French purists have never taken kindly to having English thrust upon them, and some have seized upon Brexit as a chance to rid themselves of Shakespeare’s language — at least at EU headquarters.
The shock of the decision across the Channel to break with the European Union had barely begun to sink in when two French politicians demanded that Britain, before shutting the door, take its language along with it.
“The English language no longer has any legitimacy in Brussels,” tweeted the far-right mayor of the southern town of Beziers, Robert Menard.
The disdain for the English language appeared to cross all political divides, as the leader of the far-left Left Party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, tweeted: “English can no-longer be the third working language of the European parliament.”
Several tweeters asked Menard and Melenchon what the majority English speaking Irish would do, should English disappear.
Too bad, Menard implied, pointing out that Ireland’s first language was officially Gaelic.
The European Union has 24 official and working languages.
France regularly scores bottom of the class across the bloc in English language proficiency.
In 2014, a report by international language training company Education First found that France was the weakest country in the EU in adult English proficiency, and “making little effort to improve”.
“Improving the country’s English skills is not a subject of national debate. If anything, public debate is aroused only when it is proposed that English take on a small measure of official importance,” said the report.
– ‘C’est too much!’ –
Despite the well-worn stereotype that the French shy away from speaking English, many younger French people are keen to improve their skills, and have adopted numerous anglicisms in every day language.
“We know that it rains a lot in England, and that in France it is raining anglicisms,” the esteemed Academie Francaise — which closely tracks the creeping of English words into the French language — says on its website.
Much to the Academie’s chagrin, business people increasingly speak of “un brainstorming” or “un briefing” — and if you’re past it, you’re “un has-been”.
If you see a rise in your fortunes, you may be tempted to say you are having “un comeback”, but the Academie goes to great pains to suggest French alternatives to this “horrendous” formulation on its website.
If it is hard to keep track, you could exclaim like a French teenager: “c’est too much!”
Numerous television adverts have English slogans, obligingly translated into French in small print at the bottom of the screen, proving that no matter what the older generation thinks, English, “c’est cool”.