The French government seems determined to protect the French language at all costs.
But what does “protecting the French language” really mean?
For l’Académie Française or in this specific case, its assigned “Commission d’enrichissement de la Langue Française” (Commission to make the French Language richer), it boils down to forcing invented French words onto the public in the hope of replacing the English ones that are currently being used.
The latest interventions have to do with words related to telecommunciation and technology.
So now, the "Commission d’enrichissement de la Langue Française” is telling us via “Le Journal Officiel” that we ought to replace the quite popular word "Smartphone" with the term "mobile multifonction” and Smart TV with “téléviseur connecté”.
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This is so silly to me.
There's no way the French will ever use "mobile multifonction".
If you are going to replace an English word, it may work if the word is as short in French as it is in English, or even a direct translation that makes sense: "téléphone intelligent" may take on but still, it doesn’t sound as good as “smartphone”.
In any case, I personally find this fight against newborn English words integrating into the French language totally stupid.
The English language is full of French words. According to Wikipedia, 45% percent of all English words have a French origin.
Foreign words make a language richer, not weaker. A French word has this “je ne sais quoi”. And guess what, so does an English word in French.
It’s very hip to drop an English word or expression here and there in French.
As a French audiobook method writer, it’s obvious that I love and respect the French language, and like “L’Accadémie Française”, I want to see it flourish, and protected.
However, I’m not convinced inventing a French word to replace foreign words – especially when they describe a new concept, hence not replacing an existing French word - is the way to go.
Languages are primarily an exchange.
An exchange of ideas, cultures etc put into words. Why should we feel threatened by a few foreign words integrating into our French vocabulary? The word Cappuccino did, and aren’t we stronger for it?
To me, French grammar, as silly as French grammar can get, or French pronunciation, even though pronunciation is evolving fast, defines the language more than the vocabulary.
So, when a new technology appears with a foreign name, I believe the problem has more to do with keeping it French sounding, and easy to pronounce and spell in French.
So why not change the spelling of “smartphone” to “smartfone” to make it sound more French?
Anyway, new words, new concepts constantly evolve in languages.
For example is it “le wi-fi” or “la wifi”?
Since this term is widely used in France, I believe this should be a question worth seriously pondering for “l’Académie Française”.
But for them, the French should say “l’accès sans fil à internet”. It’s a bit idealistic at this point, isn’t it? And talk about a mouthful. How unpractical.
The dictionary “le Petit Robert” says Wi-fi is masculine, and spells it “le wi-fi”. Ok, that’s a start. One thing is certain though, the French pronunciation has been applied: everybody says “weefee” in France.
In the end, France is indeed a democracy, so the people will decide.
Ad campaigns and TV or movies may influence the French, but I doubt “La Commission d'Enrichissement de la Langue Française” ever will.
Camille Chevalier-Karfis is the founder of FrenchToday.com.
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