We live in a rapidly-changing globalized world, where English has won the battle to become “the” global language. However, nations and communities around the world are still keen on preserving their own identity, culture, and language.
While France drags on its debate about national identity, 80% of the French people polled claim that the French language is the cornerstone of their national identity. Does language encourage social cohesion? This cohesion is now under threat: one of the main problems nowadays is that French is facing a constant English deluge. Associations that work for the protection of the French language ring the alarm!
Since the enforcement of the Toubon law in 1994 for the protection of French linguistic heritage, the use of French is mandatory in Government publications, ads, marketing, business and corporate documentation.
However, while we move forward, politicians, companies and individuals turn more and more systematically to the use of English at the expense of French, on a professional level, or in everyday life.
In the business environment, some French companies bomb their workforce with anglicisms, even in corporate internal communications! Companies rename their brand and product names entirely; other firms choose Shakespeare’s language to write their initial ad messages and slogans.
The current French government is planning to implement some education reforms that would aim to achieve “bilinguism” (French-English).
Researchers are now required to publish their papers in English. Currently, 2% of scientific publications would be published in Roman languages as opposed to 95% in English.
International organisms, which are traditionally plurilingual, now encourage the use of only one working language, like the European Commission: in 2006, 72% of documentation was written in English versus 14% in French. If we look back to 1997, 40% of content was published in French, and 45% in English. In the European Union high ranks, elected representatives do not seem to have a true respect of multilinguism.
Without taking a too purist stand, a new approach would be necessary for the protection of the French language: anglicisms should not be totally banned; they are part of every language heritage. Some of them are so extended in our language that it would not be possible to replace them (e.g.: football in French). These incursions enrich languages and make them evolve. Using terms inherited from English in other languages should be positive as long as we do not populate them with foreign patterns. Franglais.
The French Secretary of State in charge of Cooperation and Francophonie* launched a quiz called “Francomot” to fight linguistic laziness, which consisted in finding native equivalents to 5 anglicisms. A lot of suggestions were proposed and a jury approved an equivalent for each term. The Terminology and Neology General Commission (Commission générale de la terminologie et de la néologie) will make sure that they get correctly implemented in the future.
Nations are facing a considerable challenge: respect and encourage multilinguism without necessarily declining English as global language. This call is targeted to the ones that want to defend their native languages, as well as to the English lovers, who would not want English to be reduced to a business language, as we can see too often lately.
*Francophonie designates a group composed of French-speakers nations (mother or regular language) or where there is a significant affiliation with French culture or language.
Next Francophonie summit will be held in Montreux (Switzerland), October, 22-24 2010.
Paris, April 30 2010: Conference –Meeting over the theme “Presence, weight and value of the Roman languages in the society of the knowledge”.
Roman languages don’t measure up to English in so many fields: sciences & technologies, cyberspace, international negotiations etc.