Accent on authenticite as French fight 'le franglais'

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The Independent Online
HAILED as a linguistic Joan of Arc, Jacques Toubon, France's Culture Minister, has embarked on a new campaign to kick English words out of the French language.

Mr Toubon, a leading Gaullist, presented a new bill to the cabinet this week providing for heavy fines for the use of foreign words - in the case of English, known as 'franglais' - where a French word or saying would do.

Mr Toubon's draft law, which has to be approved by parliament, is the logical culmination of his campaign against the domination of what he calls 'an international language drawn from English'.

In the past few months, Mr Toubon has renamed Jurassic Park on billboards 'Le Parc Jurassic'. He complained that the car-carrying trains due to run through the Channel tunnel have been given the bastardised name of 'Le Shuttle' when, in French, the name should have been the more accurate translation 'La Navette'.

Mr Toubon's new law, which threatens as yet unspecified fines or the withdrawal of state subsidies for organisations which do not comply, covers all forms of communication from internal company documents and contracts to advertising.

Thus, anything needing operating instructions will have to be sold with a proper French instruction sheet, whatever its origin. Commonly used expressions such as one-man- show, hit parade or Walkman will have to be replaced by solo, palmares, and balladeur.

The new law updates 1975 legislation which laid down that any foreign phrase used in advertising had to be accompanied by a French translation.

The whole process is part of a modern campaign, started under President de Gaulle in 1966, to protect the purity of the French language and keep out foreign, particularly American, influences. At one extreme this has led to strange orthographic compromises such as conteneur for container, and poule for the game of pool, in cases where there was no obvious home-grown expression. Under the Toubon reform, the 'telecom' in 'France Telecom' will now have to take two acute accents.

As part of the protection of the language, Maurice Druon, the president of the Academie francaise, the country's cultural watchdog (chien de garde), appealed to Philippe Seguin, the president of the National Assembly, to work to keep parliamentary language pure. He cited dangerosite or dangerosity, where danger would have done as a prime example.

Now, Mr Druon is involved in a spat with his counterparts in the French language academy in Belgium who are trying to feminise names of occupations, producing such solutions as 'femme-grenouille' or 'frog-woman' for divers.

One of the side-effects (effets secondaires) of the Toubon legislation should be to protect 'the international language drawn from English' from such twee French inventions as the now almost defunct le footing for jogging, or le five o'clock for afternoon tea.

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