Sunday, October 15, 2006

French Language Not in Decline? But what French....

The Canadians have a long history of love-hate relationship with language, namely French and English, even since Canada officially became a bilingual nation in 1969.

So it is not surprising that the idea that the French language is actually NOT in decline should come from two Canadians, one (Jean-Benoît Nadeau) French Canadian and the other (Julie Barlow) and an “Anglo” converted to French.

Their point is to say that while “it would be ridiculous to pretend that French is competing with English on the international stage”, (No kidding!), French is not only doing better than most people think, it is a global language, the world's other global language”.

That’s most certainly what some French people would like to think but how relevant is this in today’s world, I wonder.

In this article published last week in The Toronto Star, they make the following points:

The number of French-speakers in the world has tripled in the last 50 years to 175 million.

French is the world's 9th language for number of speakers, but it's still the world's second international language after English, and the only other language taught in all countries of the world.

French is second only to English for the number of countries where it is an official language — 33 compared to 45 — and for the number of international institutions where it is used, including the UN, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, the International Red Cross Committee, Interpol and the International Labour Organization.

Then they say this:

In Canada, Quebec is often derided for its language protection measures and Law 101 is considered oppressive, at best. But in the rest of the French-speaking world, Quebec is heralded as a model to follow in language protection.

Even the French look to Quebec for ideas on how to keep French vocabulary contemporary without systematically resorting to English.

The French look to Quebec for that? Mmmm... At some level (the official level) this may be true: the French have, after all, an official General Committee of Terminology and Neology (Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie) whose job it is to translate words (mostly English ones of course) into “correct French equivalents”, but frankly I have great doubts about their relevance. As we posted here, they, for instance translated “blog” by “bloc” (as in bloc-note). Needless to say, it didn't work!

The Canadians may be more pragmatic at least by just turning the English word into a more French spelling, “blogue”. At the same time, who really uses the word “blogue” or “bloc” for “blog”? Who uses “courrier electronique” and not “email”? (Granted, I like “couriel” a lot… but hardly use it!)

I tend to believe that you cannot really have a “language authority” successfully impose a term on their people. It doesn’t work like that. A language is a living entity and it needs to breathe, and people will choose whatever makes more sense to them. The reason why the word “navigateur” (for “browser”à has caught on may be a mystery but that has nothing to do with a useless committee generously paid by taxpayers’ money.

I have the same doubts with regard to the Quebecois who after all use in their daily lives terms such as:

  • Tanker du gaz (to get a full tank : Faire le plein) ;
  • magasiner (shopping : Faire les courses)
  • drink du coke (coca, coke)
  • chum (chum, mon jules, mon homme) ;
  • banc de neige (snowbank, une congère);
  • un étranger (a stranger, un inconnu);
  • burnout (burnout, le surmenage);
  • le corridor (corridor, couloit);
  • Pour vrai (for real, vraiment).

Nonetheless, I would be glad to read Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow’s Story of French (a few years back they wrote a fun book and besteller, called Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong)


At 21:41, Anonymous Abie said...

Vous êtes un peu dur avec "corridor" et "étranger"...
J'aime beaucoup, dans la même catégorie "changer le tire d'un char".

At 18:54, Anonymous Aurélien said...

"Je l'ai mis sur mon bloc": that's what I heard today in a corridor of my school... (Or did I hear it wrong?)


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