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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

France’s culture minister hits out at advertisers – for using too much English

From Ouigo to 'France is in the air' - everyday life in France is littered with slogans and taglines containing English - but not if the French culture minister has anything to do with it.

France's culture minister hits out at advertisers - for using too much English
Photo: The Local

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.

 

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.”

READ ALSO French language guardians release guidelines on how to swear correctly


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.”

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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.

READ ALSO Why French is the 'world's sexiest accent'

 

 

 

Member comments

  1. When will these people learn that language is a living thing and changes all the time. Trying to force people to use or not to use, as is the case here, certain words and phrases is mounting the slippery slope.

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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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