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French won't give up the fight against English but face losing battle

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French won't give up the fight against English but face losing battle
Black Friday rather than Vendredi Noir. Photo: AFP
16:24 CET+01:00
The presence of the English language continues to grow in France and often at the expense of French, but the government and its English speaking president aren't willing to throw the towel in, even if some linguists have lost hope.

French President Emmanuel Macron presented his strategy to promote his native language on Tuesday, aiming to make it the first language in Africa and "maybe even the world".

France's youthful president has impressed foreign audiences by giving speeches and interviews in near-flawless English, a language viewed with hostility by predecessors like Jacques Chirac who once walked out of an EU meeting after a Frenchman began speaking English.

But while Macron has his sights on boosting the use of French around the globe, many in France are still fighting a battle against the growing presence of English back home, whether it's on TV screens, billboards, in shopping streets or just everyday conversations.

Despite seemingly fighting a losing battle there are many who won't give up the fight just yet.

"It's a big challenge right now," said Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the community of French speaking nations, known as La Francophonie.

"There is a strong tendency for everything to be in English and for us it's a big loss," Jean told Le Figaro.

"You can't imagine a democratic country with just one party and you equally can't imagine international diplomacy with only one unique language," she said.

"Why should we only use English in certain areas such as research, science, management or administration? It's mind-boggling.

"I am really devastated to see that in the media and advertising the language of Shakespeare is considered more efficient and more cool than French. It's sending the wrong message.

Jean, who speaks five languages added: "Language is a source of know-how and knowledge and there is no heirarchy among languages."

She is backed by others.

20 English words that should be banished from French

Linguist Loïc Depecker, the official "general delegate" of the French Language and Languages of France also lamented the systematic use in France of English, especially in the world of business and commerce.

Such use of English openly in streets in France or in the media is the most worrying for those who are fighting against it.

"This phenomenon worries us," Depecker told Le Parisien newspaper.

"The use of the French language in the public space is one of our major concerns. By using English, shops are selling a sort of American dream, a dream of globalization.

"You get the impression that it is the language of modernity. We must worry about it, but we can not prevent freedom of commerce. From a legal point of view, there is nothing to complain about. "

The law in France states that "a French brand can perfectly be composed of one or more terms exclusively from English," according to the National Institute of Industrial Property.

A walk down any French high street and you'll see shop names and advertising in English. Just a short walk from The Local's office in Paris and you can you eat at "Bangkok street food" or have a burger at "Big Corner" or pop to the Carrefour Market supermarket.

"It's not even just in Paris. Entrepreneurs think it's more funky, more trendy, more fun and more modern," to use English, Cyril Gaillard, founder of Benefik, brand name creation agency told Le Parisien.

French told not to say 'smartphone' in ongoing battle against English

Gaillard himself does not advise companies to use English names believing it may exclude part of the French market but he accepts that one advantage English has is that "compared to French, it can often say more things with fewer letters."

On television it's the same problem.

One of France's most popular shows is "The Voice" (La Voix) while another show is called "Wild" rather than the French word "sauvage".

But what can the French really do? Some say the government should introduce more laws to limit the use of English as has been done in Quebec.

But many linguists themselves are against the idea.

"There are lines you cannot cross," said Depecker. "You cannot impose a way of speaking on the public."

Depecker supports the efforts made by government bodies to translate English terms into French as the best way of fighting back, but often the translations come too late with the English word already accepted by the French.

And often the suggested French options lead to ridicule among the French themselves which was the case when they asked people to drop the word smartphone and use "mobile-multifonction" instead.

Fellow linguist Jean Maillot who wrote a book pleading with the French to ditch 100 English words that have invaded French says the French are fighting a rearguard action.

"The longer it goes on, the more I lose hope," he told Le Parisien. "There is a kind of laxity." 

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