John Four-Sea’s Anglophobia

I am sorry to belabor this point, but mingled hypocrisy and willful stupidity of others always drive me to write. Uninterested people can move on. Jean Quatremer wrote another inanely parochial post with a decidedly “ethnic conception of language”. To summarize his points:

  • European speeches used to be subtitled in English and French (but no other languages), this was great. French is gone now, how terrible.
  • The mentality of European bureaucrats becomes “foreign” to that of their native country, because they speak English.  There is no other reason why someone might “go native” while in the Brussels bubble.
  • “[A] language, its a method of communication, but it also of transmitting a system of values.”
  • “In English, terms like liberalism, competition, administration, State, regulation, government, enlargement or GMO, for example, have absolutely not the same connotation as in French”. As a bilingual person, I call bullshit on some of this, liberalism, administration, government, regulation are not universally negative words in the English language. God knows how “GMO” or “enlargement” differ.
  • “Is it really a coincidence that the Union has thrown itself with abandon into “ultra-liberalism”, to use this expression that I don’t like, at the very moment when English became domineering?” Stunning. Nothing to do with the fact that the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaties were overwhelmingly economic projects focused principally on the Single Market and the Economic and Monetary Union?
  • Finally, the EUcannot be led “in one language, therefore one system of thought, foreign to the quasi-majority of its peoples (otherwise it carries a name, colonialism).” There you have it. Having Commission documents in English is “colonialism”. But having those documents exclusively in German, French and English (still foreign to 65% of the Union) is not “colonialism”.

The matter is purely one of face of the pettier Frenchmen (les petits Gaulois). Why should a Pole or a Slovenian, after having made the effort to learn English, then be forced to learn French, which is understood as a second language by 10 or 20 times less people? Why be forced to learn and use French and not Italian, Spanish or Polish? No reason, except petty, inherited, lingering bitterness over Fashoda and Trafalgar.

Quatremer blames the decline of French in large part on French politicians who, wanting to be understood and network with other nationalities while in Brussels, have the audacity to speak English. Probably only 20% of people in the Parliament, for example, speak French. Everyone has some knowledge, even limited, of English. French is virtually unknown in many of the innumerable groups (business, national governments…) who are affected by EU policies.

The decline of French has nothing to do with the “appeasement” of French politicians. It is attributable to France’s weight in Europe after the enlargements, after German reunification. English’s expansion in the world has been overwhelming (though French is still the second most taught second language in the world), and there is no other reason for its hegemony in Europe than the snowball effect. It is spoken and understood, so people learn it, no more, no less, ya basta.

I want to give Quatremer some consolation though. One day, the United States of America may have another civil war and get Spanishified. Chinese will become the language of East Asia. Hindi nationalists will ban English in India. D.R. Congo will conquer nasty, neoliberally anglophone South Africa and Nigeria. Heck, given current demographic trends, Frenchmen will probably outnumber Germans by 2070. And then, we’ll force everyone to speak French! Then we won’t be speaking English, the only language so crassly commercial, so materialistically uncultured as to come up with capitalist terms like “laissez faire” and “entrepreneur“.

I am seriously considering giving Quatremer a book, in English, by Eric Hobsbawn or Noam Chomsky so he realizes anglophones can be Commies and Anarcho-Socialists. The fact he assumes English can only express ultra-capitalist thought is, as far as I am concerned, a pretty base and even offensive form of prejudice. It is also ignorant and stupid, but that is also his right.

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4 Responses to John Four-Sea’s Anglophobia

  1. me says:

    CJ is getting very excited about the subject-super agree.

  2. marknesop says:

    Maybe French is now spoken by 10 to 20 percent less people, but at one time it could have gone either way, as French and English were once deadlocked for dominance of the globe. Irrelevant now, I know, but it’s not like the French just popped up out of nowhere with their fussiness about their language.

    Some populations (notably the slavic) find French relatively easy to grasp; there are already a lot of French words in Russian, for example, or so close that you can easily divine their meaning if you speak French. More importantly, French is grammatically similar to many slavic languages, with its changes in verb tense related to past/present/future and whether you are speaking of one or many, as well as gender-based nouns. For many of these populations, English is extremely difficult with its genderless nouns and different verbal structure.

    Interesting blog, very well-written.

    • I don’t think it is particularly easy for Slavic people, Poles I have met tell me their language is quite different. It is relatively easy for fellow Latins (Spaniards, Italians, Romanians, etc.). I, being a native French speaker, find Italian and Spanish quite easy and a lot of fun to learn. I think a Latin especially, for their personal development and career here, has no reason not to learn French. However, people tend to be quite split, and I have met plenty (Italians especially) who are totally uninterested or even outright hostile to French on principle. I have also met a few (maybe a third, among junior people) who have admirably good French.

      Thanks for the comments!

  3. Scowspi says:

    One of the roots of Johnny 4 Seas’ problem lies in the EU’s expansion to East/Central Europe. In those countries, French hasn’t been widely spoken for decades; the principal lingue franche are English, German and Russian. (Romania, with its Latin roots, is admittedly a partial exception.) So ironically, France as one of the generators of EU enlargement is enacting its own cultural marginalization.

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