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Why use anglicisms when we have perfectly good French words?

Lazy ignorance and a desire to appear cool are impoverishing our language, argues French journalist Théophile Larcher

English words are increasingly being introduced to the French language, with detrimental affects argue some Pic: Casimiro PT / Shutterstock

Yet another official French body is taking a stance against the ever-increasing presence of English words in the French language - and it is right to do so.

The annual report of the Commission d'enrichissement de la langue française (CELF) - a government commission created in 1996 to promote the use of the French language in academic contexts - contains a list of French equivalents to some of the most common expressions and words used around shopping and the fashion industry.

‘It-bag’, ‘must-have’ and ‘lifestyle’ should be referred to as sac iconique, icône de la mode / incontournable and style de vie, it argues.

It is not too much of a stretch to use these French equivalents - which are perfectly acceptable - and the industry is so powerful (and so strongly associated with France) that marketers should have no shame employing them.

Read more: France publishes list of French words to use for shopping anglicisms

The CELF report is further proof of how marketing departments tend to favour English expressions and formulas in advertising.

Often, English is used to appeal to consumers who are enticed by American soft power.

The failure to use suitable French equivalents leads to the impoverishment of French and intensifies the already politically-divisive debate about the influence the US has on France.

I am no exception to the rule and use more English words in French sentences than I would like to admit but this article is not an irrational case of anti-Americanism on my part; it is a desire to protect a language that I see being used less and less even in its place of origin.

I recognise that historically the tables were turned and French soft power caused our language to enter British and American homes.

I noticed during a year I spent living in California - and from reading books by American journalists - a tendency for English-speakers to use French words to appear sophisticated or educated.

And French words have remained part of the English language mostly in areas traditionally associated with French culture such as cooking and ballet-dancing, or in hyphenated words (‘prêt-à-porter’, ‘laissez-faire’, ‘déjà-vu’, ‘savoir-faire’ etc.).

However, they do not dominate everyday conversations across vast sectors as English does in French

Read more: Franglais ou Frenglish? The history of French resistance to English

Read more: ‘Language police’ jump on anglicised use of French word ‘juste’

Ignorance and trend

In addition the phenomenon of English words entering our language does not have the same drivers and is due mainly to ignorance and trend.

One of my friends working in the ‘French Tech’ sector - an industry notoriously affected by ‘franglais’ reaching almost satirical status - said most accounts of using English is due to a lack of patience in accurately translating terms, which then over time becomes a habit. 

The tech sector maybe where the most extreme form of professional ‘franglais’ have taken place but many expressions have now reached everyday offices in France.

Examples of this include ‘je te forward la slide dans Drive’ (I’m forwarding you the slide in Google Drive) or je te fais ça asap (I’m doing it asap.)

It is interesting to note how work sectors borrow English equivalents from their specific fields.

One marketing director of an indoor-climbing company spoke about the ‘fun-climbing’ approach of a competitor during a recent interview.

The marketing director could have said that the competitor focused on escalade de detente familiale / recreationnel; there is almost always a French equivalent for an English word or expression.

There are rare exceptions when English vocabulary is better suited - France Television’s blunder of using the Frenchified mot-dièse instead of hashtag for example, or in niche sub-sectors of the tech-scene heavily dominated by American companies.

But in general situations, using English makes little sense. What is the point in saying “c’est insane!” (It’s insane!) when reacting to a music video on Youtube other than trying to appear cool and giving off the air of an Anglophone hipster? 

Other words such as “incredible” or “exceptional” have the same meaning as their English equivalents but have their own French spelling and pronunciation. Why not use these? After all, the core meaning of the sentence remains the same.

As a side note on English words used in French it is interesting to see how younger generations of French black people no longer like being called ‘black’ but prefer the French noir.

Noir has connotations of colonialism for the older French generation, who began to use ‘black’ due to its use by anti-racist protesters, inspired by the American black pride movement.

Read more: Racism in France: please stop using the English word 'black'

Decay of language knowledge

The reality is that the intrusion of the English language into mainstream vocabulary is a consequence of the ever-increasing presence of technology in our life.

The younger generations’ attention is almost completely taken over by English when using popular apps and French language teachers are unable to offer something more compelling.

For French native speakers to improve their French and gain this vocabulary is incredibly time-consuming, especially for younger people. Thus they will often choose an English equivalent they already know (even if they don’t speak English well) that they have learned through media consumption.

Books are still one of the best solutions to hone your language skills but they require an increased level of patience and concentration when apps are designed to grab your attention.

Time spent improving language skills, even unconsciously, ends up being dedicated to English instead of French because of how many people now spend their free time. 

Read books, be patient, and learn, for there are French words that exist to say what you want to say.

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