From “Guardian Weekly Letters,” Guardian Weekly 14 June 2O13:
French language is in decline
Andrew Gallix pretty well sums up the debates that we have been reading in the French press about a possible revision of the Toubon law to allow a few university classes to be taught in English (31 May). I agree: the French language has been under threat lately, but not from the borrowing of any foreign word. Any language will shine by and dazzle with what it produces, but sadly, we have made nihilistic literature our speciality, to cite only literature.
I still cannot figure out why our critics bask in such books as the ones by Michel Houellebecq or Christine Angot, to name but two authors. Reading the last by Angot, the depiction in minute detail of an incest, one realises that Marcel Pagnol and the nostalgia of his childhood are definitively over, as is the wit of Astérix. The enthusiasts of the French language, like Claude Hagège, mainly regret that French is not in the dominant position — our lost American future. Hagège states that English implies economic liberalism, and hence the capitalism bias. But this thesis forgets that English also was the language of Henry David Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.
Now, with the possible new law, I would rather be concerned about the poor English that French university professors might soon impose on their students: oh no…
The historical irony of the French tongue is that, were it not for imperialistic Latin, it would have turned out something like Breton or Gaelic (or even possibly German, judging from appropriated nouns). Romance French began as a Latin superimposed on the subjugated (and preliterate) Celts. And, were it not for Julius Caesar’s scribe’s ear, we would have no first record of Celtic culture: no Lutetia (Paris), no plucky chieftains like Vercingetorix and Dumnorix, nor any British Boudicca, druids and naked warriors in woad. And alas, no Astérix and Obelix, sprung from Goscinny’s head.
Andrew Gallix (delightfully Astérixesque name, that) formidably defends besieged French as a medium of instruction against the steamroller of American English, but quixotically. Even former African colonies are beginning to relinquish French pedagogy for English. Like Latin, French is fated to become an antiquarian, literary language, a historical cul-de-sac, its vestiges living on through English (as Latin lives on through French).
Marianne Faithfull saw it coming on in the 80s: “Don’t say it in Russian, don’t say it in German, say it in — broken English.”
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US