How French people pronounce the word jaune should no longer affect their job promotion chances after MPs approved a law banning discrimination based on a regional accent – described as “a form of racism”.
The law, brought in by MP for Hérault Christophe Euzet, adds accents to the list of actionable discrimination causes, along with racism, sexism and discrimination against the disabled.
Anyone found guilty faces up to three years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of €45,000.
An Ifop survey last year found 16% of French people believe they had been a victim of accent discrimination (glottophobie in French). Many are said to have tried to hide their accent to improve their chances of getting a job or being promoted.
The leader of the far-left party La France Insoumise mocked a journalist with a southern accent who asked him a question at the National Assembly.
“Can someone ask me a question in French? And a bit more understandably,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Médéric Gasquet-Cyrus, linguist and lecturer at Aix-Marseille University, said: “There is linguistic centralisation [in France]. It is the idea that there is only one right way to speak: that which is used in the capital – or at least by the elite who work in the capital, who are not necessarily Parisians.”
He said accents from outside the Paris region are considered “less serious and less legitimate”.
The bias towards one “correct” French accent has real consequences, especially in the workplace.
'I started to introduce myself and I was picked up on my way of saying the word août (August) and other words, which made the whole room laugh'
Jobseeker Loan, 21, from Franche- Comté, told public service media FranceInfo of her experience at a job interview.
“I started to introduce myself and I was picked up on my way of saying the word août (August) and other words, which made the whole room laugh.
“I told myself that, obviously, I wasn’t going to get the job as it was an interview for a sales job and [my accent] would not work in that field.”
I say persi, you say persil... one example of regional variation in pronunciation is the word persil, meaning parsley, which is listed in most French dictionaries as pronounced without an “l” sound at the end, although residents of several regions do add it.
Vowel sounds also take on regional variations, such as with jaune (yellow). In most of northern France, jaune is pronounced with a round vowel sound, similar to the “o” in “bone” in English. But in some parts of the south, jaune takes on a shorter vowel sound, closer to the word “sun”.
So is there a right way to pronounce French words, or a regional vocabulary that is more correct than another? The authors of the blog Français de nos régions say not: “Some words can be pronounced in two ways and no variant is better or more correct than another, despite what we are taught by dictionaries.”