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Joan of Arc Spins In Grave as France Debates Use of English in College Courses


The lower house of France’s legislative branch voted this week to allow the country’s universities to teach more classes in English. Up until now, French schools have been required to teach in their mother tongue. But there are some exceptions to this rule, and the proposal that just passed expanded the exceptions to this rule.

The vote sparked a huge controversy. Some pointed criticism came from right-wing MPs, who were shocked at the idea of compromising the purity of the French tongue. The Telegraph reports:

“Shall we speak English in this French Parliament one day? “, Daniel Fasquelle, a university professor and MP for the UMP party exclaimed in English. “This is a very bad signal for French language speakers around the world.”

Conservative MP Jacques Myard said: “A people that speaks more and more in a foreign language loses its identity more and more” […]

One MP, Sophie Dessus quoted celebrated French author Jean de La Fontaine, who wrote: “Refrain from selling the heritage that your parents left you, a treasure is hidden within.”

On the other side of the issue, the left-wing French newspaper Libération published its whole front page in English in advance of the vote to support the measure. The FT:

In an editorial – in French – Libération fully backed the proposal, saying the “real scandal” was the “intolerable mediocrity of the French in the language of Shakespeare”. It added: “Let’s stop behaving like the last representatives of a besieged Gallic village.”

No doubt Joan of Arc is spinning in her grave, but this decision may have been necessary in the face of increasing globalization. The government hopes that a wider use of English will attract more students from non-European countries, like China, India and South Korea. Without it, higher education minister Geneviève Fioraso fears that French universities could be increasingly marginalized in the global marketplace, leaving the country’s education system as just “five specialists on Proust around a table.”

In truth, those concerned about the future of La Belle France have bigger fish to fry.  While French cultural savants huff and puff about the state of their language, the country is suffering massive unemployment and fiscal distress. And given the widespread youth discontent with the economic state of the country, French authorities are probably wise to ensure that the university system prepares young people for careers in a business world that increasingly speaks English.

[Image of France Courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Corlyss

    In the early 90s Bill Bryson penned a fantastic book, English: The Mother Tongue and How It Got That Way. In it he cited uncounted examples of English becoming the world’s second language. At the time he wrote, there were more Chinese students of ESL than there were native English speakers. One of those examples was that of the Journal of the Pasteur Institute, which since forever had published a French edition and an English edition. The Institute had decided reluctantly to terminate publication of the French edition because nobody read it. The fact is, English is the language of technology, entertainment (music, movies, and tv), business, trade, science, air travel, and communications – all the endeavors that have shrunk the globe, fostered globalism, and promoted people-to-people contact across geographical, political, economic, and educational barriers. The French and other language guardians who have established language police and tried to force people to avoid Englishisms or pay a fine were fighting a losing battle the moment they decided to create such police. It’s time to acknowledge reality and go with the flow.

  • Jim Luebke

    Latin was dominant because it was the language of the last great empire, for the better part of a millenia.

    English is the language of the last great empire, as well as the language of the current great empire.

    It may well become the language of humanity.

  • JC

    I have a feeling Asterix would approve.. after all he went to the aid of Anticlimax, his British second cousin.


  • charlesrwilliams

    If you go to Quebec you will see the consequences of propping up a culture with legislation. Quebec is a cultural and economic backwater.

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