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Review of  French - An Accommodating Language? / Le français: langue d'accueil?

Reviewer: Bert Cornillie
Book Title: French - An Accommodating Language? / Le français: langue d'accueil?
Book Author: Sue-Ellen Wright
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 12.871

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Wright, Sue (ed.) (2000) French - an accommodating
language?/ Le fran�ais: langue d'accueil?, Multilingual
Matters. Hbk ISBN 1-85359-504-7 GBP29.95/ US$49.95/ CAN$59.95

Reviewed by Bert Cornillie, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

This completely bilingual volume has its origin in a
one-day Anglo-French colloquium held in May 1999 on the
theme of recent developments in French attitudes towards
language purism, borrowing and the incursion of English.
This valuable book aims to foster the debate on French
language policy and is intended for all scholars
interested in linguistic exchanges through history, in
language competition and language attitude. It is
particularly valuable for non French-speakers because it
provides access in English to French opinions and the
reactions they provoke.

The colloquium was organized and chaired by Sue Wright
(Aston University) who translated some articles, which
justifies her editorship of the book. Wright's main
research interests are multilingualism and language
policy. The heart of the book is a lecture by the French
linguist Henriette Walter (Universit� de Haute-
Bretagne), commented on by seven scholars affiliated to
British Universities. Walter is a well-known media
figure in France and her many interventions and books
have brought French linguistic concerns before a wide
audience. Her numerous publications include Les
aventures des langues en Occident (1994), Les aventures
des mots fran�ais venus d'ailleurs (1997), Le fran�ais
dans tous les sens (1998) and Le fran�ais d'ici, del� et
de l�-bas (1998). On the basis of this scholarly work,
she has taken a stance in the current debate on the
French language and to debunk the idea that the language
is under threat. In her publications she points out that
French has always been an accommodating language, taking
in words from many different sources. In this way,
Henriette Walter demythologizes the victim role some
French and the French state have been playing in the
globalization game of the last decades. And for this
task she receives useful help from her UK-based French
and English-speaking colleagues.

1. In ''French - an Accommodating Language: The
Chronology, Typology and Dynamics of Borrowing'', the
central article of the book, H. Walter gives historical
evidence for the fact that borrowing signifies
enriching. A lot of common words in present-day French
are well-integrated borrowings from Old German, Italian,
Gaulish, Arabic, etc. She classifies the borrowed words
according to geographical and chronological criteria,
and adds some grammatical and phonetic analysis
published before (Walter & Walter, 1998), acknowledging
that classification and typography remain a problem that
deserves a wider discussion. The article gives a well-
documented overview of the different influences the
French language has undergone and is still undergoing;
in view of the current hegemony of English, the last
part on English borrowings is the most relevant one. At
the end of the 18th century the French admired the
British parliamentary system, fashion and high society
so much that we can speak of a real 'anglomanie', which
contrasts markedly with the Anglophobia common in France
today. Walter presents a typology for borrowings from
English that consists of several types: 1) words with
little changes in meaning -n�vrose/neurosis, 2) new
derivations -influencer/influence-, 3) the -ing suffix -
mailing/mailing-, 4) words with new meanings -
zapper/zap-, 5) translations -liste civile/civil list-,
6) calques -libre penseur/free thinker-, 7) pseudo-
anglicisms -lifting/face lift, 8) and particular cases
such as patate-potato-pomme de terre. As the following
parts will show, this study by Walter is a good basis
for further discussion.

