Sunday, December 29, 2013

Of Mice and Men Linguistically

The Canard Enchaîné (to which I am a proud subscriber) edition of December 11, 2013 published an article entitled “Do you speak franglish.”  This article was in response to an article in the Parisien of December 9, 2013 decrying the large scale entry of English expressions into French.  The gist of the Canard Enchaîné article was to question why, since English has no problem with French borrowings, the French should have a problem with the English language imports.  Among the cited examples of Frenchisms in English are matinee, je ne sais quoi, deluxe, cul-de-sac, petite (size), and bra.

This issue is not new.  I am reminded me of the Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which correctly noted that the upper class spoke a Russian that was strongly French, to the point of barely being able to have a conversion in pure Russian, like many Israeli Russians today.  To the best of my knowledge, this weakness in their native tongue did not seem to bother the vast majority of Russians, poor and rich alike.  In Israel when the Technion was founded, German was the mother language of most of the professors and was almost declared the language of teaching, not Hebrew.  Today in Germany, many job interviews are conducted in English, which I somehow find shocking given how important national pride is often connected with language. So, the matter of the acceptability of linguistic mercantilism, i.e. not allowing imports, is far from straight-forward.

It appears that countries that are secure in their cultural identity have no problem allowing foreign words to enrich their lives.  The expression it is no skin off my back would seem to apply.  By contrast, more insecure cultures, including the French in my opinion as they insist too much on their superiority, fret over the loss of linguistic “purity”.  In response to the Parisien article, the “language of Molière” disappeared long before Macdo and en direct live arrived in France.  Is modern French any less expressive than 17th century French?  Is modern English less rich than Shakespearean English?  They are clearly different and include words from much wider sources.  However, each language is clearly distinct from each other in form and identity. 

It takes a confident person to accept and embrace change and novelty.   Likewise, it takes a confident culture to accept that foreign words can enrich the existing vocabulary, even if a native word already exists.  As English has proven, there is no problem being able to use tiredness and fatigue.  Neither word has become extinct due to its competition.  France has been struggling with the domination of English for some now.  I believe that while English will not disappear, nor will French, albeit a bit a franglished.  Vive la difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment