Monday, June 2, 2014

Un renard in le henhouse?

Cardinal Richelieu must be rolling in his grave. L'Académie française, his 350-year-old institution charged with protecting the French language, has just inducted an Englishman. A bilingual Englishman, but nevertheless a full English-blooded, Cambridge educated Brit!

Sir Michael Edwards, a poet and scholar who writes in both French and English, is the first non-native francophone to be named to this august body founded under the reign of King Louis XIII, and whose charter obligates it to "clean the language of all the filth it has caught." Seeing that one can go to Paris for un week-end, leaving your car in le parking, while you faire du jogging, topping off your workout with un cheeseburger, I'd say the Académie has been asleep on the job.

Coincidentally or otherwise, on the very day that Sir Michael was inducted, the editors of Le Petit Robert announced that they were accepting the words “selfie” and “hashtag” into their dictionary -- and by extension, French.) One can’t help but wonder, is choosing a Brit to guard the French language akin to inviting a fox into the henhouse, or do the members of the Académie figure that their language is better appreciated by francophile foreigners than native Frenchmen these days?

One thing is certain: the Académie has its hands full these days, as the Internet and American technology are throwing all kinds of challenges at the official French language commissions charged with coming up with French version of such terms as "podcast," "wi-fi" and "cloud computing." The tendency of the French to be verbose works strongly against them in this Twitter age. Witness the words they came up with for "wi-fi": accès sans fil à l’Internet. Which is why in French cafés today you see signs for "wi-fi" (which the French adoringly pronounce "wee-fee").

Perhaps they figure an Englishman can help sort this all out. Bonne chance, Sir Michael!

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