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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

OPINION: France’s fight against new English words is ‘totally stupid’

President Emmanuel Macron has this week been urged to protect French from the 'tyranny' of English, but Camille Chevalier-Karfis, founder of the language site French Today says France's fight against new English words is "totally stupid".

OPINION: France's fight against new English words is 'totally stupid'

The French language guardians seem 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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French told not to say 'smartphone' in ongoing battle against English

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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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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