Culture minister Franck Riester took the anniversary of the passing of France's Toubon law to call for the 'strengthening' of the French language.
The Toubon law was passed in 1994, mandating the use of French in official documents, as well as commercial contracts and advertisements.
Yet it contained several loopholes, which allow brands and marketing teams to widely use English. And a trip down any French high street – particularly during the recent sales period – will confirm just how widespread that trend has become.
La « loi #Toubon » a 25 ans !
Elle est la traduction de l’article 2 de notre Constitution : « La langue de la République est le français ». Notre quotidien serait aujourd’hui bien différent sans cette exigence simple : dire les choses en français ! pic.twitter.com/sIJsamMVdJ
— Franck Riester (@franckriester) August 4, 2019
In an interview with French radio station RFI, the minister said: “The French language is mistreated, English is used everywhere. But French is many things – those are France's values, its history, its culture, so we must fight for that language to be preserved.”
English slogans and taglines in French shop windows. Photos: The Local
And it seems his views do strike a chord with many French shoppers.
Christiane, a 67 year-old retired nurse, said: “It really bothers me!
“Even phone packages have English names, 'Red by SFR' or whatever that may be – it already bothers me to read it but it is even worse when I have to pronounce it. I feel like they could have me subscribing for anything and I wouldn't have a clue.”
Tom, a 38 year-old cashier, draws the same conclusion: “I don't mind it, as long as its a few and short words here and there, such as 'by', 'for you'. If the entire slogan or tagline is in English, then I am lost.”
For Marie, 47, it is rather a feeling of missing out on the possibilities French has to offer than the fear of being swindled.
She said: “I think it's a pity – I can see why English is being used, it gives brands this trendy young image, and sometimes taglines are catchier with some English in it, but French is such a rich language, the possibilities are endless, really.
“Look at Monoprix for example, they do these funny slogans for each of their products, all of them are puns using only the French language. It can be really corny at times, but it always makes me smile.”
Fabien, 27, said: “This is a marketing trend, and like every trend, it is going to fade away eventually.
“I do like the idea but almost every brand that comes to my mind is using English, so if it once was a selling point, it is not anymore. French is gonna make its comeback soon, believe me!”
But not everyone was convinced, and among younger shoppers there was a marked trend of liking the English slogans.
Victor, a 24 year-old student is unequivocal: “I think it's really cool seeing and using English everywhere. Plus, some of the French words they have invented to make up for the English ones are really cringy! Spoiler is divulgâcher, really, there's no way I am using this. And it is way too long.
“English-speakers use French words all the time as well, so what is the big deal?”
Felix, a 21 year-old cashier even had a pedagogic approach to the issue: “Everyone keeps complaining because of the French's poor level of English, so it can be a way to familiarise yourself with the language.'
For some like Annick, 38, it is more a matter of balance.
“I'm not especially in favour or opposed to using a bit of English-derived words in everyday life – well, maybe a bit less would be better, especially in companies where people can really overdo it. But we will not be able to get rid of it entirely anyway.”
With a majority of young people in favour of casually using English, the Minister of Culture's fight against anglicisms is far from being over, and he seems willing to find a middle ground.
“We're not saying that the French language is unalterable, that it mustn't be changed and take into consideration the evolution of our society, but we must be able to preserve its specificity,” he added.