Home > Opinion, Proust, Marcel > Citizen, speak French please.

Citizen, speak French please.

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I bet my government wouldn’t approve of my blogging in English. The picture included in this post is an advertisement published by the French State to fight against English words in our vocabulary. This one is about cars. It says You can say it in French and gives the French translation of GPS, carjacking and crossover. We should use géonavigateur, piraterie routière and véhicule métis instead. There’s even a web site : http://franceterme.culture.fr where you can find French equivalent for English words. It’s funny and serious at the same time.

The guardians of pure French against the assaults of English words in our beautiful language should read Proust – re-read Proust, let’s be optimistic. I noticed the use of several English words instead of French ones, not to point out snobbery, like in Madame Swan at Home, but probably because these words had no equivalent in French at the time. Most of them I had never heard of in a French conversation. For example, clubman, which is neither in my English dictionary nor in my French one. We would say fêtard or noctambule to say clubber. I also saw sportsman for the word sportif commonly used nowadays. I also noticed things like this in the 1950s translation of On the Road. When the French equivalent is not too complicated for common people to use, it can impose itself and replace the English word. To me, there is no way that GPS be replaced by géonavigateur, it’s too long. The other way round the very French cafèterie used by Proust has been replaced by a less French cafétéria.

 I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s a good thing that we try to use French words for new realities. The media have a decisive role to play in that area, they help to impose the new word in our speaking habits. We should not give up the fight but sometimes, it’s just ridiculous. In Quebec, where they are really finicky about not using English words in their French, they even translated hot-dog. Why not translate polenta or couscous too? On the other hand, as I also read in English, I see words like cliché, déjà vu or ménage à trois. Should Anglophones protest against that?

 I’m not a specialist on the matter, just a regular citizen. I think a lot of common sense is useful. Languages just enrich one another. The problem is more that America tends to impose its way of life than the use of English words. I looked for the recommended French word for manga on the above mentionned web site. There is none. My opinion is that there is no try to replace manga by a French word because Japan is not a threat for the French way of life…

PS : Au fait ! The official French word for blog is bloc-note. Nobody is going to use bloc-note for that, the mental picture associated with bloc-note is a paper notebook accompanied by a pencil and a rubber.

Categories: Opinion, Proust, Marcel
  1. November 13, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Well language is always in a state of flux, and people will drift to the terms they want. The GPS example is one instance. This desire for language purity…reminds me of how many people stopped saying French Fries and switched to Freedom Fries.

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    • November 13, 2010 at 10:20 pm

      Oh yes, that stupid Freedom Fries. We thought American were just ridiculous and that only they could do something this ludicrous. Did you know that here, “un américain” is also a sandwich ? It is baguette, with ketchup, a steak like in a hamburger and French fries. A total nightmare for gastronomy and dietetic.

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  2. November 13, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    They did the same thing during WWI with german food.

    I watched a French film last night called The Father of My Children. In one scene, the main character is pulled over for speeding by police. They tell him he doesn’t have any points on his license and he’s taken to the police station. What is the ‘points’ thing?

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    • November 14, 2010 at 9:26 am

      How do you think they would have called ‘sushis’ if it had been in style at the time?

      Your question about points. In France, a driving license has 12 points. Every time you’re caught doing something wrong, you pay a fine and loose points. You can get your points back if you don’t do anything wrong during 3 years or if you attend driving training periods. So this character’s driving license is no longer valid since he doesn’t have any point left. Technically, he’s driving without a license. That’s why he’s taken to the police station. It also shows his carelessness : he didn’t take the trouble to attend a driving training period. (or didn’t have the money to pay for it).
      I think some other European countries also have points on their driving licenses.

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  3. November 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the explanation. That makes sense given the character’s all-around behaviour.

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  4. November 17, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    What a great blog ..I love it how the French use English words and we use French ..the world is large but so small when you think of how easy it now is to communicate through the internet – any crss over enriches is all
    bon chance x

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  1. February 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm

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