Interpreting the episode in the light of Linguistic Rights/Responsibilities

francisco gomers de matos fcgm at
Tue Mar 28 15:45:18 UTC 2006

 Dear Harold,

The  episode  you have commented on
illustrates one of the challenges facing two language users
sharing the same communicative setting  : how to
exercise one´s right to opt for a language for
public use  and how to exercise the duty to
honor one´s native language. What happened  provides
researchers in  Linguistic Rights, Sociolinguistics, Cross
Cultural Communication, Political Linguistics, Peace
Linguistics   with  a very interesting  case-study.
On the one hand, a French-using citizen  all of a sudden
opts for the right to  engage in code-switching and use
English; on the other hand, another French-using citizen
activates  the duty to honor  his(in this case) native
language  by leaving the  place where an official meeting
was taking place.
Linguistic rights and responsibilities  CAN indeed be the
subject  of  both  Harmony/Agreement  and Disharmony/
Both  citizens  acted  in  the light of their  belief/value
systems  and, from a  Linguistic Rights Perspective,
my interpretation  is that  both had the right to act
as they did. One language user  exercised his right
to choose a language ;another language user
exercised his right to be loyal to his lingua-cultural
traditions. Differences like that  could help us
become aware of  our  communicative rights and responsibilities and ,instead
of passing judgment,
empathizing with each  human being involved .
I call "humanizers"  persons, imbued with the
principles,ideals,values of Human Rights,Justice,Peace,
Solidarity  and who apply  such virtues in daily life.
Hence, my  successive pleas for a Humanizing
Applied Linguistics, and more recently, for an
Applied Peace Linguistics.

Francisco Gomes de Matos,
Federal University of Pernambuco,an applied peace linguist
and of our

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:35 AM
Subject: Oh, the Finesse of the French

> >From Arab News, The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily
> Monday, 27, March, 2006 (26, Safar, 1427)
> Oh, the Finesse of the French
> Iman Kurdi, Arab News
> It is not every day that the sight of a head of state leaving a meeting
> room has me in hysterics, but that is exactly what happened on Thursday
> night. I was quietly watching the evening news on French television when
> all of a sudden, interspersed between images of students rioting in the
> streets of French cities and union leaders leaving Matignon grim-faced,
> came the announcement that the president of the republic had stormed out
> of the opening session of the latest EU summit because a Frenchman had had
> the temerity to address the council in English.
> The Frenchman in question is Ernest-Antoine Seillieres, the leader of
> UNICE, the European Employers Federation. Seillieres had been invited to
> address the EU leaders as they met to discuss European energy policy. He
> started off in French but switched to English once he got past the formal
> niceties of his introduction. Why? Because, as he pointed out, English is
> the accepted language of business. Chirac, flanked by his two ministers,
> promptly stood and walked out. It was such a wonderfully flamboyant
> gesture executed with the panache of a drama queen, really I could not
> help but laugh. It was a fantastic diversionary tactic. The French
> president arrived at the summit in a difficult position. At home, the
> crisis over the new youth employment law continues to gather momentum.
> Whilst in Brussels, Chirac was under pressure over what is seen as the
> return of industrial protectionism to the European arena. This was after
> all a summit on European energy policy and France has recently seen a
> government-orchestrated merger between GDF and Suez designed to block a
> possible takeover bid by Italys Enel. All this at a time when Sylvio
> Berlusconi, Italys prime minister, is facing parliamentary elections next
> month. The stage was set for a showdown between Chirac and Berlusconi, but
> it never happened.
> Instead column inches have been devoted to Chirac's walkout. To say that
> this gesture was met with derision is putting it mildly. The Anglo-Saxon
> press in particular have had a field day. One British tabloid went so far
> as to buy Chirac an English phrasebook as a gift which the French
> president accepted with good grace and popped into his pocket. I may have
> laughed but I think President Chirac has a point. The prominence of the
> French language is gradually being eroded, a trend which matches the
> erosion of Frances influence generally. The French language is very much
> the pillar of the nations culture. It was once the language of
> intellectual discourse, a symbol of the dominance of French culture in
> setting the standard for everything from fashion to philosophy. More than
> anything else, it was glamorous and classy. French was chic and provided
> us with a whole lexicon of words to describe social mores, words like
> savoir-faire and faux pas.
> I remember when I was a child we used to spend holidays visiting my
> maternal grandmother in Damascus. It was common for people to pepper their
> speech with French words in order to appear more refined. French words
> gave their speaker cachet. Just as the stars of those beautiful black and
> white Egyptian films always threw in a couple of French words when they
> wanted to appear sophisticated. It went hand in hand with the perfectly
> tailored suits and the silver cigarette case. Quite simply French equated
> class. French used to be the second language of choice, millions of
> school children sat through French lessons and struggled to come to grips
> with its complicated grammar.
> It is still a very popular language; last year it was ranked 10th in the
> world with 129 million people speaking French either as their mother
> tongue or as a second language. But compare that to the 514 million who
> now speak English and you can see why people like Chirac are piqued.
> French was once the language of international diplomacy, but no longer. It
> may still be one of the two working languages of the UN but English is
> more prevalent. Closer to home, France has tried hard to keep French as
> the dominant language at the EU. Back when there were only a dozen member
> states, French was the predominant language of day-to-day work. But
> enlargement has brought in countries that are more inclined to speak
> English than French with the result that English has largely overtaken
> French.
> But it is in the business world that English has long been pre-eminent.
> Seillieres was right when he described English as the language of
> international business. Put a Saudi businessman in the same room with
> French, Japanese and Chinese businessmen and they are likely to speak
> English to each other. As if that wasn't hard enough on French pride,
> English words are seeping into the French language. At first it was
> innocuous words like weekend and star, but this has been followed by a
> torrent of words related to modern life and advances in technology. The
> Academie Francaise, the pre-eminent French body on matters pertaining to
> the French language, is not amused. It now regularly devises new French
> words to fill those gaps and aggressively promotes their use.
> The president of the French Republic is also the protector of the Academie
> Francaise, officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief
> minister to King Louis XIII. It is part of President Chirac's role to
> safeguard and promote the French language. He was right to be offended
> that a Frenchman chose to speak in English at an EU meeting, but surely
> the president of France might have had more pressing concerns?
> (ikurdi at

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