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  • In the war against English, we won't be undersold

    Theres a war against English, and its being led by our former allies, the French.  First Maurice Druon, a member of the prestigious Acadmie Franaise, proposed making French the official legal language of the European Union.  Now Georges Hage, the communist Dean of the French National Assembly, has joined with other militants to call for a social, political, and linguistic action defending French against Anglo-American domination.

    The French made war against English once before, in 1066, when William the Conqueror turned England into a colony, and there’s been enmity between the two languages ever since.  The first shot in the latest war against English is a Manifesto for the Defense of the French Language urging enemies of colonialism and lovers of diversity to choose French, the vehicle of liberté and the first line of defense against the cultural homogenization produced by English. 

    For the Manifesto’s signers, the language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Marseillaise, and the Internationale, is in danger from English, not just internationally, but at home in France as well.

    They see the greatest external threat to French as not the capitalist aggression of McDonald’s and WalMart, but “le Hollywood,” the American music and film industry hot to impose a uniform monolingual culture on the world – and then cash in on it.

    And the greatest internal threat to French?  The French themselves, who have betrayed the revolutions of 1789 and 1968 by replacing French whenever they can with “globish,” a stripped-down Basic English that both weakens the mother tongue and invites derision from anglophones whenever they hear it.

    Using language reminiscent of the Spring of ’68, when French students staged an uprising that brought down the government, the Manifesto calls for everyone – workers, young people, intellectuals, farmers, even immigrant workers, when they’re not too busy overturning cars and burning them – to join in a people’s collective of linguistic resistance, to expose and denounce all political, economic, commercial, and media aggression against the French language.

    And how will the battle against English be fought?  By openly opposing with collective force all English advertising, all films with American titles, all imported goods whose instructions are not in French, and by boycotting all brands and stores which privilege English (Druon and Hage, anti-English to the core, seem to think le boycott is actually a French word). 

    According to the Manifesto, mastering French is the key to citizenship.  To that end, Albert Salon and his International Francophone Forum (FFI) have called on candidates in the French presidential election to “solemnly affirm the right of francophones in all five continents to express themselves in their language.”

    In addition to requiring everything from labels to scientific conferences to be in French, FFI would require that “every worker on French soil has the right to express himself in French, and to receive all necessary information in that language.”

    And how will English defend itself against this second Norman invasion?  Jim Murphy, the British Minister for Employment, wants to deny unemployment benefits to immigrants who can’t speak English (though most of them aren’t francophones).  And Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he will not let England lose another Battle of Hastings.  Closer to home, Congressman Steve King (R-IA) has introduced the English Language Unity Act of 2007 (H. R. 997) which affirms the rights of all Americans to do business with their government exclusively in English.  According to the law, anyone denied that right can sue for relief.   

    Speak English in France, and you’ll be thrown in the Bastille, once they rebuild it.  Speak French in England, and they’ll let you starve.  But if H.R. 997 passes and you dare to speak French in the U. S. of A, you’ll be hauled into court, or if you’re an illegal francophone alien, spirited away to Guantanemo and tortured with freedom fries.

    As for the paranoia of affirming the right of the French or American citizens to be addressed, respectively, in French or English, there have been no documented cases of American officials ever refusing to speak English (most can’t speak another language anyway).  And French civil servants, usually known for denying any and all requests, have never refused to speak French. 

    So instead of trying to restore a former world language or protect the current one, speakers of French and English might do better to learn Chinese and Hindi, languages with so many speakers, and such booming economies, that one of them could easily become the next world language.  

joseph_m_sixpack@yahoo.com Feb 23, 2007 3:08 pm

It's hard to blame the French for wanting to protect their native tongue.  After all, language is the vehicle of culture, and no one wants to lose their culture to an encroaching invader.  I don't.  Do you?

Unfortunately, Hindi and "Chinese" (Mandarin) are no better at solving this language problem than French or English.  Each imposes the native language of one culture upon an unwilling majority, most of whom will never be remotely as fluent as their native-speaking counterparts.

A better solution for the French would be to support a project like Indigenous Dialogues, which enables long-neglected speakers of minority languages to communicate with one another on a fair, equal footing.  If it can work for the Tlingit, the Maasai and the Maya, it can work for former world powers, too.

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