Since an early age, I have loved languages. Whilst I spoke French wherever I’d go, I was always ready to catch a glimpse my father’s conversations in Italian. And as I wandered through the city, the very beautiful and cosmopolitan Paris, I could discern the different languages spoken by people, whether it be in touristic areas or by hearing the Métro’s announcements — ‘mind the gap between the train and the platform.’ Thus, growing up in such an environment draw me to a direction from which I could see with a wider view.
Isn’t diversity such a treasure? You can have friends from Japanese or Arabic origins, colleagues who have migrated from Russia, New Zealand or Kenya, and neighbors you hear speaking Spanish, Mandarin or German. Cultures get intermingled, and while some customs remain, others slowly fade. Globalization has accelerated exchanges between the five continents, and migratory influx tend to increase as time goes by. The process thus has a heavy impact on languages and their evolution.
It is an undeniable fact that the English language has had a strong influence on idioms from all over the world. And although I cannot foresee the future, it is most likely not to change any time soon, and have its power increase over the next few years. As non-native English speakers, you may note that many English words have been implemented into other languages, not specifically dedicated to the intelligentsia (as for the use of Latin and Ancient Greek, centuries ago and still nowadays) or specific terminologies but in our daily lives. Languages and cultures have always worked that way. As French or Italian were languages that anyone willing to impress their peers, during the Enlightenment era, needed to learn, and as, for instance, plenty of foreign terms have been implemented into other languages, it is by no means an outrage to the ‘sacred’ language of a nation, but only a cultural enrichment.
Yet, you may argue to what extent a language can contribute to another and discuss the limits of these intercultural exchanges within the language itself. In fact, I have personally witnessed, let’s say for the past two years, an overwhelming amount of English words being integrated to French, my mother-tongue. Here are a few examples: Facebook likes (un ‘J’aime’ sur Facebook), to go out on a date (avoir un rencard), a selfie (which has even been added to the 2015 edition of the French Dictionary Le Robert), and we could go on and on with this list. All of these words do exist in French, therefore I do not completely understand why the use of their English equivalent seems to be necessary to some people (although, I’ll be less skeptical with Facebook’ likes, as for tweets, part of a specific category of words, but which, however, used to be said in French a few years back).
I don’t believe there is anything wrong with speaking several languages and using some foreign words in certain cases (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing in English at the moment nor would I be majoring in English). Is it, however, necessary to erase words that are not as obsolete as they may seem to a few? As reports have shown, in France, the percentage of population whose spelling and vocabulary are modest tends to increase. Thus, the use of English words, in standard vocabulary, more often than what is actually needed seems harmful to the French language. I am no linguist and I will not go further with such an explanation, having done no serious research. So, let’s move on to another language, which I know more or less of, Italian.
Over the past few months, I have started reading the Italian press online and noticed, to my utter amazement, that English terms were almost constantly used in headlines. Words such as killer or single are probably even more used in Italy than in France. Once again, these words do have equivalents in the Italian dictionary, they are not archaic terms (can you even imagine an idiom without a specific term for ‘killer’? Pretty idealistic, huh?). Subsequently, I believe the combination of English and other languages to be quite upsetting, sometimes turning into bizarre expressions or undermining the original meaning of a word.
As learning a new language opens the mind and offers other views of the world, practicing foreign languages is an absolute benefit. Nevertheless, other languages cannot be eradicated for the sake of globalization (as some scholars daringly call ‘americanization’) and the sake of the English language. We ought to remember that cultural exchanges can, and must remain without overtaking onto other languages.
I do love English, French and Italian, which somehow are very much close to my heart, all for different reasons. They are powerful and beautiful, each being used in a certain situation. And as for any other language that I do not speak, I only wish that they are preserved and that our different cultures are enriched through exchanges. As non-native English speakers, we ought to keep our mother-tongue alive, the same way as English native-speakers manage to do so well at spreading and sharing theirs.
- A very interesting interview of French linguist Claude Hagège from 1994, illustrating my point of view from 4″ 53: https://www.ina.fr/video/CAC94043256 (I couldn’t find any subtitles unfortunately but he basically underlines that polyglots tend not to mix up languages).
- A book review 100 Anglicismes à ne plus jamais utiliser (listing English words that are way too often used when French equivalents do exist): http://www.lefigaro.fr/vie-bureau/2016/03/07/09008-20160307ARTFIG00092-anglicismes-au-bureau-soyez-snob-parlez-francais.php (for French natives).
What are you views on this topic?
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