FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Language Wars of France

by SERGE HALIMI

Paris.

A single market, a single currency, a single language? The doors and bridges shown on Euro notes already reflect the fluid nature of deals between businessmen with no home and no history. So should students be free to cross borders, using English as a passport valid everywhere (especially in French universities), with no need for dictionaries?

We are told that French universities, like the rest of France, are “bemused”: the people in them still speak French… The minister for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, wants to get rid of this language barrier that discourages “students from emerging countries — Korea, India, Brazil” from coming to France.

Yet the language of Molière is officially spoken in 29 countries (the language of Shakespeare in 56). And the number of French speakers is steadily increasing, especially in Africa. But France does not want African students, to judge by the obstacle course it imposes on them: they are not rich enough, not prepared to pay the (substantial) fees charged by commercial colleges or engineering schools. In US universities, where the proportion of foreign students (3.7%) is much lower than in France (13%), there has been no attempt to make up the deficit by teaching in Chinese or Portuguese. But Fioraso claims, slightly ironically: “If we do not allow courses to be conducted in English, we shall be left with five people sitting round a table discussing Proust”. Before Fioraso, Nicolas Sarkozy made clear his contempt for the humanities by pitying students who were forced to read Madame de La Fayette’s novel La Princesse de Clèves instead of studying law or business.

The 1994 Toubon law provides that “the language of instruction, examinations and competitive examinations, as well as theses and dissertations in state and private educational establishments, shall be French.” A few eminent academics object to this 20th-century provision on the ground that if we defend multilingualism (still very much alive in most international organisations in the 21st century), it will deter English-speakers from studying in Paris (1).

But the attractiveness of a language is not just about the sale of higher education to “emerging” countries. It is the product of a manner of communication, of thinking about the world now and the world to come. France has struggled to defend its cinema and songs: must it accept that research and science will be one day be conducted exclusively in the (often mangled) language of the current superpower?

The linguist Claude Hagège says that “the paradox is that today the people who are responsible for Americanisation and the promotion of English are not American.” Fortunately, people who are not French (notably in Africa and Quebec) have enabled cultural diversity to flourish. Political leaders should be inspired by their tenacity, not by the foolish fatalism of a few academics.

SERGE HALIMI is director of Le Monde Diplomatique. He has written several books, including one  on the French press, Les nouveaux chiens de garde and another on the French left in the 20th century – Quand la gauche essayait – both are fine works.  He can be reached at Serge.Halimi@monde-diplomatique.fr

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

More articles by:

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Louis Proyect
The Witchfinders
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
David Yearsley
On the Road to Rochester, By Bike
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail