Recommended French for recent English words

New English words like ‘to podcast’ and ‘gender studies’ are causing problems in French. They were coined in English to correspond to American trends that took off around the world. If you led a country and your citizens used those words, would you want to protect your language from the foreign invasion and, if so, how would you do that ?

The French government’s Ministry of Culture has recently recommended specific French translations. Some seem long-winded, others acceptable, but none seem to have the élan that the English terms have.

But waitaminute, you might say, if Americans don’t mind using words like ‘élan’ (coup d’état, aperitif, dossier, RSVP, cuisine, a propos, dossier, attaché case, crepes, debutante, double entendre, encore, joie de vivre, petit, etc.), the French could choose not to mind either. Most Americans don’t even know those words were originally French!

The French Canadians seem to get it better. Their French Québecois versions of new English words are both punchy and concise. Instead of the French government recommended, but awkward, “courrier électronique” for ‘e-mail,’ the Québecois use the forceful and clever combination, “courriel.” (And, it turns out, the French people use “e-mail,” “‘mail” or, “mel,” anyway.) Instead of the French noun “diffusion pour baladeur” for ‘podcast,’ the Canadians use “baladodiffusion”!

They do what the Anglophones do: if the word doesn’t exist yet, they put sounds together that evoke the object named, like the word IPod itself. Then, like us, they build on the original word to form related ones. No government ruled that a digital audio player should be called ‘IPod’ but Americans adopted the term quickly. They then went with the flow when the related verb combined the ‘pod’ with ‘broadcast’ to form ‘to podcast.

It seems that the Québecois and the Americans use flair to create words, while the French, mindful of their heritage, use reason.

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1 Response to Recommended French for recent English words

  1. Steph says:

    Interesting post. I was surprised when I moved to Paris to hear so many english words (like “mail”) but also everyone says “weekend” as in “bon weekend” and people say “ok” and “bye” . Also it’s faire le shopping here, whereas my sister-in-law (who lives in Montreal) says “magasiner” (I like that!) I’ve heard other words too, like “cookie” and at the coiffure you get le “brushing” which actually means styling…

    When my friends from the US call me and I answer the phone – they say “Hey – how come you don’t answer the phone by saying, Bonjour??!” Noone answers the phone “Bonjour” – you say “Hallo”….

    Personally I don’t like hearing the english words mixed in – it sounds weird I think. But I agree new counterpart words need to be good so they stick! (like who the heck has time to say courrier electronique!!)


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