Sunday, January 27, 2013

Vive la resistance

Not for the first time, the French Academy has taken a stand to prevent more English words entering their language. This time, the word is hashtag, which as we have seen from the posts about 2012's Word of the Year, has become a nearly ubiquitous term in lots of online discourse, and even in spoken language too. According to the Academy, the term should, wherever possible, be replaced with the French term mot-diese.

In the Daily Mail, the story is reported with a degree of relish, but look at the comments below and you get an even better sense of how, for many people, ideas about the English language are linked inextricably to a sense of national identity and history.  But among all the celebration that the old enemy, Johnny French, is losing the language battle, there's a realisation even among some of the more rabidly nationalistic Mail readers that while English is spreading around the world, it's not necessarily the same English that's been used in the UK in the past.

As we've looked at here - and as David Crystal, key speaker at next month's emagazine English Language conference, has commented upon many times before - English is changing as it spreads, but also growing differently in different parts of the world. The model is not necessarily one of English getting weaker as it spreads, but separate poles of English varieties growing and evolving in their own distinct ways.

That's probably not much comfort to the French who won't really care if it's English English, American English or Indian English "threatening" their language, but it's part of a bigger global picture of change and variation that is evolving all the time.


Mo Hassan said...

Hi Dan

Are the French trying to preserve their own language, and hence their identity? And perhaps culture?
Can they stifle the tide of English being global?
And through the process of globalisation, will English ultimately undermine the language(s) of other nations?
In the Middle East, English is being treated as a pharaoh these days.
What is best: to have one universal language (such as English) all over the world, or a spread of languages?
If the English language dominates, will the local national languages die out or become more prosperous?
It makes me wonder if the French have a point. Although I am sure it is a losing battle.
Just a few questions for the learned people.
Thank you
Mo Hassan

Dan said...

Hi Mo

Thanks, they're interesting questions. I can understand why the French might want to defend their language as a means of preserving their identity and culture, but I think it's very hard to turn back the language tide.

What's really interesting about the spread of English around the world is that it is clearly a very different form of English to the one/s we speak and write here. There's even antagonism towards it from some UK English speakers because they feel they're losing control of "their" language.

One blogger on another site put it well, I think when s/he said "The English have as much control over the English language as the Italians do over pizza, or the Indians over chicken korma"!