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Govt urges youth to say 'non' to English words

Text by Apoorva PRASAD

Latest update : 2010-04-05

In yet another attempt to rid French of the insidious influence of English, a competition launched by the French government has found le bon mot replacements for words such as “buzz” and “chat”.

In an attempt to rekindle love for the French language among the youth, France’s junior minister for cooperation and Francophonie awarded six students on Tuesday for their entries to ‘Francomot’, an online students-only competition to find the ideal replacements for popular English words in everyday French. 

Alain Joyandet launched the competition in January to try and find a way of getting young French people to give up their penchant for tainting ‘the language of Molière’ with words like “buzz”, “chat”, “talk”, “tuning” and “newsletter”.

“Too many Anglicisms have entered our everyday life in France,” bemoaned Joyandet in his prize-giving speech on Tuesday. The odd selection of words vilified in this round of Anglo-French conflict all relate to new media or technology, and have apparently become all too common in everyday parlance.

To replace “buzz” – as in “online buzz” - the competition jury selected “ramdam”, a word originating from Arabic (evidently considered more Francophone than English in this case).

“Chat” was vanquished by two entries – “eblabla” and “tchatche”. Joyandet noted that the English word, like all the others in the competition, already had an official French alternative. France’s Commission of Terminology, a Ministry of Culture panel, notes “dialogue” (which has the same meaning in French and in English) as the alternative to chat.

“Tuning” – as in tuning cars – became “bolidage”. “Newsletter” was foiled by “infolettre” and “talk” was valiantly ousted by “débat”, which indeed means "debate" in English.

A few English words of French origin used in this article

Nearly a third of all English words are derived from French, according to some estimates. Many became part of the language after the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD but others are more recent.

Penchant (17th century)

Parlance (14th century)

Bon mot (18th century)

Vanquish (14th century)

Taint (14th century)


On the jury were a dozen French personalities including the rapper MC Solaar (praised as “a dextrous handler of words” by Joyandet). Importantly, it was headed by Jean-Christophe Rufin, a member of the Académie Francaise  - a venerable and peculiarly French institution, charged officially with the guardianship of the language.
The “immortal” members of the Académie have fought hard to maintain the primacy of French, the 14th most widely spoken language in the world (English is the third). In 2008, they even resisted the official recognition of France’s regional tongues, such as Breton and Basque.

The Académie, the Commission and Joyandet’s competition are all attempts by France to preserve its “cultural exception”. But it remains to be seen if the new words will actually be used by anyone.

Joyandet reminded his audience of recent successes: “‘walkman’ [and] 'software', two Anglo-Saxon words that have naturally been replaced by ‘baladeur’ and ‘logiciel’,” he said. But in general, French institutions have mostly failed in getting young people to resist the “menace” of English.

Date created : 2010-03-31