French say non to le business speak

Anglophones try to retain their joie de vivre even though their life is in a cul de sac. Why should French businessmen not practise le hard- selling and le co-marketing of their produits de standing in le prime- time?

The French Ministry of Culture takes the view, reasonably enough, that linguistic immigration, like any other kind, is tolerable in moderation. When it becomes an uncontrolled flood, it is time to grow worried (or even hit le panic-button)

Despite all the efforts of the Academie Francaise to maintain the beauty and purety of the language, French business-speak is drowning in Anglicisms. The Ministry of Culture, in its summer newsletter, asks subscribers to join in a competition to find the best French substitutes for words and phrases such as le just-in-time, le copy-strategy, le sleeping-partner, le fresh-money and even le deal.

The competition, devised by the Assocation to Promote Business French, has already been attempted by 32,000, mainly young, French speakers around the world. The Culture Ministry has now thrown the contest open to all readers of its newsletter in the hope that they will spend part of their summer holidays racking their brains for French synonyms for le bus-catalogue or le personal-communicator.

There is no prize for success: only the satisfaction of helping to defend the language of Vol-taire from constant erosion by the language of Shakespeare (or rather the language of le Harvard Business School).

The main part of the competition is a long business text in which readers are invited to substitute French for Franglais. The text begins: "C'est a la fin du briefing, en sirotant [sipping] un light-drink au bar, que Bertrand annonca le scoop: nous allions pouvoir bientot jouer les discounters et mettre sur le marche des milliers de mountain-bikes avec un look de standing qui allait devenir un must ... sans recourir au dumping ou au hard- selling."

It continues: "Le buzzer du personal-communicator de Bertrand se fit entendre ... Cet appareil transmettait des fax et meme des e-mails et des datas sur le Net. Un message s'etait inscrit sur le display."

French substitutes suggested by previous competitors include le breffage for le briefing; message electronique for e-mail; telecopie for fax; vente aggressive for hard-selling; and vente a perte for dumping. The effort is creditable enough. Many of the buzz-phrases are annoying enough in English, without being accepted into French. Perhaps more worryingly for France, the linguistic invasion reflects a stubborn fact: most of these business concepts and inventions have English names because they were invented in the Anglo-Saxon (mostly American) world.

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