SHARE
COPY LINK

FRENCH LANGUAGE

Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?

More and more French adverts use English words or phrases in a blending of languages that might strike an English-speaker as strange or odd. In reality, this is part of a wider - sometimes polarising - phenomenon that has been going on for decades.

Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?
The French drinks brand Ricard uses a mixture of English and French in its 'born à Marseille' slogan. Photo: The Local

While wandering around France, you might pass by a bus stop featuring an advertisement not unlike the yogurt advertisement below.

An advertisement by a French bus stop

After examining the poster for a few seconds you might find yourself scratching your head at the seemingly random addition of these non-French words to an advertisement that is intended for French-speaking people. Or – maybe you just chuckle at the play on words with ‘milk’ (lait) and the French word for English, Anglais

And this kind of thing is far from uncommon in France, seemingly random English words are often chucked into French adverts, such as the below Ricard advert with its ‘born à Marseille’ strapline.

The use of English in French advertising is by no means a new trend. It is part of the wider – occasionally controversial – phenomenon of anglicismes – the borrowing of English terms into French that goes back centuries.

But linguist Julie Neveux says that the advertisements we see today are more likely part of a newer current – one that has taken hold in the past two to three decades: les californismes.

“It is true that English has become the language of marketing,” said linguist Neveux, a professor at Sorbonne University who has written a book on the subject: Je parle comme je suis

“The use of English has been ‘cool’ since World War II. I don’t think that has changed in the last 50 years, but in the last ten to 15 we are seeing more californismes than anglicismes.”

The term ‘californisme‘ was coined by French linguist, dictionary editor, and radio personality Alain Rey. He noted that the English words appearing in the French language in recent years are more emblematic of Silicon Valley than of the English language overall.

Neveux explains that while certain terms stem from English-language internet and tech related terms – think: cliquer, scroller, and mail – in France, californismes have become “more visible in every day life and conversation” in large part due to the election of President Emmanuel Macron. 

When campaigning in 2017, Macron lauded his desire for the country to become a ‘start-up nation.’

Macron has in many ways achieved this goal – in 2021, start-ups in France earned over €11.6 billion, an increase of 115 percent in comparison to 2020 where they earned just €5.4 billion. There are currently 27,000 start-ups, compared to the 9,400 there were in 2016, prior to Macron’s election.

These companies have gone on to create a total of nearly one million jobs, and will create 250,000 more by 2025, according to forecasts. 

So what does this have to do with franglais adverts? Well linguists say that the Silicone Valley culture – and English phrases – have influenced both the French workplace and popular culture.

Though a start-upper’s request for ‘un feedback’ might seem removed from the random English words interjected in advertisements, but the two are interconnected because they involve the same population.

“Advertisements speak to a particular audience,” explained Micha Cziffra who works as a professional translator, helping his clients find the right words in several fields, including marketing and communications.

He said that French people see English as “modern” and culturally relevant. It also comes down to audience, if the target is a young, cosmopolitan person, advertisers might use English to tap into that identity.

“It gives a cool, trendy impact,” said Cziffra.

He added that using English “still depends on the client, some do not want any words in English, and others – those who accept the ‘dominance of usage’ of English – will want it for putting a post on Facebook or Twitter.”

It is worth noting that are some limitations to using the English language marketing in France – it must always be accompanied by a translation in French, as per the Loi Toubon.

READ MORE: ‘Right to French’ : When is it illegal to use English in France?

More modern, more tech

While it is widely known that the Académie Française, the principle council for all matters related to the French language, have their qualms with the use of English words in French, some communications and marketing workers also have concerns about the impacts of these ‘in-groups’ on the rest of society.

Frédéric Fougerat is the Director of Communications for Emeria, a real estate firm. He is an outspoken critic of ‘Franglais,’ having written and spoken widely on the subject.

“In the workspace, it is often managers who impose English to make themselves appear more serious and business-oriented,” said Fougerat.

“It can become a handicap for others who do not speak or understand English as well. It can exclude them.”

He adds that the use of English is often intended to “impose hierarchy” as well as to signal one’s cosmopolitanism – pointing to international degrees and experience.

