Speaking in tongues

13Oct11

The Academie Française, the “official moderator of the French language”, has launched a web page Dire, ne pas dire which attempts to combat the Anglicization of the language.

The page will highlight neologisms and English words which are invading popular speech and suggest more appropriate French alternatives. Words and phrases such as: le name-dropping, le binge-drinking and best-of (we can take little pride in our exports…).

Of course this will fail to stem the tide of English words which seep into languages all over the world, powered by TV, the internet and business people’s love of a new phrase (business people like the one-upmanship that a new word implies).

But ‘loan words’ are nothing new. All languages are full of words imported from other tongues. Many of the most widely used loan words are associated with technology and administration (management). When one tribe or nation came up with a new idea or a new invention it was always natural for the new word, which described the idea, to enter the language. In English we still use many Latin and Greek loan words in mathematics, legal process, organisation and education.

I can picture the Ancient Britons at their business meeting, sitting on logs around the fire, two thousand years ago when one of them first used the phrase “we can make it a century” (Latin root) instead of “we can make it one hundred” (Germanic root).  The other bearded Britons raised their eyebrows at each other and twitched under their furs thinking “flash git”, whilst making a mental note to drop the word “century” into their next conversation with the goatherd.

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One Response to “Speaking in tongues”

  1. Le name-dropping? Really? I can only express my disappointment at the entire French Nation.
    And that has nothing to do with the activities of 15 of their number last saturday morning.


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