‘Grandma and Grandpa live in France, not here on earth with us’ - Maggie then aged 3 to her baby sister Jo.
This morning I had a letter from Maggie’s headmistress at the nursery school in Glasgow. Maggie had written a lovely letter, copiously decorated with red hearts. Enclosed was this photo of the French and Scottish flags she had made.
Maggie’s class of four-year-olds are learning about different countries and Maggie is very proud that her Granny and Grandpa live in France. In the letter she asked the question – “Why does everyone in France speak French?”.
That’s a tough one. Is she being egocentric and expecting everyone to speak English? Is she asking why French is different from English? Has she been following current affairs?
En bref I replied that French language is result of the Roman invasion about 100 years BC, the subsequent Latin being confounded with the languages spoken by the Germanic tribes who invaded in the 6th century. On the other hand English is a result of invasions by these same Germanic tribes, the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. Hence there are a lot of words common to both French and English.
After the Norman invasion in 1066 French was the language spoken in the royal courts and by the nobility. It was, and still is, the language of fashion, art and culture. For hundreds of years it was the most influential language in Europe.
Maggie goes to school in Glasgow so I told her the Scots have only been speaking English since the early 1600s when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England and the royal court moved to London. Scots English still retains many of the old Scots and Gaelic words.
The French language has been regulated since 1635 by the Académie Française which was set up to protect French from the Italian influence. More recently the threat has been from the English, particularly American-English. In 1994 the government passed the Touban Law which made French compulsory in government funded schools, government publications, workplaces and advertisements. It even restricted the proportion of English pop songs on the radio.
Unfortunately the internet has led to an invasion of English words. And the English are so abysmal at learning foreign language that franglais is de rigueur. Who can forget Bill Wyman singing “Je suis un rock star”? Incidentally Mick Jagger speaks excellent French.
The current debate is whether some courses in universities should be taught in English. The idea is to attract more foreign students. Many private business schools have been successfully teaching courses in English for several years. But students who want to come and study in France often come for the French culture and lifestyle and learning French is part of the experience. It’s better to teach foreign students to speak French than dumb down the teaching with Globish (another new horrible word describing the inadequate English of non-English speakers). See yesterday’s article on the BBC website - Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?
Not that I don’t think Franglais is useful; to put in the few French words you know and pad it out in English with a French accent with the hope that someone will understand what you mean. And I love the way the French take English words and add -ing. In an art shop yesterday we laughed at le scrapbooking. And there’s le shampooing (shampoo) and un relooking (make-over), le footing (jogging), le parking ……….
There’s the question about whether the language you use influences your thinking and the perception of the world around you. After watching a bilingual child talking in English then switching to French I really think it changes your character. I think a lot of ‘Frenchness’ would be lost if the language succums further to Anglo-American influences.