2. In ''The Metaphor of Borrowing: Implications for a
Theory of Language Evolution: A Response to H. Walter'',
P�n�lope Gardner-Chloros (Birkbeck College, London
University) argues that 'borrowing' may not be the most
appropriate term, since the majority of 'borrowed' items
are adapted. Instead, she proposes 'adoption' or
'cloning'. However, the use of 'borrowing' remains
popular because, in her opinion, it fits in the image of
a personalized language with stable and unalterable
qualities. The clash between the dynamic and
heterogeneous nature of language and the personalized
and stable image of language has been the basis for
linguistic purism/puritanism. Gardner-Chloros emphasizes
the contact between languages on all levels and
advocates not paying too much attention to the
normalized and standardized language, since the process
of development of a language is far more complex than

3. In line with the preceding reference to stability,
Jean-Marc Dewaele (Birkbeck College, University of
London) discusses the main cultural, linguistic and
philosophical underpinnings of French resistance to
globalization and English dominance. In ''Is it the
Corruption of French Thought Processes that Purists
Fear? A Response to H. Walter'' Dewaele brightly shows
that the myths of the genius of French and of French
clarity, which allow for a discourse on French as a
clear, immutable, rich, universal and pure language, are
backed by a long linguistic tradition, specifically by
renowned French linguists such as Guillaume and
Damourette & Pichon. Furthermore, he argues that, in
spite of Walter's welcoming attitude, she does not
define the criteria which make borrowing acceptable in
one case and not in another.

4. In ''The Political Dimension of Borrowings and French
Reactions. A Response to H. Walter'', Dennis Ager (Aston
University) makes two points, both related to politics.
First, he claims that the typology of borrowing could be
enriched by political relationships between groups and
the discourses and the words used by them. He mentions
the following parameters: colonialism, immigration,
import, cultural contact and music, scientific or
technical contact, war and religion. The second point of
his contribution is based on two of his previous studies
(Ager 1996, 1999) and deals with the fact that purists
defend the French of the elites (Loire and Paris). Ager
gives evidence for the intimate links of the language
with the Republican values and a clear manifestation of
Frenchness. From this viewpoint, Anglophobia and the
discourse on the instability the 'English invasion'
engenders, is stimulated -if not organized- by the
French Administration.

5. In ''Is French Really Open to Outside Influences? A
Response to H. Walter'', Anne Judge (Surrey University)
deals with France's prescriptive and protectionist
tradition by questioning if French, as its only national
language, is really a 'langue d'accueil'. She describes
how the Academy made the concept of 'good French' into
an abstract ideal. However, the French tradition of
prescriptivism and preservation of their own French
tradition, both supervised by the State, contrasts
considerably with the linguistic attitudes of many
French citizens (borrowing foreign words in French is
'useful' and 'very modern'). The climate has changed and
French should not be seen as a fortress that can be
defended by policies, since prescriptivism turns out to
be an impoverishing policy. Judge concludes: 'the
concept of French as an ideal language is rapidly losing
ground to that of French as a living language'.

6. More comments on the process of borrowing can be
found in ''Etymological Routes. Some Supplementary
Remarks'' by Malcolm Offord (Nottingham University). He
speaks of 'routes' since the words pass from one
language to another without the words being an active
tool by their own. Offord defends the view that words
can be brought (by the Franks, for instance), fetched
(French presence in the Maghreb) or sent (Latin or Greek
culture as a superior influence, or today's Internet).
Each of these three processes can be applied to English
in France. As for the reasons for lexical borrowing, it
is stated that words may be imported from a language
with more cultural prestige out of need, but also out of
intellectual snobbery. Finally, onomasialogical evidence
illustrates that most of the words borrowed from a
language reflect the typical products of its society.

7. In ''Spelling Reform in France and Germany: Attitudes
and Reactions'', Rodney Ball (University of Southampton)
compares the French and German attitudes towards their
own spelling reform. Though they were not drastic at
all, both debates are heavily influenced by public
conservatism and by a number of important opinion
makers. In addition, some contradictions in the reform
resulted in the reformers coming under attack.
Obviously, in societies with near-universal literacy
there is fierce resistance to 'minority' groups said to
be attempting to control the language. As a matter of
fact, spelling seems to be an emotional and private
issue as much as a political and public one. The public
'majority' rejected the French reform because it was
considered illegitimate. Don't touch an age-old

8. In the last contribution, Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston
University) tackles the following question ''Is Belgian
French More Susceptible to English Influence?''. Can the
hostile attitude of French and American English also be
found in francophone Belgium? Even though the French-
speaking community has several influential language
institutions, the lack of a tradition of national
prestige linked with the language makes the permeability
to foreign languages greater than in France. This is
tied up with the international multilingual climate of
Brussels and the policy of the French-speaking
community's resistance to all too dominant supervision
by France.

