The French are a peculiar people. On the one hand they sneer down their long Gallic noses with utter disdain at American culture but on the other hand they embrace Jerry Lewis as a top exemplar of comedy. And when it comes to their language, they are absolutely fanatical about preserving its so-called purity and have an academy just for that purpose. They defend against any intrusion of words from the polluting Anglo-Saxons and Americans with polemical fang and claw. This is in spite of the fact that not too long ago there were numerous dialects throughout France and people from different regions could barely understand one another. Not to mention that modern French’s basic Latin roots also have Celtic, German and other influences.
And now there is the Internet. The French language police must see it as a cesspool of contamination. Look at all that English! And to top it off, Americans writing on the Web are torturing French words. The screams must be echoing off the rafters of the French Academy. The example that I see a lot is the word “voilà”. Now, this is a very useful word. Its translation is something like, “Here it is” but that doesn’t do justice to its full power of expressiveness. English speakers, being very practical and ecumenical, have adopted it. What must cause much gnashing of teeth in France is the way they have adopted it. Spelling not being considered very important these days in America, many variants appear. I see “Viola!” a lot, not to mention “Wallah!” It’s almost enough to make me sympathize with the pedants at L’Académie Française.
First posted September 10, 2007