The Olympics

French MPs say ‘non’ to English at the Paris Olympics

Author: Editors Desk Source: France 24
May 3, 2024 at 06:09
The modern Olympics were created by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin. © Ludovic Marin, AFP / file
The modern Olympics were created by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin. © Ludovic Marin, AFP / file

Having long battled the creeping use of English in advertising, music and film, French MPs have declared a new struggle: keeping their home Olympics this year free from anglicisms.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday, the lower house of parliament urged organisers of the 2024 Paris Games, as well as athletes, trainers and journalists to use French as much as possible.

Annie Genevard, the conservative sponsor of the resolution, expressed alarm to fellow MPs that "the Olympic Games reflect the loss of influence of our language."

She recalled the much-criticised slogan used for Paris' original bid for the Games – "Made for Sharing" – as well as other recent government-backed campaigns to promote the country such as "Choose France" or "Made in France."

Even the French rugby team had "Rugby World Cup" inscribed on their jerseys during the competition in France last year instead of "La Coupe du Monde de rugby."

"All of these examples demonstrate that the fight for the French language ... is never finished, even in the most official spheres," Genevard added.

The march of English globally has long infuriated French governments who have sought to protect the purity of their language at home while promoting its use abroad.

The country has an institution – the Académie Française – which has produced state-sanctioned dictionaries for three centuries that document and approve new terms or expressions, often translations of commonly used English words.

"Let's hope that 'planche a roulettes' replaces skateboard and 'rouleau du cap' point break (a surfing term), but I have my doubts," added Genevard.

Language row

French lawmakers passed landmark legislation 30 years ago designed to protect French – the 1994 Toubon Law – which made the language mandatory for advertising, product-labelling, and public announcements.

It also stipulated that radio stations had to play a minimum of 40 percent of French-language songs.


Franco-Malian superstar Aya Nakamura has been accused by French conservatives of mangling the language
Franco-Malian superstar Aya Nakamura has been accused by French conservatives of mangling the French language. © Miguel Medina / AFP

But the cultural influence of English, increased latterly by American streaming platforms such as Netflix, means French is constantly infiltrated by new terms, including in the sporting realm.

"You can't overlook the fact that many global sports events that are broadcast globally have chosen to use English for their communication, in their titles, slogans and advertising," Culture Minister Rachida Dati told parliament.

Thursday's resolution – backed by the ruling centrists and right-wingers but opposed by the left – was non-binding, she stressed.

Instructions for foreign visitors during the Olympics from July 26 to August 11 and Paralympics from August 28 to September 8 would be provided in English as well as other languages, she added.

The Paris Games have already been embroiled in a row about language after rumours that Franco-Malian R&B star Aya Nakamura was set to sing during the opening ceremony on July 26.The mega-star, the most streamed French artist in the world, mixes French, Arabic and words from West African dialects in her songs such as "Djadja".

She was accused of "vulgarity" and mangling the French language by far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a series of highly personal attacks that were denounced as racist by Dati at the time.

"France is not and will never be 'Djadja'," far-right MP Julien Odoul said on Thursday.

Historic dominance

The dominance of English at the Olympics is particularly galling from a French perspective given that the modern Games were the invention of a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 19th century.

French was the lingua franca of the first editions and remains one of the official languages of de Coubertin's successors at the International Olympic Committee, which is headed by former German fencer Thomas Bach.

Bach's French is passable, but he prefers to speak to foreign journalists in English.

The resolution by French MPs might also resonate at the headquarters of the Paris 2024 organising committee where many officials, including chief executive Tony Estanguet, regularly pepper their French with anglicisms.

He has decried "le JO-bashing" – criticism of the Olympics – and sometimes uses the English "challenges" rather than the French "defis".

When the committee's communications director proposed "un QnA" to journalists at a recent press conference, she was upbraided by an outraged French journalist.

"We have a French term for this: questions-reponses," he said.


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