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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Robert trop complaisant

by Ludovic Tomas

The French Dictionary Le Robert too Compliant

Translated Thursday 14 September 2006, by Claudia Incardona-Sanderlin

The French antiracism movement (MRAP) and the representative council for black associations (CRAN) express their opposition to the definitions of two words in the dictionary’s latest edition, and request that the dictionary be withdrawn from the marketplace.

Is Le Petit Robert nostalgic for colonialism? And has its 2007 edition something in common with a «new attempt to restore and glorify» the colonial period, as the French antiracism movement (MRAP), which demands the dictionary’s withdrawal from the marketplace, affirms? The definitions of the words «colonization» and «colonize» are at the center of the debate. The first one discusses the «the act of populating with colonial immigrants; of transforming a place into a colony; then it speaks of the «valorization, the exploitation of the colonized countries", with reference to other defined words «colonialism» and «imperialism». On the same note, the second definition adds: «to colonize a country in order to emphasize its value and, at the same time, to exploit its resources». Ambiguous wording indeed, but similar to the one found within the previous edition, definitions sensibly identical to those published over the last 30 years. It is true that the Larousse dictionary is not as controversial: «the act of colonizing, a situation resulting form such act» or «to transform a country into a colony».

The representative council for black associations of France (CRAN), which also accuses Le Robert, affirms that Le Petit Robert’s definitions «support and justify" this part of history while «republican ideals thoroughly dismiss those linked to the concept of colonization». The editor, on his/her part, refuses an accusation that consists of «snippets, with terms taken in isolation and out of context».

According to the French antiracism movement (MRAP), the issue is not accidental; it occurs few months after the controversy caused by article 4 from the 23 February 2005 law, later abrogated, which evoked colonization’s positive role. «Le Petit Robert maintains its position and subscribes to the concept of valorization», affirms Mouloud Aounit, secretary general of the association, who asks «people who have a choice not to buy» the product. As the school year is injust beginning, it is rather obvious why Le Robert wishes to minimize the debate.

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