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“Pardon my French”

Written By: Marie Joelle Yveline Thuillier on April 26, 2010 3 Comments

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3 Responses to ““Pardon my French””

  1. Tuller on: 2 May 2010 at 1:33 pm

    “Most French speakers are not French.” I must admit that this statement gives me a semi-sick feeling of revengeful satisfaction. I am legally French, and a French speaker, but I reject the idea that there is a “pure French.” The mainstream French language ideology makes me cringe because like nationalism, and racism, to which it is intimately related, it labels and ranks people. Most French people do not consciously perpetuate this hierarchy because it is natural to them; which is worst?
    Now, French identity is being challenged on many fronts: from regional to global identities, it becomes increasingly difficult to define, hence assert it. I love this because it forces French French speakers to de-construct their/our assumptions about how the world is ‘organized.’
    “The future of the French language is in Africa.” What a delightful challenge to the French elitism that has contributed to what we so easily refer to as “failed states.” “States, nations” are not neutral terms; they carry with them the world view we have imposed on others, and then used against them when they could not make it work, as we robbed them of their resources.
    I love the French language. What I love most about it is its heterogeneity. Unfortunately, that’s not the French that is being taught in France and abroad. In the French national language ideology, there is a right way to speak,and then there’s “petit negre,” a despicable term, whose underlying assumptions and beliefs are not even in question in the mind of French French speakers, because it ‘natural’ to think that way.
    My revengeful satisfaction lies in the irony. “The future of French is in Africa!”

  2. Nicko on: 9 May 2010 at 10:25 pm

    As the French proverb (probably originally from an Arabic one) says, “Le chien aboie, la caravane passe”. It basically means no matter what people might say, things will end up as they were supposed to end up.

    It is true that there are a lot of French people that consider that there is only one type of correct French and that the rest is just “petit nègre”. But on the other hand, the opposite is also true.

    More and more of French people are being aware of the heterogeneity of French language and are learning how to appreciate it. Writers like Ayme Césaire or even Ahmadou Kourouma (both of them passed away recently) are widely read in France and nowadays I don’t think anyone would possibly dare say that their French is not “pure” enough or would contest the quality of their writtings.

    Moreover, a fair amount of linguists sometimes speak up and de-construct the old idea of French as a pure language.

    On that topic, people can refer to the article of Bernard Cerquiglini, “une langue ni pure ni soumise” (http://mondesfrancophones.com/espaces/frances/une-langue-ni-pure-ni-soumise/) or the book of Alain Rey, “L’amour du français : Contre les puristes et autres censeurs de la langue”.

  3. Tuller on: 10 May 2010 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I have been away from France for so long that I imagine it as it was 10 years ago…but I gotta be the devil’s advocate…
    There is an increasing awareness of the heterogeneity of the French language in academia; but while linguists have been discussing and working on this de-construction, most non-academic people (the majority of the population) have not even heard of it.
    Even once the seed is planted, it will take a while for this notion to be popular, and it will be up against a lot of resistance.
    Ayme Cesaire and Ahmadou Kourouma are “additions” to the literary canon, but do they really reflect a shift in the way most French people think about Language and their language?
    Again, I am being the devil’s advocate because I want to push the reflection to include most people and not just academics.

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