Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Protecting the French Language

Worried about the ever-increasing use of certain English words among, in particular, the youth of France, the French government recently launched a contest to find appropriate "Frenchified" replacements. Words on the chopping block included such dastardly culprits as "chat," "buzz," and "talk." Entrants in the "Francomot" contest submitted their suggested replacements, and the winners were announced this week ("eblabla," "ramdam," and "debat," for the aforementioned). Now, all that's left to do is to wait and see if the French actually start using them. It's apparently been done before, - "walkman" replaced by "baladeur," for example - a fact that could give hope to concerned language purists everywhere who are wondering if it will happen again.

But the bigger question I have is, why do the French care so much about this stuff? Forget that English takes roughly 1/3 of its words from French, and that it regularly and easily incorporates foreign words into its lexicon without making such a fuss. Forget that French has a lot of other foreign words in usage they don't seem as keen to get rid of as the English ones (hammam, anyone?). You can even forget that they're pretty much fighting a losing battle, as languages hardly ever stay the same over long periods of time (Icelandic is often cited as a nice exception), and we can probably presume a word contest isn't going to change that anytime soon. Considering all that, where does the obsession with so-called protection of the language come from?

You may have noticed that I'm a fairly enthusiastic fan of all things French, including the French language, so I'm open to understanding this issue better than I currently do. If you have thoughts on why we need to save French from total annihaliation by a language that is largely made up of French words, I'd love to hear them!

1 comment:

Zhu said...

I personally don't mind French using words such as "parking" or "stop" because well, languages borrow from each other... English has "rendez-vous", "déjà-vu" etc.

I get annoyed when people drop random English words just to look cool, especially in some fields such as marketing. You don't HAVE to say "booking", you can say "réservation"...

Same in Québec, people are super paranoid about French language disappearing. I can understand to a certain extent. It's more worrying to see people using directly translation of English expressions, such as "prendre une marche" (take a walk).

As a translator, I sometimes leave the English word if there isn't anything better: "leadership", "plugin" (yes, some French language academy wants us to say "plugiciel" but nobody knows what it is in the real world!)... I can say courriel but "clavardage" (chat) sounds weird.