[lg policy] Bid in France to Add Courses in English Raises Fear for Language
haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 24 14:25:33 UTC 2013
Bid in France to Add Courses in English Raises Fear for Language
Benjamin Girette/Associated Press
With a "Save the university" sign, academics in Paris on Wednesday
protested a proposal that more courses be taught in English.
By MAÏA de la BAUME
Published: May 23, 2013
PARIS — The reaction was loud, swift and fierce this week to a proposed law
that would require French universities to teach more of their courses in
English, a measure that a well-known scholar had called a “suicidal
project” that would lead to France’s sacrificing its language to
“Americanization disguised as globalization.”
But supporters of the proposal, which won initial approval in the lower
house of Parliament on Thursday, said the lack of English was a major
factor in France’s declining competitiveness in the world. The left-wing
newspaper Libération printed its cover page in English and urged the French
in an editorial to “stop behaving as if they were the last representatives
of a besieged Gallic village.” “Teaching in English,” read a banner
headline on the front page. “Let’s do it.”
The measure, part of a broader overhaul of the universities, was introduced
in March by Geneviève Fioraso, France’s minister of higher education. It is
intended simply to increase the number of students from abroad, in
particular from emerging countries like India, Brazil and China, who often
prefer to go to universities in English-speaking countries. Mrs. Fioraso’s
proposal is an effort to ease a 1994 law that required — with a few
exceptions — the use of French in classrooms, from nursery schools to
universities. But the proposal has raised some eminent hackles.
In March, the Académie Française, an elite institution founded in 1635 that
monitors and debates the subtleties of the French language, issued a news
release emphasizing the “dangers” of an approach that encourages French “to
And that was the least of it. A linguist, Claude Hagège, called the measure
a “drive toward self-destruction.” The philosopher Michel Serres said it
was the product of “a colonized country whose language can no longer say
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Fioraso scoffed at the criticism.
“France gives again the impression of being an inward-looking country,” she
said, before calling for greater international cooperation from
Foreign students make up about 12 percent of students here, but France is
losing its attractiveness in part because “Germany went past us by
developing courses in English,” Mrs. Fioraso said.
English has been invading normal speech in France for many years, which is
one reason for the angry reaction to the law.
Many words in English, like “weekend” and “cool,” are common in French.
French is also losing ground in Brussels, where an expanded European Union
of 27 nations does most of its business in English.
Nevertheless, some eminent scientists, including Françoise Barré-Sinoussi,
who won the Nobel Prize in medicine, promoted the expansion of the use of
English in universities in a column published in the newspaper Le Monde.
“The voices that are raised in the name of the defense of the French
language seem to us totally out of touch with the current reality of
universities, but also seriously counterproductive concerning the interests
of France and French-speaking nations,” the scientists said.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Fioraso herself played down the importance of the
controversy, describing it as “one of those debates that the French like,
which are more about posturing than about substance.”
She insisted that the measure was not mandatory, and that it would affect
only 1 percent of university courses.
“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “I tell myself that, after all, it is
a lack of confidence in our culture.”
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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