French is the ninth most spoken language in the world and is spoken on all five continents. Widely spoken in emerging African markets and an official language of the United Nations and the European Union, French plays an important role on the world stage. However, it comes under regular scrutiny for its seeming reluctance to move with the times, particularly when it comes to introducing words of English origin into its lexicon.
The French language has long fought off invasion by the English language with the Académie Française as its arch protector against Anglicisms of any description. The French have even legislated against foreign words entering their language. In 1994 the Toubon Law was passed mandating the use of French in all government and commercial communication, obliging publicly funded schools to teach in French and requiring French radio stations to play a minimum of 40% of songs in French. However, it does seem that the Académie is fighting a losing battle as The Guardian recently reported that Anglicisms such as ‘le selfie’, ‘big data’ and ‘vegan’ are to enter the 2016 edition of the Petit Larousse encyclopaedic dictionary, described as one of the bibles of the French language. Even English internet acronyms like LOL or ASAP now appear in French dictionaries.
The Case Against
Are the French right to protect the purity of their language? French has long been known as the language of diplomacy, of intellect, and of romance. Perhaps what makes it attractive to many foreigner learners, partly at least, is its complexity. A language is a reflection of the culture where it is spoken and if it is diluted by too many foreign borrowings then perhaps in time the culture also becomes diluted. The way each language is structured and the words it uses also reveal its speakers’ thinking styles and their view of the world. By allowing too many English words into the French language we might lose the famous French ability to argue, debate and put across a different point of view.
The Case In Favour
The French culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, has recently championed the modernisation of the French language. She has argued that outside influences can enrich a language and that French should be more open to linguistic diversity. It is true that languages continually evolve and adapt to meet the communicative needs of the societies they represent. As societies become more culturally diverse it is natural that languages will borrow from other prevalent languages. And like it or not, English is the common language of international business, dominates popular culture and is widely used on the internet and social media. ‘Diffusion pour balladeur’ for podcast, ‘mot diese’ for hashtag or ‘acess sans fil à l’internet’ instead of WIFI do not work as well in French.
Some might also argue that its complex grammar with complicated tenses, genders, agreements and accents make French a challenging language to learn and if it were to simplify its syntax perhaps it might be more widely adopted as a working language – sacrilege, no doubt, to those at the Académie Française.
Modernise or Die?
Modernise and anglicise are not synonymous. Languages need to adapt and move on in order to survive and linguistic and cultural diversity can enrich the way a nation communicates but perhaps the French are right to want to put the brakes on the Anglicisation of their language and maintain the richness of their own vocabulary.