Archive for November 13, 2010

Citizen, speak French please.

November 13, 2010 7 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 : 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 The other way round the very French cafèterie used by Proust has been replaced by a less French cafétéria.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
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