Article: Franglais row (BBC)


From the BBC’s website:

“The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable. …

“According to the left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation, 790 higher education courses in France are already taught in English, and like Fioraso it sees nothing wrong with the idea.

Its all-English front page on Tuesday featured the words “Let’s do it” in bold capital letters.

Liberation represents a growing fringe of the French population – young, urban, trendy, the kind which, in the last 20 years, has adopted franglais in their daily life.

For them, the work of the Academie Francaise – which offers grammatical advice and alternatives to new foreign words – now feels irrelevant and obsolete. They like nothing more than adding English sounding suffixes to French words, or combining English words into new terms such as “fooding” (made out of “food” and “feeling”).

The result is a fantasy English that exists nowhere else; this, many think in France, is an inverted snobbery. “Why speak French well when you can speak English badly?” asks with irony the literary critic Bernard Pivot.”

I would hope that France does keep up some of its language snobbery–every language has different ways of viewing the world (the article likens it to a particular ‘vision’ of life). However, I did notice on this trip, as compared to my earlier trip in 2003, that many more French people spoke fairly good English, and were more willing to use it. English does seem to be the language of the world (particularly in business), but I think there is a place for others.

Talk like a gangster!

I’ve been watching an old gangster film, the 1939 Warner Bros. picture “King of the Underworld”, with Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis. What always catches my notice in these films (aside from the occasionally TSTL gangsters) is the language they use.

“All right, doc, don’t get sore.”
“Hey, fella, don’t tell ‘em that a dame tripped me up.”
“Maybe he’s got a gat!”
“Nice gams!”
“Say… whaddya mean?”
“You’d better scram!”

From Wikipedia (

Of course, the movie gangsters (or rather, their writers, mostly) stole from the real gangsters. In his article on Huffington Post, Jeffrey Gusfield notes that the actor Edward G. Robinson sat at the back of the courtroom during part of Al Capone’s tax evasion trial and took notes.

Some of the phrases they used are still heard today, but most have gone by the wayside. Or, if they are used, it’s purposefully, to seem old. Phrases like “it’s the bee’s knees” or “the cat’s pajamas”  originated in the 1920s (though I’m pretty sure a gangster wouldn’t be caught dead saying such silly things!) When’s the last time you heard someone called a “Mrs. Grundy”? Probably never, except maybe in an Archie comic book. (Mrs. Grundy = a priggish, prudish, person.) Of course, don’t call a gangster that–he’s liable to take you for a ride if you do.

It’s pretty tempting to write my gangsters this way, and to use lots of the 1920s and 1930s slang, but a few choice phrases can go a long way. However, I know I’m going to have to work in a “You ain’t sore, are ya?” into the dialogue somewhere. It’s just too classic not to use!

Check out some more 1920s slang here, and below is a clip from the film ‘The Roaring Twenties’, starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Article: Language is Music (from the New Yorker)

I just read a fascinating article posted in the New Yorker, by Mary Hawthorne, entitled LANGUAGE IS MUSIC. Most of the piece is a response (from various translators) regarding an editorial by Lawrence Summers in the NYT, which opined that, ‘English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile.

Naturally, there was much disagreement over his points in numbered paragraph 5. Quite honestly, I do think that learning a second (or third) language is something that ought to be done. It needs to be taught properly at the lower grades, when learning of languages has been shown to be easier. There ought to be more opportunities for immersion, as well. Learning another language is learning a different way to think, a different way to view the world. And, as David Bellos states, ‘mastery of a foreign language is a prerequisite for understanding how to use your own.’

Am I biased? Yes, probably. I would have loved to have decent instruction in French when I was younger, but the teachers I had most years barely knew any more than their students, having (I’m guessing) drawn the short straw or had the free period needing filled. (And, alas, my parents chose not to put me in French immersion schooling, though I think I would have done well.) So now I plod along, working haphazardly to learn a bit more French. To be honest, properly learning a foreign language is a lot of work. With everything else that I do, I just don’t have time to devote hours every day to study.

Still, I’ll keep at it, though progress is slow. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading French works in translation, and maybe someday I’ll know enough French to read Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘L’Invitée’. I have a copy, and it’s waiting for that moment.