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The French language and the protection of it

April 2nd, 2011 France and French !

La Francophonie – an expression coined by French geographer Onésime Reclus in 1880 – refers to the French-speaking world. French is the first language of 80 million Europeans and 113 million people around the world, making it the official language of 20 countries. It is spoken by six million people in Canada, in 26 African countries and even in parts of Lebanon, Louisiana, Haiti and Vietnam.

Learning French with Azurlingua, it can be interesting to learn the origins of the language. In fact, it was Julius Caesar who gave France a language, even if the original version has undergone an evolution since then. The former Latin version developed over the Middle Ages into a north/south split: Langue d’oïl in the north and Langue d’oc in the south – oïl and oc both being a Roman version of yes. The country was replete with various dialects – many of which exist today in some form. Finally, it was the northern Francien dialect that became dominant, mostly because it was the language of the Frankish kings of Île de France. It established itself officially in 1539, when the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts supplanted Latin with French as the country’s administrative and legal language. Over time, the oïl became oui. Yet, it was only after the Revolution that people started talking French in everyday life on a widespread scale, using it as an expression of national identity.

By the late 19th century, only French was taught in schools and other languages were suppressed. It was not until 1951, with the Deixonne Law, that regional languages were permitted to be taught students. Although, some maintain that the French language has enough trouble standing up to English without funds being used for others, such as Catalan, Basque and Corsican, and dialects, such as Niçois, Norman and Languedocien. In 1972, even the President at the time, Georges Pompidou, said, “there is no place for the regional languages and that cultures in a France that intends to make its mark on Europe.” Luckily, many regional languages are surviving; with for instance approximately 550,000 people speaking Alsatian, 330,000 speaking Breton and 130,000 Catalan.

Today, the regional languages and dialects have mostly been seen as a part of the French culture, and are being preserved by various organizations. Instead, many see a threat in the Arabic language, since it is spoken by 2.5 % of the population, (most of them speaking the Maghreb dialect of North Africa) and the emergence of English as the lingua franca of the world.

The standards of the language have been created and kept by the Académie Française, since 1635. Its members meet everyThursday morning under the neo-Classical dome of the Institut de France on the Quai de Conti in Paris, to preserve the purity of the mother tongue. The 40 members, Les Immortels, are elected for life. Over 700 have sat on the Académie – the first woman was elected in 1980. The former President Valery Giscard D’Estaing is a recent elective. The organization is known for its slow pace, having produced only eight dictionaries (with a ninth expected in 2015). Evil tongues have it that it might have something to do with the members’ average age, which in 2008 were 77.

A great concern of the Académie is of course the infiltration of English words into the French language, which they try to solve by making alternatives. A recent one is courriel, which replaces email, although since the word has a Québécois origin it angered some and gave room for a great deal of discussions on the matter. Now, email is forbidden as a word in any government documentation.

A bigger battle for the French language was won in 1994, with the passing of the Toubon Law, which made the use of French mandatory in all advertising, signs, product labels and government documents. Furthermore, after the Broadcasting Reform Act and its Pelchat amendment, all of the country’s radio stations have to play at least 40% of their songs in French, during prime hours.

So what does the average French person make of this? Most people see the use of other languages as a tool more than a threat, for instance by using English in a global business context. Undoubtedly, there is a certain pride in the beauty of their own language and they would not dream of having another first language than French. After all, French is the foreign language that is taught the most. The younger generations have for a long time ignored the militant attempts of the Académie and politicians like Jaques Chirac to limit the use of English words. Some times, an English word is just better for expressing things, although English words are being replaced by French all the time, such as computer being ordinateur, and cool gradually getting French variations such as génial.

When you learn French, it is useful to get a proper French foundation, but feel free not to be too strict about the origin of the words. French today contains a small blend of English, Arabic and the more youthful verlan (inversion of syllables), and constantly ignoring this influence could sound stilted. After all, having the freedom to choose is a notion of liberty, and any attempts to limit people’s freedom would be considered very un-French indeed.

Below is a funny advertisement for why you should learn French.

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Commentaires pour “The French language and the protection of it”

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  1. Lucy says:

    I love the Picture Mia ;)

  2. yann says:

    oui moi aussi j’aime la photo :) meme si on a préféré la mettre à l’intérieur :)

    et je précise aussi que tous les français ne mange pas forcement des escargots !!! :)

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