Culture secretary Fleur Pellerin issues volte-face over laws protecting native tongue from foreign invaders and upheld by Académie Française
In most places it would have barely made the news. In France, it was near-revolutionary.
The country, declared the culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, should not be afraid of foreign words and should consider outside influences enriching. Its language needed to wake up to the real world and not build unnecessary barriers to linguistic diversity, she added.
Pellerin’s words marked an official volte-face in a country where the language is protected by laws upheld and guarded by academics known as “immortals” at the Académie Française.
The Académie is frequently ridiculed for its attempts to come up with French alternatives to popular and widely used English terms, including weekend (fin de semaine), email (courriel) and sub-prime (prêt hypotécaire à risque).
“The word e-commerce, for example, makes no sense in French from a linguistic point of view because the ‘e’ is not pronounced the same, so we have to think about this,” the minister said.
The commission’s most recent suggestions are mot-dièse for hashtag, mégadonnées for big data, and éreintage as in bashing of the French kind. The Académie’s suggestions do not always catch on; a recommendation in its official journal of December 2006 for a French equivalent for podcasting, came up with “diffusion pour baladeur” or “broadcast for walkman”.
Later, Pellerin told a meeting of the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris: “English has always fascinated me because it’s easy to create new words or join two words and make a new word.” She added that her favourite word was serendipity, which she added had been officially assimilated into the French language.
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