“The language of Molière is marvellous. The language of Shakespeare is marvellous. They are less marvellous when we mix them.”

A long history of mixing 

Yet, according to Julie Neveux, who refers to English and French as ‘cousin languages,’ the two have been mixed for centuries. 

Franglais is a menace that is not real. We must distinguish between language and the symbol of economic dominance of English,” said Neveux.

To her, the outcry over anglicismes is more reflective of fears of American dominance in commerce, technology, and the general global economy.

“In the 17th century, there was a panic about Italianismes – a fear that the Italian language would invade and take over from French, because Italy was an economic power at the time.” 

Neveux agrees that concern around exclusion is legitimate – older generations in France are less likely to have a strong command of the English language, and socioeconomic status can also exclude working class populations from gaining English-speaking experience abroad.

But in advertising, exclusion is the name of the game. There is, according to Neveux “an economic interest in not talking to part of the population” for selling certain products.

Even governmental announcements have audiences in mind.

Neveux looks over public announcement from Paris’ 10th arrondisement above, written in a playful mix of English and French. At first she giggles, and then she explains that there is clearly an audience in mind.

“For the Mairie du 10ème, it is clearly focused on youth. It has a humorous tone, and it’s intended to appeal to a younger generation who like to play with codes.” 

The final group concerned by English words in French advertisements is of course native English speakers themselves, as these adverts appear very different for Francophones versus Anglophones. Julie Neveux explained that this is due to the fact that once an English word is appropriated into French, it often takes on a French pronunciation and a revised meaning in the French context. This makes the English word essentially French in practice. 

“Think of the word ‘week-end‘ in French. It comes from the English term ‘weekend.’ It has a different meaning from ‘fin de la semaine’ in French because it accentuates the English idea that the working week is over,” said the linguist.

Neveux explained that in French, people say ‘je vais partir en week-end’ which translates exactly to “I am going on weekend.” The syntax of the sentence is different in French than in English, as over the last century the French word ‘week-end’ has evolved to carry its own sense.

This is why if you see an advertisement like the one below, while scratching your head trying to make out the meaning, the French person beside you may be laughing, loving the joke. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FRENCH LANGUAGE

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

The le, the la and the l’ugly - for anyone learning the language French nouns can be a nightmare to master, but there is a technique that can make it simpler. Although we're not promising that there are no exceptions.

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

Unlike German, which has been developed over centuries by Germans and is therefore logical, there appears to be little in the way of rhyme or reason to whether French nouns are masculine (le / un), or feminine (la / une).

Anglophones find it endlessly hilarious that words like bite (a slang term for penis) are feminine while breasts and vagina are both masculine (le sein, le vagin) but French people don’t really get the joke, because they don’t see masculine or feminine in grammar terms as having anything to do with men, women, sex or gender.

Instead, it’s really more to do with the construction of the word and its spelling, which is where the ’80 percent trick’ comes in . . . 

Rules – what are rules?

Proof that French nouns don’t follow sensible rules comes with the fact that the noun feminism is masculine (le féminisme), and the noun masculinity is feminine (la masculinité).

Meanwhile, hoary old guardians of the French language, the Académie française, ruled that Covid (the word) is feminine (la covid) because it’s an illness (une maladie). But dictionaries Le Larousse and Le Robert list it as masculine (le covid) because it’s a virus (un virus). If the gatekeepers of French cannot agree, and if the genders of the nouns themselves don’t necessarily make complete sense, what hope is there for the rest of us?

And don’t get us started on synonyms – for example it’s une chaise (a chair – feminine) but un fauteuil (an armchair – masculine). 

The thing is, gender really does matter in the French language. The gender of a noun (whether it’s a le or la word) influences any related pronouns, adjectives and verbs … and it even completely changes the meaning of some words.

Adjectives must agree

Adjectives in French conform to the gender and the quantity of the noun – a masculine plural noun needs a masculine plural adjective. Another bit that makes sense, right?

