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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pour l’amour des mots

For Words’ Sake: the Health of the French Language

Translated Saturday 10 November 2007, by Jonathan Pierrel

Language. Cries of alarm or songs of hope, the health of the French language inspires linguists and writers, while the study of this modern language never stops.

“To love is to suffer.” Many of those who proclaim that they love French seem to be bashful lovers, widows, or unconsoled. Their belle is dying, or at least is not feeling well. The diagnostic is well known. Outside of France, French loses ground because public authorities do not support well enough their cultural institutions abroad. This is due to a lack of firm policy when dealing with international organisations. At a moment when the London Protocol on the translation of patents is about to be ratified, we must agree with such an opinion. But it is Metropolitain France itself that the situation has become most serious. Debased, corrupted, damaged by the use of “verlan” [1] and computerese, impoverished, littered with English words, Molière’s language is losing its lexicon.

Its orthography? No longer taught. Its syntax? Disfigured by the use of SMS text message language. This version of the health check-up is far from being shared by all. Alain Rey [2] shows how those assumptions are based on the myth of the French heyday. He puts into practice all his experience and knowledge to dispel illusions and reveal the forever changing and crossbred reality of this poor Gallo-Roman Creole mixed with Frankish, which replaced the prestigious Latin.

Cécile Ladjali acknowledges the loss of vocabulary and expressions, which she notices every day in her work with students, and takes an activist approach, so that everyone can turn their backs on tradition, but with full knowledge of what they are doing.

And, far from all these quarrels, we find the language entertainers, such as the creators of words to be found in Le Lexic des cités, and those who collected, compiled and illustrated them. And those who play with the all the world’s languages to highlight strange and funny words which sound so foreign, yet so intimate.

Not to forget a vererable institution, Le Bon usage, which has a refurbished image and, far from the purism we would expect of it, continues to enjoy playing tricks on us.

[1Translator’s note: Verlan is a particular kind of backslang that has become extremely popular among young people inverting the syllables of words, and often then truncating the result to make a new word. (Collins-Robert French Dictionary)

[2Alain Rey is a famous French linguist.


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