PARIS - Feelings of displacement, vanishing sense of identity, loss of bearings: there’s no dearth of reasons to explain the French attraction to extremes -- whether on the right or left -- during the last presidential election. Of course, the economic crisis, unemployment and globalization are the main reasons why many French people feel they are not doing so well. But one could add something else – far less important, indeed perhaps only symbolic, but that has an impact that may be far greater than we can imagine: poor usage of the French language and over-use of English.
From this point of view, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s appointment of a junior minister -- Algerian film director and writer Yamina Benguigui --whose work includes La Francophonie (French-speaking countries) is a sign. But that sign should not be confused with taking up where Maurice Druon (1918 - 2009) left off. Druon was a longstanding member of the Académie Française who became famous for his fight against “franglais” which to the French means the importation of English words into their language.
And it must be said that English is a beautiful language – and incidentally not without French influence dating back to the days of William the Conqueror (1028 - 1087), the first Norman King of England. In its near-universality today, it is the language of development on our planet, particularly as regards matters economic, and it would be wrong to complain about that out of pure chauvinism.
Nor is there any question of reproaching French business leaders for being – more or less, it must be said – bilingual, or even to wag an admonishing finger at French companies like international hypermarket chain Carrefour for presenting an annual report in Paris in English.
What one can question, however, is the over-use of English by companies in their business strategies and marketing in France. There are plenty of examples. Let’s start with American movie producers who don’t bother to have the titles of their big hits translated. The newly-released feature film “The Avengers” is a case in point. How many people in France, particularly children and adolescents, understand that the superheroes invented by Marvel Comics are out to right wrongs by retaliating? The English word “avenge” may stem from the Old French word avengier but that doesn’t ring any bells in modern-day French. “Les Vengeurs” is the name that would do that. So here you have French people talking about avengers without a clue as to the meaning of the word, so it becomes a kind of “magic word” ... or merely a brand.
Je ne sais what?
How about a “margin call”? Even in French, the term appel de marge has many people scratching their heads. So use the English term and you just have that many more who don’t understand what you’re talking about. Other examples include French TV channel TF1 (re)baptizing itself “MyTF1.fr,” or – still with television here – French reality shows called “The Voice,” “Star Academy,” “Loft Story,” and “Masterchef.” Here again: the meaning of these titles is far from clear to a typical native French-speaker -- and translating them would have been so easy.
The sum-total of all this can quickly start to seem like some sort of joke -- because there is no area of French life where the phenomenon doesn’t make itself felt. Thus does Carrefour provide French cities, towns and villages with a Carrefour Market or a Carrefour City. Its competitor, Auchan, has christened its supermarkets Simply Market. What does that mean to a consumer in the small towns of Lower Normandy? And even if she or he gets it, doesn’t it seem a little odd? Why does the Pimkie store in Boulogne-Billancourt stick posters in its windows advertising “Good prices”? Why did the Casino chain of retailers rename its Petit Casino stores Casino Shops? To appear chic...“in”?
It is perfectly understandable that a company doing business all over Europe or around the world would try and stretch their marketing budget by using uniform concepts and language. But what about the general run of local French companies? Wouldn’t they be better off sticking to French? A recent survey on spelling published by the French Ministry of National Education indicated that the level of spelling skills among high school students was falling, and that 10 and 11-year olds were making an average of 15 mistakes per dictation as opposed to ten 20 years ago.
But there are other good reasons to worry about the country’s increasingly iffy sense of its own language. Could the massive use of English in marketing and communication in France be down to the “Erasmus effect” -- that many of the people working in these areas were schooled in both languages, went to English-language business schools, use English every day at the office?
The result is a kind of “Franglo-Saxon” which has French people talking about “addressing” problems, “delivering” solutions, attending “meetings” and “workshops” and “conf calls” during which “best practices” are presented by means of “slide shows.” But it has all brought us to the point where more and more companies are hiring university graduates in French language and literature to edit the written communications their staff is no longer capable of producing correctly.
Read the original article in French.
Photo - rhian