Franglais is becoming more rampant in France, says Ian Moore, despite the Académie Française’s attempts to banish it
Every so often you stumble upon a piece of information or trivia that turns your world upside down and makes your eyes roll around in their sockets like a cartoon character.
Well a similar thing happened to me recently and suddenly everything becomes clear.
French doesn’t have enough words. It’s as simple as that. We are constantly reminded, by people who like to say that the French are ‘peculiar’, that they fiercely protect their language against alien invasion.
That the much-feared Académie Française, known as ‘the immortals’, will circle the wagons and defend to the death the very language itself against the hordes of invading foreign words, though not at ‘le week-end’. They are, I’m afraid to say, destined to fail. It is not so much a brave circle of wagons they’re building, but a Maginot Line, and we all know where that ended up.
The simple truth is that English has approximately 170,000 words, whereas French can only muster around 35,000 and the gap is widening. Technology moves at such a pace that language by necessity must keep up.
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‘Email’ is ubiquitous, the vast majority of us use it, but while someone was busy developing the system, someone else was brainstorming in the back office forging a name. ‘Email’, it’s short, punchy and quick, a perfect way to describe more high speed communication. The Académie Française doesn’t work that way, ‘courrier électronique’ it decreed to an audience that had already moved on.
Okay, they backtracked, if you’re pushed for time, ‘courriel’.
Again, tumbleweed. At one point, and very briefly, the word was ‘mél’ or somesuch which was too late, the world had moved on.
It’s clear too that they’re still licking their wounds from this defeat because they’ve obviously taken their eye off the ball. Franglais is suddenly rampant, more than ever. Out of six TV adverts after the lunchtime news we counted four that used Anglo-Saxon in the marketing slogans. And it’s not just the idea that English is classier, or class, which I’ve recently found out is ‘French’ for, wait for it, ‘class’, but that it gets to the point.
My French has got to the stage where I am now capable of performing stand-up; it’s a jittery, nerve-wracking affair obviously and a delicate balance between the English sense of humour and the French sense of humour.
I’ve written some specific material in my new adopted language and some, I reckon, can be translated. I sat down with my French family and began the translating process. It was a disaster. Short, pithy one-liners became long drawn out monologues and whole set-piece routines, usually coming in at a punctual five minutes, last so long I may as well be filibustering in the House of Commons.
French is a beautiful language, when not in the clumsy hands of someone like me obviously, who specialises it seems in pure Frockney, French in a Michael Caine accent. It is the language of food and of love, but sometimes, it’s just insufficient.
So what brought forth this language epiphany? Well, for health reasons, I joined an aquabiking class at my local swimming pool, just me and seven other French ladies in their early 70s. What, you ask, could possibly go wrong? I went half a dozen times, each time with less enthusiasm, though the writing was on the wall from the start.
The last time I arrived late, holding up the group and as I emerged apologetically from the changing rooms they were already sitting there on their bikes angrily waiting, their capacious bottoms hovering above the water and astride their submerged machines like a squadron of fighter aquabikers.
Each and every one of them regarding me with cold, Medusa-like contempt. I blushed everywhere, even under my Speedos. In English you see, I might have found the right expression, in French though, I was utterly lost for words.
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