I approved of President Chirac's petulant and childish walkout because he did it for a good cause.Unfrench Frenchman: The "good cause" Chirac pretended to advocate in the name of France was cultural diversity, which his administration did so much to harm within France itself. Now back to Marcel:
Unfortunately, it is also a lost cause, and one which can no longer be revived, however many French presidents stalk out of a room on discovering a Frenchman addressing a gathering in English. Chirac's immediate frustration was about the decline of French as a language of inter-European communication.French has long lost its status on the international scene and in the world of diplomacy, but it could at least boast of supremacy within European institutions. No longer. English as a second language is now the most spoken, and the most taught, language in Europe. (...) It would be nice to think that foreigners were learning it because of its beauty, and as an avenue to its literature and culture.
Of course not. They want to speak English (...) because, as the Frenchman who so enraged Chirac [Ernest-Antoine Seillieres] explained, it is "the language of business". And, he could have added, of international trade, the internet, pop music, the tourist industry and Hollywood. French cannot compete. (...)
The cheap jibes that have accompanied Chirac's walkout missed the point. He wasn't just complaining about the role of French in Europe. There is a sub-text which is far more important: the fear of an irreversible decline of French on home soil. The more English-American is used in international or European institutions, the more it infiltrates and diminishes French. There is nothing new in the French incorporating foreign words and terms into their language. That has been going on for a long time, but has not, so far, significantly dented the integrity of the French tongue. What is more recent is the speed at which the language is changing, and, perhaps just as dangerous, the enthusiasm with which the young people of France, of all classes, are accepting, even sometimes inaugurating, the changes - not just business-speak but, to take one example, the language of the banlieue, much in evidence last November during the riots of the disadvantaged.
The French have already accommodated themselves to no longer being an important functional, everyday language - langue vehiculaire - on the world or European stage.
What they fear is that French will cease to be the primary language of culture. In defending his walkout, Chirac said, about the need for French to continue to be prominent: "It is not just national interest. It is in the interest of culture and the dialogue of cultures. You cannot build the world on one language, and hence one culture."
On this, he is right. If one language dominates too much, other languages in its immediate circle are threatened. At first, the damage may be limited - to the "language of business", as has happened to France in Europe; but if that then joins other linguistic influences, from American films to internet sites, it becomes more difficult to defend the integrity of the language under attack.
Once the language starts disintegrating, the very fabric of the country's culture - in its widest sense - is at risk.
France is particularly vulnerable. Fewer than 100 million speak French as a first language (compared to the 400 million who speak Spanish)...
...and the very fact that France is so prominent on world affairs means that it is constantly mixing with and coming under the malign influence of its linguistic enemies, the US and Britain. I'm not saying that the threat to France's (...) culture is imminent; but it is lurking.