Hacktivism, fashionista, queer, SUV, and dark net have all been officially added to France’s two main dictionaries this year. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with detox, startup, clubbing and chatbot also listed.
The most surprising fact about these additions to ‘Le Petit Robert’ and ‘Le Petit Larousse’ (France’s two main dictionaries) has been the lack of uproar.
A few years ago, there would have been a furore about Anglicisms being added to the language of Molière, Voltaire and Simone de Beauvoir. Initiatives to prevent the Anglicisation of the French language are normally led by the Académie française.
To underscore the importance of their language, the “Journée de la Francophonie” (“Day of the Francophones”) is celebrated each year on 20th March to bring together the world’s 270 million French speakers.
Why the lack of anger?
But why have the defenders of the French language remained quiet this year?
President of the French Defence Association Didier Berberat, told French daily Le Matin: “I regret that people are using more and more French words, but if they are in everyday life, they should be in the dictionary. But it’s a shame as French equivalents exist or could be created. It’s down to a certain laziness.”
MEP and defender of the French language Jean Romain added, “It may be the mark of failure”. He explains that the battle to keep out English words often ended up with, “ridiculous French terms that no one used”.
In technology, English dominates
According to Berberat, some areas must give way to the dominance of English: “In the world of technology, it is extremely difficult to fight against and these words do come from the Anglo-Saxon world.”
Linguist and author Jean Maillet told French newspaper 20 Minutes: “There is a certain snobbery, even a ‘cool’ condescending attitude attached to using English words. There is also a certain linguistic laziness.”
Berberat worries that that the younger generation working at “Le Petit Robert” and “Le Petit Larousse” are less sensitive and aware of creeping Anglicisms.
Could French language lose its subtlety?
He adds, “I also note a certain resignation on the issue from the French government and in certain cultural circles.”
The President of the French Defence Association may have a point.
French President Emmanuel Macron is well-known for his fluent English, and his team refer to him as “Le Boss”. Macron calls France “une start-up nation”, talks of “le co-working” and “le brainstorming”. The president firmly believes French and English can coexist as major international languages.
However, Macron has set out a plan to make French the third most spoken language in the world, two place above its current fifth. He has also appointed Goncourt Prize winner (France’s most prestigious literature prize) Leïla Slimani as Ambassador of the French language.
French MPs have already lowered the legal quota from 40% to 35% for national radio stations to play French language music after coming under increasing industry pressure. The quote was introduced to stop what the government saw as the “Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion”, but with more and more French artists such as Daft Punk now singing in English it is harder to argue the point from a cultural standpoint.
“French has always imported words, it is not a problem. The real challenge is to fight against the simplification of our language. To fight against the abandonment of terms that allow nuances, subtlety and clear distinctions,” Roman told Le Matin.