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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The French language is in ‘mortal danger’, say its own panicked guardians

The official guardians of the French tongue the Académie Française sounded the alarm bell this week saying the language was in "mortal danger". And it's nothing to do with English this time.

The French language is in 'mortal danger', say its own panicked guardians
Photo: AFP
The so-called “immortals” at the Académie Française, the official body tasked with guarding the French language from unwanted influences (like English) don't speak out often, but when they do people tend to listen.
 
And on Thursday night the Académie issued a “solemn warning” intended to grab the attention of the government.
 
The immortals are furious about the rise of so-called “inclusive writing” which basically puts the masculine AND feminine forms of nouns in the text.
 
While its aim is to promote gender equality and reduce sexist stereotypes to “make women more visible” in texts, the Academie called it an “aberration”, which “now puts the French language in mortal danger for which our nation will be accountable to future generations.”
 
Previously texts have in French have only included the masculine form of nouns for example citoyen (citizen) consommateurs (consumers) or agriculteurs (farmers) but if inclusive writing was used then the words word have to be written as follows to include the feminine and plural forms: citoyen.ne.s, consommateur.rice.s, agriculteur.rice.s
 
Other examples include “acteur.rice.s (actor/actress), ingénieur.e.s (engineer) and directeur.rice.s (directors).
 
Inclusive writing also encourages avoiding the word man, where possible, or just simply adding “and women” where appropriate.
 
The current controversy around inclusive writing was kicked off by the publishers Hatier who chose to rewrite a school text book using the gender equal grammatical forms.
 
But for the Academie Francaise: “The multiplication of the orthographic and syntactic marks that it induces leads to a disunited language, disparate in its expression and creates confusion which borders on illegibility.”
 
While feminist groups back the roll out of inclusive writing, the immortals at the Académie say: “It is unclear what the goal is and how it could overcome practical obstacles of writing, reading – visual or aloud –  and pronunciation.”
 
(The 'Immortals of the Académie Française. AFP)
 
There will no doubt be a few language learners who are struggling with French grammar who sympathize when the Académie warns that “inclusive writing” will just make French even more complicated to learn and other languages, notably the arch enemy English, will benefit.
 
“It is already difficult to acquire a language,” without adding all the new forms on the end of words, the guardians say, adding tht futire generations will be put off written French.
 
“As for the promises of the Francophone world, they will be destroyed if the French language restricts itself by this duplication of complexity,which wlll be to the  benefit of other languages ​​that will take advantage to prevail on the planet.”
 

The Académie's approach to protecting the French language has often led to accusations that it is overly resistant to change and stuck in the past. Indeed its battle against the invasion of English words into the French language has often been ridiculed by some in France.
 
But the Académie insist they are open to change, just not inclusive writing.
 
“More than any other institution, the Académie Française is sensitive to developments and innovations in the language… On this occasion, it is less as guardian of the norm than guarantor of the future that it launches this alarm call,” said the statement released by the organisation.
 
But it appears for the moment the Académie might have been a little too alarmist.
 
While polls suggest 75 percent of French people favour “inclusive writing” only 12 percent actually know what it is and how to use it.
 
On the top of which France's Minister of Education has ruled it “too complex” to be used in all textbooks. 
 
France's language police also made headlines earlier this year in an outburst over the slogan for the Paris 2024 Olympics bid. The chosen slogan “Made for Sharing” was in English in a bid to woo judges, but it had the immortals spitting out their croissants.
 
 
Académie Française blasts Paris Olympics' English slogan for 'sounding like a pizza commercial'
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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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