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The Language Police: Trying To Keep Languages Pure

Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française
The Language Police: Trying To Keep Languages Pure
on October, 18 2013

Because of the rise in new terms and phrases , some organizations in some countries attempt, yes – attempt, to shield their languages and keep them as pure as possible.

Computerese invades the Greek language

In Greece for instance, more than a decade ago, a concerned group of intellectuals including philosophy professors, playwrights, and archaeologists, as well as politicians, banded together to issue a manifesto against what they saw as the corruption of their ancient language. The corruptor? The Internet. Internet and computer jargon are mostly, if not totally, in English. There was a rise in what the group called "Greeklish;" Greek plus English-based words used mostly in relation to computers and the Internet equals Greeklish.

The manifesto blamed the computer industry back then for polluting the language of respected and revered Greek writers and philosophers. The people behind the manifesto said that the people of Greece should not allow their language to be bastardized.

As expected, computer industry defenders pointed out that Greek language software were part of computers sold in the country. Windows applications came in Greek versions. The accusing finger should be pointed to users and not the computer industry. Plus, the influx of English or even other foreign words did not only come from the computer industry but also from other sources.

Intellectuals, scholars, politicians and the public continue to debate the use of Greeklish. Although the use of Greeklish is more prevalent in the younger generation, Greeklish is also found in more formal communication. Just last year, the host of the Greek parody show Radio Aryvla, Antonis Kanakis, together with a group of friends, began a campaign on TV and radio to eradicate Greeklish. They believe that the daily use of Greeklish by the current generation may one day abolish Greek writing.

France says no to Anglicisms

France was way ahead of Greek in terms of protecting its language. The French culture ministry in Paris, through the General Commission for Terminology has been up in arms for years. This French language enforcer, which is under the guidance of the Académie Française, came up with a list of foreign words banned from being used by its citizens.

Majority of the words are in English and have been coming from the computer industry. Even Hollywood films and English songs were targeted as they were sources of English terms that have entered the proud French language. These banned words, which can be found in a government website, are given their Gallic alternatives. Some of the banned words are "blog," "email," "fast food," "Wi-Fi," "coach," and "podcast," and just recently, “hashtag.”

Académie Française, which has been around since 1635, during the reign of King Louis XIII, is the authority over the French language. Critics however believe that the French language is alive and subject to change. The Académie scored points when legislation was passed back in 1994 mandating that all official government publications, contracts, and advertisements be in French. The broadcast media also operates under a law that states that music on television and radio should be 40% in French.

The ministry argued that the invasion of English words was watering down France's rich language. They believe that there was no need to use English expressions when French translations were available. Purer alternatives to foreign words were provided but not necessarily practical for people to use in everyday communication. "Courriel" for instance is to be used instead of "email," and recently, “mot-diese” is to be used instead of “hashtag.”

No to English words in China

Just like Greece and France, China is aiming to keep the Chinese language pure. China is not out to ban all English words from being used or spoken by its citizens. But it has banned certain English words, foreign words and foreign language acronyms (examples, CEO, WTO and DNA) from appearing in Chinese publications. Vague words or words that can neither be classified as either Chinese or foreign were also included in the ban.

The General Administration of Press and Publication was at the helm of issuing this regulation. It stated that if a word or phrase needs to be written in a language other than Chinese, there should be a corresponding Chinese explanation after the foreign words. Translation of foreign names, places and proper nouns into Chinese was also mandated. When using translations, conventional translations must be used and not any other creative translation. This ban came two years after the Beijing Summer Olympics back in 2008, which was when China was desperately making sure that their citizens would be able to speak English in order to accommodate tourists from all over the world coming to the games.

There is also a campaign in China for their people to learn proper English. There is an increase in English language training in Chinese schools. Knowing how to speak English correctly will hopefully combat the rise of Chinglish, which is the translation of Chinese words and phrases into English. The result of Chinglish often brings a smile on English speakers' faces because, admittedly, the translations are quite amusing. This is because there are no direct translations for certain words and phrases. Plus, there is also an element of culture getting into the way of proper translation and correct grammar. If an English speaker reads Chinglish, he may literally be lost in translation. Examples of Chinglish are: "wash after relief," "don't press the glass to get hurt" and "slip and fall down carefully."

Foreign media and even some Chinese intellectuals are questioning whether the collective ban on English words, foreign words and foreign acronyms is really a good idea. There are many words that cannot be translated or be explained succinctly in Chinese. As China continues to open its doors to foreign tourist, foreign trade, foreign thinking and global capitalism the use of English and foreign words will be unavoidable.

Can languages across the globe remain pure?

Other languages are being invaded not just by English words or "computerese" but also of other foreign words. Those who are passionate about keeping their native tongues pure cannot be faulted for being very concerned by this phenomenon that has been around for many years since the time of explorers. However, the younger generation and those who are exposed to international media and various forms of entertainment from the west cannot also be admonished. By the looks of it, languages across the globe will not be able to remain as pure as before. Banning words can only make these banned words more powerful. Language defenders should find a more creative approach to keeping the purity of their language. But at the same time, because of globalization, the language police should be able to roll with the influx of Anglicisms.

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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