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How the French Promote and Protect Their Language

Sign in French
How the French Promote and Protect Their Language
on September, 16 2013

Though there are a number of minority languages, there is just one official language in France – the French language or Français to native speakers. The French people are known to be very vigilant in protecting their language. Recently, efforts to safeguard Français in France have been renewed due to the threat of Anglicization.

English invaders

A bill has been introduced which seeks to allow English usage in some university courses in France. The French Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso recommended an amendment to the Toubon Law of 1994 to allow universities in France to teach courses in English in order to attract foreign students. This campaign to use English in universities on a limited scale has triggered the natural instinct of the French to protect their mother tongue.

Measures intended for language promotion

Publication by individual persons is not regulated by the government of France. But it is required by law that French be used as the primary language in the workplace and in commerce. It is also mandated by law that French be spoken within the borders of the country. But the French government did not stop there in terms of language promotion. They have also made inroads in promoting the French language throughout Europe, in the European Union, and the rest of the world as well. Several French language institutions with government support are scattered in the inhabited continents across the planet.

Language protection initiatives

The French resistance to English language invasion could be explained by the fact that Français is at the very heart of the identity of the French. Many observers agree that this bond is much stronger among the French than in any other nation.

In 1635 the French created the Académie Française which functions as the official custodian of the French language. The institution was formed at that time to protect the French language from Italian influences. Today, there is a new invader – the English language and emotions are running high. The Académie Française referred to the proposal by the Minister of Higher Education as “linguistic treason.” Top linguists were very quick to argue that the identity of France is at stake and that the risk of French becoming a dead language is all too real with the increasing propensity for utilizing “English borrowings.”

Guarding against English expressions

The French are consciously guarding against English invasion from within. Thus, the authorities make sure that popular English terms have an equivalent in the vernacular. To avoid adoption of expressions from America that easily cross the Atlantic, the guardians of the language ensure that translations are provided.

However, with the digital revolution, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the guardians and protectors of the French language to respond to the increasing popularity of American expressions in pop culture. Anglicisms are just moving too fast for French to keep up. For instance, young people find it easier to say they are sending an “e-mail” rather than a “courriel.” English is the language of digital technology and the wave that is sweeping across the world is arriving in France without delay especially given the expansive connectivity provided by the Internet.

This table presents a few of the French equivalents prepared by the Académie and included in a volume called, “Dire, Ne pas dire” (To say, Not to Say”) with a special section on Anglicisms. Here are some of the “unwanted” words from English that is seeping into France’s daily activities:

English/ Anglicisms/ “Franglais” proper French
supporter (verb; to support) soutenir; encourager
le best of le meilleur de
top, must, hyper incomparable, très bien, or inégalable
casting (in movies) passer une audition
networking travail en réseau
le binge drinking biture fissa
hotline numéro d’urgence
brainstorming remue-méninges


Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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