English invasion of French: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense! / BlogActiv series, May 2010

English invasion of French: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense!

Posted on 1 May 2010

The invasion of the langue de Molière by English words is intolerable… Or should we laissez-faire? Actually, France had a lien on phrases lent to the alleged lingua franca. Many words in English are née françois: they have French roots, plenty of bons mots kept their spelling and hence the italics. So, let me play the agent provocateur for a few minutes.

Like a Maitre d’ in a prestigious hôtel, English offers a menu of foreign cuisineA la carte, you can choose: anglo-saxon vis à vis French words. Just as the bull is slaughtered before you appreciate a delicious beef , the pig is killed before you nourish yourself with a pork casserole. This is not nouvelle cuisine, rather pot pourri. Of course, this led to some faux amis, like calling a main dish an entrée in America… Not everybody is a connoisseur or a gourmet, some je ne sais quoi does not cross the Channel well, and the Atlantic even less so. Le Concorde didn’t help much, being limited to la crème de la crème, but Le Shuttle and the Train à Grande Vitesse may help.

Even the ancien régime imperial system of measurement has an old Frenchname: avoirdupois. This sounds comical today given the extent of the metric system,  révolutionnaire. As for the dynasty, it is equally old – sorry for this faux pas, no lèse-majesté meant – it does sounds passé. Its main speeches – written by the Prime Minister – are still transcribed on sheep skin in old françois norman before being read by her majesty from her throne. This is in line with the Crown ‘s deviseDieu et mon droit. “Je maintiendrai “, the Dutch equivalent, would also sound chic on this occasion.

Cherchez la femme. If we move from cuisine and politics to love, how could one find a fiancée without French? From your first rendez-vous, you will wonder if this good fortune might turn into a simple affair – a quick tête à tête with a petite lady in her négligé or her camisole. Or a longer liaison, not knowing if it ends in a cul de sac. Or indeed a solid marriage with Madam. Granted, these traditional words focus on heterosexual relations, but even the word gay…Remember la ville lumière‘le gai Paris’ of the early XXth CenturyAs the Germans say: “c’est la vie!”

So, let us not be fooled by the esprit de corps of some French attachés: there is no linguistic coup d’état by the English, our languages are in a mariage à trois. The third rôle was shared over time between several maîtresses: at least Celtic tongues, Nordic languages, Latin, and now many other idioms as well. All facilitating rapprochement, and avoiding consanguinity, a mésalliance.

The offspring of these échangistes relations do not include only the bastard ‘franglais’, the enfant terrible of the descendance. Its frère enemi is “Euro Simplified English”, widely practiced in EU circles in Brussels. This idiom contains as much French as franglais. In an EU context, both French and English are part of the acquis communautaire.

Between languages, the Belgian saying « L’union fait la force” is appropriate. So, let’s learn each other’s languages. And no need to shout some cris du coeur and take some noms de guerre on the issue: : let’s go for détente!

Plus ça change…

Christophe Leclercq