Introduced by Professor James Coveney, University of Bath, on 15 November 1999

The adoption of English loan-words by French began on a small scale in the 18th century and increased in the 19th. The use of the term franglais to designate anglicisms was popularised in the 1960s. The decline of French as the diplomatic language (i.e. the only language used at international conferences) after the First World War, together with the increasing use of English in the international spheres, explain the reaction of French governments to the invasion of French by English. Moreover, since the 19th century English loan-words have tended to come unchanged into French in their written form, which frequently makes them seem not quite at home in French.

It is sometimes suggested that the structure of the French language is being changed by the use of franglais. This is not the case since the influence of English is almost entirely on the vocabulary of French. English terms have penetrated French in large numbers in the science and technology areas. In the business sector the use of franglais has grown enormously in recent years, and many English terms associated with computers have been adopted by the French. English is the dominant language on the Internet.

In the '50s and '60s various organisations were established by the French government with the aim of stemming the flow of franglais, to promote the use of the French language across the world, and to defend its position in Europe. French is under threat from the increasing use of English in the European Union. French government departments are issued with lists containing newly coined French technical terms to be used in order to avoid the adoption of anglicisms. In 1994 the French Minister of Culture introduced a bill which would have imposed the use of French in many other areas, but its scope was greatly reduced by a decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel ruling that key sections of the proposed law violated human rights. The French public in general regard with derision such attempts by its government to legislate in the language sphere.

Among the many examples of franglais cited in the course of the evening were the following: early borrowings like sentimental and touriste; le five o'clock (tea); the use of half the word only as in le foot (football) and le self (self-service restaurant); long lists of words using the present participle as a noun, like le shampooing (shampoo), le smoking (dinner jacket), le footing (jogging), un building de grand standing (a luxury high-rise block of flats); the transfer of the activity to the place (un dansing _ but note the use in English of `palais de danse') and le golf; and in business French le briefing and le marketing. The worst examples involve a semantic change, like contrĂ´ler which means to check.

Anne Whitmarsh