Mort à la Différence!

Once again, my blog becomes a harbinger for things-to-come. Just weeks after I wondered (in a comment thread) why the French Archives de Guerre (SHD, an official French governmental agency, mind you) didn’t have a French equivalent for “le Wi-Fi” on its website, it turns out there’s been a possible sea-change in official policy towards protecting the French language from foreign infiltration. Those familiar with French culture, and with the history of Cardinal Richelieu’s l’Académie française, know that there’s been a long tradition of keeping the French language French, through legislative means as necessary. Depending on your opinion of French culture, that’s either a good or bad thing. For what it’s worth, English authors like Defoe and Swift failed to convince their own government to set up a comparable English Academy, much to the chagrin of non-native (and more than a few native) English speakers ever since.

It gets a bit more complicated when we include the tendency of French to take a lot of words to say things. Feel fee to point me to some linguistic study, but my wife, a computer programmer, can confirm that she constantly has to lengthen the width of her web form columns when converting a technical English-language form to French (with French translations provided by French speakers). The result, as a New York Times article points out, is that the term “wi-fi” formally translates into “accès sans fil à l’Internet”, which is great unless you want to use more than 113 of a tweet’s 140 characters.

But as the world globalizes, and as computer technology breaks down barriers between countries (see map below), convenience increasingly wins out. As does character count.

Total views of Skulking blog since Feb. 2012, by country

Total views of Skulking blog since Feb. 2012, by country

Now, apparently, the French establishment is beginning to relax a bit, and bow to the inevitable mishmashing of languages around the world by allowing foreign words into the official vernacular. That, I think, is a good thing.

Numerous news outlets are reporting on the recent comments by the French minister of culture online, some behind paywalls no doubt. Here’s just one.



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