English changes more than French
A reader discusses France’s attempt to control the use of the French language
Colin Sanders wins the Connexion letter of the month and a copy of the Connexion Puzzle Book. Please include your name and address in any correspondence; we can withhold it on request. The Editor’s decision is final. Write to: The Connexion, Patio Palace, 41 avenue Hector Otto, 98000 Monaco or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Comment page article in February’s Connexion is correct in signalling out some of the absurdities of the announcements from the French Culture Ministry in its attempts to get the French to use a ‘six syllable mouthful’ for ‘le smartphone’. ‘Linguistic purity’ is a battle, which, as you say, will inevitably be lost.
One of the major reasons for the vitality and success of the English language is that it is a mongrel language and has always shown a willingness to adopt new words and to change as neologisms spring up. Shakespeare introduced hundreds of new words and phrases to the language, words which soon became common parlance, such as: bedazzle, swagger, inaudible and castigate.
The language has continued to change and develop since his day: we adopted the words ‘bungalow’ and ‘veranda’ from the Hindi; from the Chinese we took on the slang word for tea which is ‘char’ and we use the German ‘zeitgeist’ for ‘spirit of the times’.
We use hundreds of French words and phrases in our everyday speech in English. We could ask: ‘What’s the French for fait accompli? Or coup d’état? And coup de grace? What, one might ask, is your raison d’être?
I could also point out that ‘email’ is new to the English language and infinitely preferable to ‘electronic postal communication’.
The English words which gain currency with the French will not be eradicated by any pronouncements from on high. The young, as you rightly point out, will say and write what they want.
Colin Sanders, Dordogne