Les Francomots au lieu des anglicismes?

Paris - French Clichés and Stereotypes - France - French people - My French LifeAs fellow lovers of France and the French language, many of you may have followed the recent gathering of the Académie Française in Paris.

Whilst this is perhaps of little significance to most of the global community, the purpose of their meeting was something that ultimately calls into question the rise of global powers and the value (or the threat) of sharing a common language. The purist group came together to discuss their pet hate: anglicisms.

Since France became centralised, Paris has long tried to impose a lingua franca on its people. Not everyone was going to take that one lying down, although it does make for an interesting – even philosophical – question that I think has profound implications for France today as it becomes richer and more diverse.

As children dream of being policemen or actors, there I was being tempted by the green costumes and swords that give the Académie Française that extra allure (or, depending on your position, the only allure).

As a proud herald of French in its most beautiful (and, dare I say it, ‘purist’ form), it seems rather backwards to appreciate the irony in the Académie’s recent decision to launch a website of dos and don’ts of the language. Dire, Ne pas dire will surely be a blacklist of anglicisms, replaced tentatively by ‘Francomots‘ that will be written off (in their minds) for all eternity. Would I be wrong to suggest that a large proportion of visitors to this site might be we non-native Francophones? And might it actually end up being instructive to those of us who do not have the option of local dialect at our fingertips?

There is always a strong and valid argument against the protection of ‘pure’ French, of course, and my goodness isn’t France made richer by the influx of other Francophone cultures. I wouldn’t deny that for even a millisecond.

This nice little video (try starting it at around 2.04) sums up this point of view, and the basic role of the Académie quite well. It comes from Sir Michael Edwards, who in 2014 (controversially!) became the first Englishman to be admitted to the Académie.


I don’t know whether many of you will agree, but in spite of my initial battle against the anglicisation of French, adopting English words in your French repertoire is hard to avoid if you wish to really make it as a French speaker. There are the obvious ones that cannot be avoided (le week-end, un mail – no one talks about courriel, do they, really? – le shopping, un sandwich etc). And those you can forgive (internet, podcast, webcam, and a reasonable number of other technology-related ‘borrowings’) too.

It’s also interesting to point out that the use of foreign words in another language can take on a very different tone. I mean I know someone who recently bought a French whisky called ‘Kiss’. Honestly! Grown men having a ‘Kiss’ together after supper? I think not. But it clearly goes down a treat over there! (“On se fait un kiss ce soir, hein?”)

Surely among the most offensive has to be le brushing, fashion (as an adjective!), un download, un feeling, les pin-ups (I kid you not!), le square, chatter, to name (and shame) but a few. Believe you me, I could go on. I don’t see the reason for the quantity of anglicisms in French. I can accept neologisms for the sake of technology, but not lazy replications of English verbs just… because. Maybe I should just get over it. (Should I?) I suppose I am just being protective!

That said, if we give the whole debate something, it is its moments of hilarity. Whilst this may not appear bizarre to us at first, it can certainly be appreciated upon second viewing…

Image: Paris fake tilt-shifted, by bildungsr0man, via Flickr

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Chloe Battle

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  1. Laura Griffin Nov 2, 2011 at 10:00 AM - Reply

    A fascinating article, only made better with a video starring Stephen Fry!

  2. Chloe Battle Nov 2, 2011 at 10:23 AM - Reply

    Thank you, Laura. I hope I’m not the only one to go quite so nuts over these things 🙂

  3. Emmanuelle Tremolet Nov 2, 2011 at 2:00 PM - Reply

    C’est très interessant. Merci Chloe. La question de la préservation de la langue française, la préservation des langues régionales est un débat politique qui resurgit très régulièrement. Les français sont très attachés à leur langue, c’est un élément de leur identité. Toutefois, la mondialisation est là; la langue anglaise est de plus en plus présente notamment dans la communication en entreprise. On en perd parfois son latin!!!

  4. Suzanne Cavanagh Nov 2, 2011 at 7:56 PM - Reply

    Chloe I fail to see why the Académie Française does not practice a little more ‘give and take’… Let’s face it the Anglo-Saxon language welcomed an extraordinary number of French words into the language after 1066 so I think that would be fair.
    What do you think?

  5. dominique Nov 9, 2011 at 3:02 AM - Reply

    Really interesting subject that our students often ask for opinions on. I’m still no surer on whether you can police such a thing as a language which is ever evolving.

  6. Richelle Valenzuela Nov 17, 2011 at 8:51 AM - Reply

    May I add a few of my favourites that make me cringe cringe cringe? C’est “hype” – “so British” – “le French touch” – “le parking” – “le camping” (OK, this is turning out to be more than a few) and the ones I really hate: “relooking” and “babies” (for mary-jane shoes) arrrggh!!

  7. Milja Kaunisto Feb 1, 2012 at 8:11 AM - Reply

    ‘Sadwich. Kebab. Pain.’ Love it! But the ones that make me wince are ‘Le footing’ (what the hell does that mean, anyway? Anybody heard that word in english?), ‘le living’ or ‘le dressing’ and ‘apartement de grand standing’ when talking real estate, and people just plain exclaiming ‘eet eeez!’, thinking they’re saying ‘c’est ça’…

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