This book is an excellent and consistent summary of the
many discourses on the relation existing between French
and English. Moreover, it is a successful attempt to
combine linguistic description with more sociopolitical
considerations. Indeed, Walter's analysis of the
borrowings in French throughout history provides a very
suitable and solid foundation both for a fruitful
theoretical discussion on the modalities of borrowing
and for the far-reaching debate on the position of
language in state organization and the repercussions on
the opinions of its citizens. Since one by one the
articles contain very convincing arguments, the
encounter can be called very successful.

Although the conference theme was French language
attitudes and although the participants were specialists
in French, the question remains whether the elements
mentioned before are typical of French only. The
discussion unfortunately turns out to be rather
unidirectional since Walter does not reappear at the end
of the book to comment on the other contributions.
Moreover, in a discussion between the French tradition
and British scholars, one would expect more
interventions by French scholars formed in the French
tradition. I agree with the best part of the
observations, but it would have been appropriate to let
defend the French point of view, both hard-liners and
others. Moreover, an extension of the topic to the
British, Spanish, German or Russian national language
tradition could shed light on similar processes. The
French and their officials do not have the monopoly of
linguistic stubbornness and protectionism.
In 1995, France launched the proposal that each
citizen of the European Union should learn two languages
in addition the mother tongue. It was also in the mid
1990s that French began to be presented as a means of
preserving linguistic diversity (Ager 1999), a point
that is frequently repeated (Hag�ge 1996, Cerquiglini et
al., 2000). Although only a diversity of national
languages is meant, it increases the contacts with
foreign languages, and, willy-nilly, the introduction of
borrowings or clonings. It is somewhat odd that this
point is not dealt with in the book.
In addition, it struck me that each paper is
published both in French and in English, instead of
having a mixture of articles respectively in French or
English according to the author's preference. If reading
French or English is considered a problem, how can you
expect the public to understand the debate on language
attitudes? Monolingual French or English-speaking
scholars might take into account the fact that the
normative and prescriptive tradition could only defend
its extreme theses because of the inability or
unwillingness to read work in other languages.

Ager, Dennis (1996) Francophonie in the 1990s. Problems
and Opportunities, Multilingual Matters

Ager, Dennis (1999) Identity, Insecurity and Image.
France and Language, Multilingual matters.

Cerquiglini, Bernard, Jean-Claude Corbeil, Jean-Marie
Klinkenberg and Beno�t Peeters (2000) <<Tu parles!? Le
fran�ais dans tous ses �tats, Flammarion Paris.

Hag�ge, Claude (1996) ''Une certaine mani�re de
concevoir et de dire le monde'', Coop�ration, 12, 26.

The Economist (2001) ''English is still on the march''
London, Feb 24th-March 2nd, p.32-33.

Walter, Henriette and Andr� Martinet (1988) Le fran�ais
dans tous les sens, Laffont Paris.

Walter, Henriette and Andr� Martinet (1994) L'aventure
des langues en Occident: leur origine, leur histoire,
leur g�ographie, Laffont Paris.

Walter, Henriette (1997) L'aventure des mots fran�ais
venus d'ailleurs, Laffont Paris.

Walter, Henriette (1998) Le fran�ais d'ici, de l�, de
l�-bas, Latt�s Paris.

Walter, Henriette and G�rard Walter (1998) Dictionnaire
des mots d'origine �trang�re, Larousse Paris.

Bert Cornillie is research and teaching assistant in Spanish Linguistics
at the KU Leuven. He has a degree in Romance Languages and is conducting a
syntactic-semantic analysis of complex verbs in Latin American Spanish
(Ph.D.). In addition, he is specifically interested in language policy,
linguicide, multilingualism and globalization. Currently he is one of the
organizers of the SLE 2001 conference ''Towards the integration of
cognitive, cultural and historical approaches of language''.


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