Yesterday we were amused by President Macron and his faux pas during his visit to Australia when he described the Prime Minister’s wife as ‘delicious’. Of course he was thinking about the French word délicieux which can mean tasty but also agreeable or very nice. There are lots of words similar in French and English but sometimes they don’t quite have the same meaning. It makes me smile to talk about fraises sauvages as strawberries don’t seem too dangerous. And it always feels impolite to demand.
Without faux amis it would be a lot easier to speak French. After all we pinched a lot of words from the French and it seems reasonable to suppose that if you don’t know a word but say it in English with a French accent it might be understood. But you might get some puzzled looks. Chef in France is not just the chap in the kitchen but the boss of any business. Débutants are simply beginners, not young ladies in ballgowns.
But it is astonishing to find how much English is used in everyday life in France. You go to the hairdresser’s for a shampooing (pr. sham-pwan) and brushing for a relooking (makeover). As a hobby (distraction) you could do scrapbooking. With the TV we can do bingewatching and zapping (channel hopping) and watch les peoples (celebrities). J’ai checké mes emails et j’ai liké sur facebook. I can go out footing in my baskets and short.
Sarkozy tried to stop English words entering the French language but without success. Macron likes his English phrases as in “Make our planet great again” but one of his projects is to raise the French language from its ranking of 6th in the world. Only a small proportion live in the Hexagon as 80% of French speakers live in La Francophonie, a club of 57 outposts, the majority being ex-colonies in Africa. By 2050, due to the rapidly increasing population, 85% of the world’s French speakers will live in Africa.
Last November he visited Burkina Faso to promote his ideas about encouraging French speakers and doubling the intake in French schools abroad.
President Macron visits schools in Burkina Faso (photo Paris Match)
There he met with protests from African writers who are not treated as mainstream authors and whose literature is not studied in French schools. The African countries see this encouragement to use French as a cover for the continuing meddling by the French government into their affairs.
Macron also wants French to have a greater presence online and to become the dominant language in EU institutions. At the moment English is the daily working language of Brussels. In 2004 several Eastern European countries joined the EU and communication was only possible in English. Likewise Globish, a kind of simplified English, tends to be used in Taizé.
Macron also plans to refurbish (at a cost of €200m) a château in Villers-Cotterêts, north-east of Paris, and make it a global centre for the promotion and study of the French language.
It is a long-held French fantasy that French can overtake English as the world’s preferred language. It’s reliving a dream from the past, like the British Commonwealth, a nice idea but unattainable. Just take note of what language is used for the Eurovision Song Contest!