Parlez-vous Franglais?

If you asked British person what they thought of Franglais, they would probably smile and chuckle (if they knew what it was, that is), but if you asked a more traditional and patriotic French person, they might call it an abomination, or a taint on the French language. This is because Franglais means different things in England and in France. In England it refers to the jumbled combination of the two languages which usually sounds ridiculous, whereas in France, it is considered as the use of English words in French, such as “week-end” or “tramway”, which is seen as a sort of invasion of the language. However there is a third meaning to Franglais, one that is unique to the bilingual community. It is literally the act of speaking both languages at the same time, within the same sentence. One will start saying something in English, but switch to French if they can’t find the English word. This is either seen as a pretentious way of showing off one’s bilingualism, or a very lazy way of speaking; if you can’t find the word in one language, you just say it in the other.

The French are very proud of their cultural heritage, so much so that any affront to it is seen as almost an attack. In 1966, Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou set up the “Haute Comité pour la Défense et l’Expansion de la Langue Française”, which is a government branch that was originally set up to defend the French language against Americanisms which they felt were too present in the culture. This reflects the views of most of the French people of that generation, which has been passed down to the next one too. The Académie Française, a body created in the 1600s to “labour with all the care and diligence possible, to give exact rules to our language, to render it capable of treating the arts and sciences”, is currently campaigning for the removal of many words that come directly from English, such as “email” (to be replaced with “courriel”), “Walkman” (to be replaced with “baladeur”), and the poor use of certain French words, including some popular French expressions like “pas de souci”, meaning “no problem”. It’s not just the Académie who has a vendetta against the so called Franglais; many “ordinary” French people dislike the use of these words as well, but nowadays, they seem to be around much more, thanks to the omnipresence of English and American culture in France.

While the French view Franglais as something very negative, the English have a very different perception of it, probably because the word means two separate things in both languages. Franglais has always been used for comedy in English culture, tracing its roots back to Shakespeare and, even further back, Chaucer. His character the Prioress doesn’t speak “Parisian French”, but a form of cockney originating from Stratford-atte-Bow, which sometimes doesn’t sound like French at all. Another example in English literature is Henry V by William Shakespeare. A French princess is trying to learn English, but the word “foot” as pronounced by her maid sounds too much like “foutre” (vulgar French, “semen” or “to have sexual intercourse” if used as a verb). She then decides that English is too obscene a language to learn. More recently in the 80’s BBC sitcom “Allo’ Allo”, set during the Second World War in a café in occupied France, the characters who are meant to be speaking French speak with heavy French accents but speak English, and when they are meant to be speaking English, they switch to banter in an upper-class English accent. These uses of Franglais in British literature and popular culture show the difference in perception of what it is in England and France.
However there is yet another definition given to Franglais by another group of people: the bilingual community, especially the younger ones. This is especially present in the western banlieues of Paris where there is an ever-growing English-speaking community, mostly due to the high concentration of international schools in that area. People who speak both languages are extremely lucky to be able to do so, but it also results in not being able to remember every word that you need at any given time. So when a group of bilingual people are talking, you will often hear them switching from one language to the next, sometimes even within the same sentence! Being part of this community myself, when speaking to some friends, I automatically revert to Franglais, without even realising that I am doing so. It becomes a sort of second nature, and, it is true, a fairly lazy way of talking, as we do not force ourselves to stick to one language.

It is interesting to see how Franglais is perceived by different groups of people and different nationalities, and just how contrasting the British and French views are. With the very high number of French people now living and working in London, chances are that you might hear someone speaking Franglais (as seen by bilingual people) if you live there, so listen out next time you are on the tube!
What are your views on Franglais? Do you think that English words should be cut out of the French language?

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