglais, et qui figurent dans les dictionnaires au même titre que les vocables purement français, ont souvent vu leur orthographe légèrement modifiée en français: «week-end», comme un certain nombre de ses cousins-anglicismes, prend un trait d’union en français, contrairement à l’anglais, où il s’écrit en un seul mot. De la même manière, qui (à moins de se livrer à une folle expérience de linguiste ou d’être d’une autre planète) dit qu’il va «voir une partie de balle au pied»?
2. Critiqués et remplaçables
Ensuite, viennent ces termes dont l’emploi est critiqué et pour lesquels certains dictionnaires recommandent un synonyme français.
Prenons «parking». Le Comité d’étude des termes techniques français a recommandé l’usage de «parc» comme traduction de parking. De plus, bien qu’emprunté à l’anglais, le substantif «parking» revêt une signification propre au français (de France), puisqu’un «parking» se dit en fait «car park» en anglais britannique et «parking lot» en anglais américain. Idem pour «camping» (le lieu), qui se dit «camp site» en anglais.
Ces mots en en «-ing» sont dénoncés par les puristes, car ils sont considérés comme étrangers à la structure morphologique et à la prononciation du français. «Campement» et «campisme», les substituts proposés et un temps utilisés (dans les années 1950), n’ont pas résisté à la force de l’anglicisme.
D’autres syntagmes ou mots anglais, tels que «prime time» ou «scoop» continuent d’être largement employés, mais ils doivent lutter pour leur survie contre des concurrents français fringants (quoique moins présents: «heures de grande écoute» ou «exclu[sivité]»).
3. «Djeuns» et hype
On trouve enfin les purs anglicismes employés «parce que ça fait cool». Relevant presque d’un jargon, ils peuvent être associés au monde d’aujourd’hui, aux cadres branchés du monde moderne:
«Ce reporting est incomplet. En plus, Christophe n’a pas respecté le process métier!» (en entreprise)
A la génération Web 2.0:
«J’ai uploadé une photo de profil sur mon Facebook» (on conjugue le verbe anglais à la française
Au langage des jeunes en général –des «djeuns», comme on dit, par anglicisation du terme sans doute:
«J’peux pas te parler, je suis dans le rush. Je suis hyper speed, là!»
Où sont les équivalents?
Dans tous ces cas, s’ils n’existent pas, des équivalents français pourraient exister. C’est une question de volonté politique mais aussi publique. Prévenir l’arrivée en grand nombre et la fixation des anglicismes et des emprunts en français est l’une des missions de l’Académie française ainsi que des instances gouvernementales.
A cet égard, la mise en place de la base de données France Terme accessible à tous, qui regroupe tous les d’équivalents français publiés au Journal officiel par la Commission générale de terminologie et de néologie de l’Académie française est très utile.
Mais encore faut-il que les Françaises et les Français (les passionnés de la langue française sans doute) la consulte et soient disposés à accepter, à intégrer et à employer ces termes.
On parle aussi facilement de l’«entraîneur» d’une équipe sportive que de son «coach» (malgré une nuance entre les deux), n’est-ce pas? Ainsi, donc, l’élimination des anglicismes en français –si tant est que cela fasse partie d’une certaine volonté– relève d’une responsabilité collective.
Lire la suite:
A beginner’s guide to Franglais
Un after-work (n). An event that takes place after work. Simple, effective, yet irremediably ugly.
Le baby-foot (n). Table football. I just… I don’t even know.
Le brushing (n). A professional blow dry in a hair salon. It comes after your shampooing (shampoo) and après-shampooing (conditioner).
Le cocooning (n). This seems to be a term invented by marketers with the aim of selling women casual clothes they don’t really need. It means, roughly, staying in and being cozy.
Le fooding (n). A Frankenstein’s monster made of “food” and “feeling,” and meaning something along the lines of eating well.
Le footing (n). Jogging. Because you use your feet…?
Le forcing (n). A sustained attack on your opponent, for example in sports or business.
Un hard-discounter (n). A discount store. I defy any native English speaker to have a clue what a French person is on about the first time you hear them mention the local “ard-diss-coont-air.”
Hype (adj). Trendy. Rendered even more amusing by its Franglais pronunciation, “ipe.”
Le jogging (n). Confusingly, this can but doesn’t necessarily refer to jogging (that would be footing, above) — it means what you wear while you’re jogging, i.e., a tracksuit.
Un lifting (n). A face-lift. The last resort after un peeling (exfoliation or chemical peel).
Le looping (n). To go loop-the-loop on a roller coaster.
Le mailing (n). Junk mail and the sending thereof.
Un/une people (n). A celebrity. I’m serious.
People (adj). Showbiz. An event packed out with celebs would be “une soirée très people,” while gossip magazines constitute “la presse people.”
Peps (n). Used just like the English word pep, but the French have more of it.
Un pin’s (n). A pin or badge. BUT WHY IS THE APOSTROPHE THERE? WHY?
Le planning (n). A schedule or timetable.
A row over plans to teach some courses at French universities in English has outraged some defenders of the language of Moliere – but plenty of French people habitually sprinkle their speech with franglais. Here, readers share their favourite anglicisms.
1. On a recent visit to an aerospace company near Paris, I was surprised to hear French engineers use “no-‘ow” [know-how] instead of “savoir faire”. Roy Woodcock, Olympia, WA, USA
2. When at school (circa 1966) we had a recording played in a French lesson, in which two boys going on a camping trip discussed at length the need to take “les baked beans“. I’ve tended to pronounce them as “back-ed beans” ever since, which is why I remember it! Sue Perks, Facebook
3. Amongst my favourites are “faire du shopping” and “le booze-cruising.” What could be more Franglais than “je vais faire du booze-cruising”? Peter Walter, Bromley, UK
4. I have genuinely seen this with my own eyes: At the English railway station: “The buffet is open.” At the French Railway station: “Le snack bar est ouvert.” Paul Savage, Guildford Surrey
5. The Quebecois find English nouns annoying but enjoy making verbs from English words (flipper = to freak out, for example). Ruby Irene Pratka, Facebook
6. My current favourite has to be “C’est le must!”, which is how some French people now translate “It’s de rigueur”. Oh the irony. AK Fortis-Evan, Southampton, UK
7. I live and work in France and have convinced my colleagues that verbing is fun. We have created a new verb (regular “er” form), “luncher” – to lunch. “Lunchez-vous avec moi aujourd’hui?” is now regularly heard in my office. Joyful playing with language is fun, not a sin! Tom, Toulouse, France
8. Just look at new technology… you will have great difficulty getting anywhere without finding English terms, from “le hardware” to “le software” via the inevitable “le spam“, whilst anyone who contributes to a forum has added “un post“. Sports are also full of English terms, from “le goal average” to “le coach” via “le coaching” (tactical substitutions). One which I admit irritates me is the relatively recent verb “scorer” which is now used almost exclusively in football rather than the traditional “marquer” (“marquer un but” is to score a goal). Paul Darby, Clermont Ferrand, Puy de Dôme, France
9. It pleases me no end that French for a walkie-talkie is… “talkie-walkie“! galaxy_nut, London, UK
10. Earlier this year, I was in Meribel, France, on a snowboarding holiday. I always make an effort to speak the language of whichever country I visit, so it was particularly strange that I was using the words “la planche a neige” (French for snowboarding) yet they all talked about “(le) snowboard“. Andrew Pratt, Cleveleys, Lancs