French Academy fights government over English on ID cards

The Institut de France houses the Académie Française
The Institut de France houses the Académie Française - a body which is fighting back against anglicisation of the French language. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
The Academy charged with defending the French language has taken aim at the latest encroachment of English - its appearance on the national ID card widely used for travel within the EU.

The latest versions of the laminated cards that were introduced last year have included English translations of the different data fields, like “surname” appearing in italics next to the French “Nom.”

While the move appears intended to smooth passage across international borders for French citizens, the Academie Francaise – founded in 1635 under King Louis XIII to guard “pure” French – is ready to mount a constitutional challenge over it.

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“Who has decided to place French and English on an equal footing in this document?” asked Helene Carrere d’Encausse, the Academy’s permanent secretary.

“An essential principle is being jeopardised,” she told the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, recalling that the modern French constitution provides in Article 2 that “The language of the Republic shall be French”.

There is a European regulation requiring the words “Identity Card” to be translated into at least one other EU language, but Brussels leaves translating the rest of the document up to member states.

German national ID cards include translations into both English and French, while even passports issued by Britain — which quit the EU in 2020 — offer French translations.

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Complaining that the Academy’s voice is no longer heard in public debate, the body has hired lawyers to write to Prime Minister Jean Castex, Le Figaro reported, “asking him to repeal the provision creating the new national ID card” — so far without receiving a response.

If Castex’s office fails to reply, the lawyers are preparing to take the case to the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the conservative Republicans group in the French Senate, tweeted Friday that “the new card no longer really has a ‘French identity’. Why is there such insistence on erasing the substance of our pride and our national unity?”

But speaking on broadcaster RMC, writer and musician Etienne Liebig asked, “Who are we French people to be so very afraid of losing our identity for reasons like this?”


Member comments

  1. Time the EU bit the bullet and decided on a common language. Their window of opportunity is fast disappearing , however, if they want anything other than English as that is now the 2nd language taught in 96% of all EU schools.

  2. Hilarious really considering most official Italian paperwork is in both Italian and French…Not seen any protests in Italy about that ‘infringement’ on their language…strangely it also seems no more in danger of dying out than French is for all French has such vociferous champions…

  3. My British passport (admittedly printed by a French company) has ‘subtitles’ in French for each section:
    Surname/Nom
    Given names/Prénoms
    etc
    and the dates are given bilingually.

    The French ID card is not only a domestic document, but an international one.
    The Academy seems to have forgotten this.

    1. @Mike bonjour The French ID is only recognized within France and La France d’Outre Mer. Vous avez besoin d’un passeport pour tout autre pays.

        1. Not always. The French ID were not always enough in Spain or Greece. Passports were demanded.

  4. It could have been worse. The translation chosen could have been into German – and if Ireland and Malta leave the EU , it might have to be.

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