French TV plots new fight against English invasion

Leaders of France’s TV and radio industry met this week to come up with a strategy to boost the French resistance against the invasion of English. The Local went along to find out how the battle lines are being drawn.

French TV plots new fight against English invasion
In the battleground of France's TV and radio industry, what can be done to fight back against the invasion of English in the French language? Photo: Cheng Ye

The French resistance to the growing spread of English terms wears on, with focus increasingly turning to France's TV and media, considered the front line in the battle to stem the invasion of Anglicisms.

But with defences regularly breached France is looking for a new battle plan to keep English at bay, hence this week's conference in Paris which brought together media chiefs, French language experts and government ministers to devise a plan on how to fight back against this “threat” to the language of Molière.

Some rules are already in place but they are clearly not effective enough. France Televisions has an agreement with French TV and radio regulator CSA, for example, that bars the use of foreign terms when a French one exists. The channel TF1's official "convention"  states it must "strive to use French titles for its programmes" and that "an advisor on the French language must be employed by the channel".

However, despite these regulations to protect the industry, the increasing creep of English into the media is evident. Indeed, you just have to look at the country's TV listings and the problem becomes clear.  "Secret Story", "The Voice", "Ice Show", "Hollywood Girls", are names of programmes you would expect to find in Anglo countries, not France. Perhaps strangest of all, given France's culinary traditions, is France's version of "Masterchef", which has kept the same name.

TV bosses and the various authorities tasked with guarding the French language, like the Académie Française, have long been aware of the dilemma and, according to one TV boss, the French public are hardening their views.

Nicolas Jacobs from France 2 says he received more and more mail from viewers fed up with the growing presence of English on their screens saying it is like being accused of being a "traitor or a sell-out".

"This is a new phenomenon," Jacobs told Le Parisien.

French – 'the most precise language in the world'

The problem, however, appears to be deciding what is acceptable and what is not and this predicament dominated Monday's conference at the Collège de France in the 5th arrondissement of the capital.

Yves Bigot, Director General of TV station TV5 Monde, told The Local that the introduction of an English term here and there in French conversation would be "acceptable", but not at the loss of the “precise nuances” of French.

“I don’t mind that we integrate certain English words into our language, as long as the rest of what is said is in excellent French,” Bigot said.

“It is important for French people to protect our way of thinking, how we express ourselves and our identity. These things can be translated into English but there are subtleties that cannot be precisely translated,” he added, concluding that “French is without a doubt the most precise language in the world.”

The conference was chaired by Patrice Gélinet from the regulator CSA.

Gélinet set the tone, when he called English “a threat” to the French language. He cited examples from Québécois (Canadian French), such as using “Je te call” instead of “Je t’appelle” as examples of francophone countries losing the ability to properly express themselves in French.

Advertising to blame

One of the major culprits blamed by experts for the creep of English into the French media was advertising.

Erik Orsenna, from Académie Française mocked the efforts of supermarket chain Monoprix to sound young and cool by using Anglicisms in its marketing.

For his part, Xavier North, a representative from the Ministry of Culture's General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages ​​of France, complained that “advertising is saturated with English words.”

However, he believed that it was not necessarily the fault of the advertisers.

“The media has to represent the society they are working in. They will not speak better or worse French than today’s society," he said.

GALLERY: English terms the French want ousted

'The greatest sin of the French is laziness'

Could it be that the French people get the language they deserve, so to speak?

Alain Rey, advisor to Le Robert, the publishing house responsible for the French dictionary, seemed to think so.

“The French people’s greatest sin is laziness. They have lost respect for their own language and the use of it,” he told the audience.

Minimum standards for French ability on TV

So what can be done to reverse the trend of Anglicization of the French media, and in society at large?

For his part, Marc Fumaroli, from Académie Française, the organization charged with safeguarding the French language, suggested that “minimum standards” for language ability should be imposed on French TV presenters and journalists, and that parents should take a more active role in promoting the language.

“Send your kids to the Comédie Française,” he proposed, referring to the famous French theatre, renowned for showing classic theatre by the likes of Molière.

His colleague Orsenna, had a more inventive proposal.

He suggested the academy could launch an annual awards ceremony to be called “La Victoire du Français” (The glory of French) – based on an existing award show for music, La Victoire de la musique – where awards would be given to French singers who best promote the French language.

A radical problem requiring a radical solution

For some purists, however, the roots of the problem go much deeper, and only a fundamental transformation of French society and politics can begin to resist the onslaught of English through the media.

Albert Salon, president of the association Avenir de la langue française (Future of the French language) told The Local: “The situation is catastrophic”.

 “There wouldn’t be a problem if there was a willingness within the French government to promote French language,” he said.

“To resolve the problem, we must first change the government, secondly we need to pull out of the Euro and Europe, and thirdly to re-discover a national independence.”

 “It’s not just about protecting the language; it’s about promoting and exemplifying it.”

Whilst perhaps not everyone present shared Salon’s radical suggestion for a solution, there was certainly a feeling of despair prevalent among the audience.

One Parisian spectator summed up the atmosphere nicely when she implored:

“Molière, au secours!” (“Save us, Molière!”)

By Naomi Firsht

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Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?

More and more French adverts use English words or phrases in a blending of languages that might strike an English-speaker as strange or odd. In reality, this is part of a wider - sometimes polarising - phenomenon that has been going on for decades.

Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?

While wandering around France, you might pass by a bus stop featuring an advertisement not unlike the yogurt advertisement below.

