French MPs urge Paris Olympics to remain English-free zone



Having long battled the creeping use of English in advertising, music, and film, French MPs have declared a new struggle: keeping their home Olympics this year free from Anglicisms.

The lower House of Parliament urged athletes, trainers, and journalists to use French as much as possible in a resolution they adopted on Thursday.

Annie Genevard, the conservative sponsor of the resolution, expressed alarm to fellow MPs that “the Olympic Games reflect the loss of influence of our language.”

She recalled the much-criticized slogan used for Paris’ original bid for the Games — “Made for Sharing” — as well as other recent government-backed campaigns to promote the country, such as “Choose France” or “Made in France.”

Even the French rugby team had “Rugby World Cup” inscribed on their jerseys during the competition in France last year instead of “La Coupe du Monde de Rugby.”

“All of these examples demonstrate that the fight for the French language… is never finished, even in the most official spheres,” Genevard added.

The global adoption of English has long infuriated French governments, which have sought to protect the purity of their language at home while promoting its use abroad.

For three centuries, the country has had an institution—the Academie Francaise—that has produced state-sanctioned dictionaries that document and approve new terms or expressions, often translations of commonly used English words.

“Let’s hope that ‘planche a roulettes’ replaces skateboard and ‘rouleau du cap’ point break (a surfing term), but I have my doubts,” added Genevard.

Language row

French lawmakers passed landmark legislation 30 years ago designed to protect French — the 1994 Toubon Law — which made the language mandatory for advertising, product labelling, and public announcements.

It also stipulated that radio stations had to play a minimum of 40 percent of French-language songs.

However, the increasing cultural influence of English due to American streaming platforms like Netflix means that new terms are constantly infiltrating French, even in the sporting realm.

“You can’t overlook the fact that many global sports events that are broadcast globally have chosen to use English for their communication, in their titles, slogans, and advertising,” Culture Minister Rachida Dati told parliament.

Thursday’s resolution — backed by the ruling centrists and right-wingers but opposed by the left — was non-binding, she stressed.

Instructions for foreign visitors during the Olympics from July 26–August 11 and the Paralympics from August 28-September 8 would be provided in English as well as other languages, she added.

Rumours that Franco-Malian R&B star Aya Nakamura would sing during the opening ceremony on July 26 have already engulfed the Paris Games in a language dispute.

The mega-star, the most streamed French artist in the world, mixes French, Arabic, and words from West African dialects in her songs, such as “Djadja.”

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused her of “vulgarity” and mangling the French language in a series of highly personal attacks, which Dati at the time denounced as racist.

“France is not and will never be ‘Djadja’,” far-right MP Julien Odoul said on Thursday.

The dominance of English at the Olympics is particularly galling from a French perspective, given that the modern Games were invented by a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 19th century.

De Coubertin’s successors at the International Olympic Committee, led by former German fencer Thomas Bach, continue to use French as their official language.

Bach’s French is passable, but he prefers to speak to foreign journalists in English.

The resolution by French MPs might also resonate at the headquarters of the Paris 2024 organising committee, where many officials, including chief executive Tony Estanguet, regularly pepper their French with anglicism.

He has decried “le JO-bashing”—criticism of the Olympics — and sometimes uses the English “challenges” rather than the French “defis.”

An outraged French journalist upbraided the committee’s communications director when she proposed “un QnA” to journalists at a recent press conference.

“We have a French term for this: questions-responses,” he said.


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