Most follow a regular pattern – if the masculine adjective ends with the letter –c (blanc / blancs), then the feminine ending is –che (blanche / blanches). An –f ending to a masculine adjective becomes –ve in the feminine. A masculine adjective ending with –eux leads to a feminine adjective ending of –euse.

Except these…

And then there are those well-known, often-used adjectives that follow rules entirely of their own making. We give you:

Beautiful: beau, bel, belle, beaux, belles

New: nouveau, nouvel, nouvelle, nouveaux, nouvelles

Old: vieux, vieil, vieille, vieux, vieilles

You just have to learn them. Sorry.

Gender critical

Here are just a few examples of how the gender of a word changes what it is. Mi-temps (masculine) means part-time, as in part-time job; mi-temps (feminine) means halftime in sport. La physique is the science; le physique refers to someone’s body shape. La somme – when it’s not the place in northern France – is the total sum of, for example, money; le somme is a nap, or 40 winks.

Places and animals

But there are some rules that are (almost) hard and fast.

Most place names are masculine. Except those places that end with the letter e – they are usually feminine. Apart from a few, such as…

  • le Mexique (Mexico)
  • le Bélize (Belize)
  • le Mozambique (Mozambique)
  • le Zaïre (Zaire)
  • le Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)

If you’re talking about animals, the advice is to go with the sex of the animal you’re discussing – unless you’re talking about, for example, a mouse (la souris, all the time) or a horse (le cheval)

Derivatives

Nouns that derive from verbs – they usually end with eur, like l’aspirateur or l’ordinateur – are masculine. 

But nouns that come from adjectives that also usually end with eur, like la largeur, are feminine.

Gender reveal

But don’t throw those French books away just yet. Before you get completely downhearted and set out to learn Spanish instead, there is a trick that means you’ll be right well over half the time.

It’s all to do with endings. According to a study by linguists at Canada’s McGill University, the end of a French noun gives away its gender in at least 80 percent of cases.

The 80 percent trick

Treat words that end in -e or -ion as feminine … Except those that end in -age, -ege, -é, or -isme (these are endings that indicate masculine words).

The rest of them – especially those that end with a consonant – are masculine. Apart from the exceptions, obviously.

Here is that McGill list in full – and if you learn all these, the Canadians promise that you will be right 90 percent of the time. That’s a better record than most actual French people,according to a 2018 study. 

Typical masculine noun endings:

  • -an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -on (but not after s/c)
  • -eau, -au, -aud, -aut, -o, -os, -ot
  • -ai, -ais, -ait, -es, -et
  • -ou, -out, -out, -oux
  • -i, -il, -it, -is, -y
  • -at, -as, -ois, -oit
  • -u, -us, -ut, -eu
  • -er, -é after c
  • -age, -ege, – ème, -ome, -aume, -isme
  • -as, -is, -os, -us, -ex
  • -it, -est
  • -al, -el, -il, -ol, -eul, -all
  • -if, -ef
  •  -ac, -ic, -oc, -uc
  • -am, -um, -en
  • -air, -er, -erf, -ert, -ar, -arc, -ars, -art, -our, -ours, -or, -ord, -ors, -ort, -ir, -oir, -eur
  • (if animate)
  • -ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil
  • -ing

Typical feminine noun endings:

  •  -aie, -oue, -eue, -ion, -te, – ée, -ie, -ue
  • -asse, -ace, -esse, -ece, -aisse, -isse/-ice, -ousse, -ance, -anse, -ence, -once
  •  -enne, -onne, -une, -ine, -aine, -eine, -erne
  • -ande, -ende, -onde, -ade, -ude, -arde, -orde
  • -euse, -ouse, -ase, -aise, -ese, -oise, -ise, -yse, -ose, -use
  •  -ache, -iche, -eche, -oche, -uche, -ouche, -anche
  • -ave, -eve, -ive
  •  -iere, -ure, -eure
  • -ette, -ete, – ête, -atte, -otte, -oute, -orte, -ante, -ente, -inte, -onte
  • -alle, -elle, -ille, -olle
  • -aille, -eille, -ouille
  • -appe, -ampe, -ombe
  • -igue

See? Simple! 

SHOW COMMENTS