An advertisement by a French bus stop

After examining the poster for a few seconds you might find yourself scratching your head at the seemingly random addition of these non-French words to an advertisement that is intended for French-speaking people. Or – maybe you just chuckle at the play on words with ‘milk’ (lait) and the French word for English, Anglais

And this kind of thing is far from uncommon in France, seemingly random English words are often chucked into French adverts, such as the below Ricard advert with its ‘born à Marseille’ strapline.

The use of English in French advertising is by no means a new trend. It is part of the wider – occasionally controversial – phenomenon of anglicismes – the borrowing of English terms into French that goes back centuries.

But linguist Julie Neveux says that the advertisements we see today are more likely part of a newer current – one that has taken hold in the past two to three decades: les californismes.

“It is true that English has become the language of marketing,” said linguist Neveux, a professor at Sorbonne University who has written a book on the subject: Je parle comme je suis

“The use of English has been ‘cool’ since World War II. I don’t think that has changed in the last 50 years, but in the last ten to 15 we are seeing more californismes than anglicismes.”

The term ‘californisme‘ was coined by French linguist, dictionary editor, and radio personality Alain Rey. He noted that the English words appearing in the French language in recent years are more emblematic of Silicon Valley than of the English language overall.

Neveux explains that while certain terms stem from English-language internet and tech related terms – think: cliquer, scroller, and mail – in France, californismes have become “more visible in every day life and conversation” in large part due to the election of President Emmanuel Macron. 

When campaigning in 2017, Macron lauded his desire for the country to become a ‘start-up nation.’

Macron has in many ways achieved this goal – in 2021, start-ups in France earned over €11.6 billion, an increase of 115 percent in comparison to 2020 where they earned just €5.4 billion. There are currently 27,000 start-ups, compared to the 9,400 there were in 2016, prior to Macron’s election.

These companies have gone on to create a total of nearly one million jobs, and will create 250,000 more by 2025, according to forecasts. 

So what does this have to do with franglais adverts? Well linguists say that the Silicone Valley culture – and English phrases – have influenced both the French workplace and popular culture.

Though a start-upper’s request for ‘un feedback’ might seem removed from the random English words interjected in advertisements, but the two are interconnected because they involve the same population.

“Advertisements speak to a particular audience,” explained Micha Cziffra who works as a professional translator, helping his clients find the right words in several fields, including marketing and communications.

He said that French people see English as “modern” and culturally relevant. It also comes down to audience, if the target is a young, cosmopolitan person, advertisers might use English to tap into that identity.

“It gives a cool, trendy impact,” said Cziffra.

He added that using English “still depends on the client, some do not want any words in English, and others – those who accept the ‘dominance of usage’ of English – will want it for putting a post on Facebook or Twitter.”

It is worth noting that are some limitations to using the English language marketing in France – it must always be accompanied by a translation in French, as per the Loi Toubon.

READ MORE: ‘Right to French’ : When is it illegal to use English in France?

More modern, more tech

While it is widely known that the Académie Française, the principle council for all matters related to the French language, have their qualms with the use of English words in French, some communications and marketing workers also have concerns about the impacts of these ‘in-groups’ on the rest of society.

Frédéric Fougerat is the Director of Communications for Emeria, a real estate firm. He is an outspoken critic of ‘Franglais,’ having written and spoken widely on the subject.

“In the workspace, it is often managers who impose English to make themselves appear more serious and business-oriented,” said Fougerat.

“It can become a handicap for others who do not speak or understand English as well. It can exclude them.”

He adds that the use of English is often intended to “impose hierarchy” as well as to signal one’s cosmopolitanism – pointing to international degrees and experience.

“The language of Molière is marvellous. The language of Shakespeare is marvellous. They are less marvellous when we mix them.”

A long history of mixing 

Yet, according to Julie Neveux, who refers to English and French as ‘cousin languages,’ the two have been mixed for centuries. 

Franglais is a menace that is not real. We must distinguish between language and the symbol of economic dominance of English,” said Neveux.

To her, the outcry over anglicismes is more reflective of fears of American dominance in commerce, technology, and the general global economy.

“In the 17th century, there was a panic about Italianismes – a fear that the Italian language would invade and take over from French, because Italy was an economic power at the time.” 

Neveux agrees that concern around exclusion is legitimate – older generations in France are less likely to have a strong command of the English language, and socioeconomic status can also exclude working class populations from gaining English-speaking experience abroad.

But in advertising, exclusion is the name of the game. There is, according to Neveux “an economic interest in not talking to part of the population” for selling certain products.

Even governmental announcements have audiences in mind.

Neveux looks over public announcement from Paris’ 10th arrondisement above, written in a playful mix of English and French. At first she giggles, and then she explains that there is clearly an audience in mind.

“For the Mairie du 10ème, it is clearly focused on youth. It has a humorous tone, and it’s intended to appeal to a younger generation who like to play with codes.” 

The final group concerned by English words in French advertisements is of course native English speakers themselves, as these adverts appear very different for Francophones versus Anglophones. Julie Neveux explained that this is due to the fact that once an English word is appropriated into French, it often takes on a French pronunciation and a revised meaning in the French context. This makes the English word essentially French in practice. 

“Think of the word ‘week-end‘ in French. It comes from the English term ‘weekend.’ It has a different meaning from ‘fin de la semaine’ in French because it accentuates the English idea that the working week is over,” said the linguist.

Neveux explained that in French, people say ‘je vais partir en week-end’ which translates exactly to “I am going on weekend.” The syntax of the sentence is different in French than in English, as over the last century the French word ‘week-end’ has evolved to carry its own sense.

This is why if you see an advertisement like the one below, while scratching your head trying to make out the meaning, the French person beside you may be laughing, loving the joke.