Bad French prolongs Russia-Georgia conflict

By Peter Allen in Paris, 08 Sep 2008:
Last month's ceasefire agreement centred around the creation of "buffer zones" between Russia and the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which are now effectively controlled by the Kremlin. The agreement was brokered by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president whose country currently holds the EU presidency. But the original diplomatic coup became an embarrassing failure as Russia failed to move its troops off the main body of Georgia.

Bernard Kouchner told a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the weekend that the ceasefire agreement was written in French before being translated into English and then Russian. Asked what problems surrounded the buffer zones, Mr Kouchner replied: "The translation, as always."

Last month's five day conflict in Georgia cost hundreds of lives, with many more injured and made homeless. Russia has redrawn the map of Europe and opened a new threatening chapter in its relations with the West.

President Sarkozy is due to begin talks in Moscow on Monday about maintaining a lasting peace. Troop withdrawal will be a key issue when he meets his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Splits in both the EU and Nato have been exposed as a result of the Georgian conflict - the US, UK and some new EU members such as Poland have not been found support for a tough stance against Russia in the absence of a withdrawal of troops from Georgia.

One reason for the continuation of the conflict now appears to be a passage in the Russian translation of the agreement that speaks of security "for" South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The English version speaks of security "in" the two areas.

The difference is crucial, because Russia continues to keep its tanks and armed troops "in" Georgian territory. The international community, in turn, wants security "for" South Ossetia and Abkhazia without the Russian army staying in Georgia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed that the ceasefire wording made his country sound like an aggressor. He said the Georgian interpretation "contains a whole range of distortions" including replacement of the preposition "for" with "in".

The farce is a huge blow to the French belief that theirs is a lingua franca, spoken and understood the world over.

In fact French has long been replaced by English as the language of diplomacy, and is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the international community.

Last week French education minister Xavier Darcos admitted that "the secret of success" for French youngsters nowadays was to speak English.

The U-turn came just two years after President Jacques Chirac stormed out of an EU summit after a French business leader addressed delegates in English.

Mr Chirac's view is still regularly backed up by L'Academie Francaise, which promotes French as an international language, as well as opposing the use of "Franglais" words like "le weekend" and "le parking".


Brian Barker said...

I am sorry to disagree but a lingua franca for the World should be for everyone and not just for an educational or political elite. This is the position for English at the moment and is unacceptable. So which language should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese and the Americans prefer Spanish.

Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese out of the equation.

An interesting video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU

You can see detail of Esperanto at http://www.lernu.net

Unfrench Frenchman said...

I am sorry to disagree but the word "elite" means "a few chosen people" as it comes from Latin "eligere", ie to choose, to elect. Now up to 1,5 billion people on earth are estimated to have some command of English. English is taught in virtually all establishments of secondary education on earth. You can buy dictionaries and novels in English for less than a dollar at junk markets virtually everywhere on earth. If you have a bit more money, you can get yourself a high speed internet connection so your study of English will be even more effective. Where is the elitism in that?
On the other hand, very few people can be bothered to learn your beloved Esperanto because it has so little currency. They prefer to learn how to speak broken English than perfect Esperanto. Every child knows which is more useful.

And for leaving Mandarin Chinese out of the equation, well, you could have mentioned that it is the second most studied foreign language in Japan after English and before French, but I guess you don't know that much.

Snake Oil Baron said...

"The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese and the Americans prefer Spanish."

That sort of seems to me like evidence that there is no real competitor to English as a world language. If there were most English speakers who wished to learn a second language would choose it rather than having several alternatives.

And I find it difficult to square English with being "just for the educational or political elite". Isn't the average English speaker a working class Indian who might ever speak it as a second language? If not, I suspect that will be the case soon.