In our previous editorial, we made it clear that language was not at all the means of communication that a narrow conception of language has managed to impose, but the immense power it has always been.
The idea of bringing "sovereignty" and "language" closer together may come as a surprise since sovereignty is simply the basis of international relations and the UN is founded on the sovereign equality of all its members. But when we talk about "sovereign Europe", "digital sovereignty", it is no exaggeration to talk about "linguistic sovereignty". Provided, of course, that we manage to define the concept.
After more than half a century of vassalage1 , faced with the enormous power of constraint accumulated by the United States towards them, European countries are beginning to think that perhaps the idea of sovereignty makes sense. This is sometimes doubtful. When we learn that Poland is prepared to pay most of the costs of receiving US forces on its soil (Russia has a GDP between that of Spain and France and a military budget barely higher than that of France, i.e. a tenth of that of the United States), we may wonder. But after all, we can hope that little by little the European countries will finally come out of their lethargy and regain a foothold in a world that is slipping away from them.
This power of constraint also has a linguistic dimension that did not exist in the past.
The relationship to language changed greatly in the 19th and 20th centuries with the break-up of multinational and multilingual empires. As far as France is concerned, until the Revolution, it cannot be said that kings had language policies. Contrary to the linguistic novel that is spreading today, the emergence of French owes nothing to the imperialism of the monarchy, but to the need to develop a written language that could not replace but play the role that Latin had been able to play in society and which had been largely lost on the ruins of the Roman Empire. And the Villers-Cotterêts ordinance should be seen first and foremost as a law on the organisation of the administration and justice, with a linguistic component inspired by the need to render justice in a language that is comprehensible to all. Article 111 of this law states that all legal and notarial deeds are henceforth drafted in "the French mother tongue and not otherwise". In fact, this article could be seen as the first definition of what is now called an official language. Much later, with the Jules Ferry laws on public education, at a time when about half of the French population could neither read nor write, with very wide variations between the departments, the imperative was to make the population literate.
Language and identity
At the same time, from the 19th century onwards, with the beginnings of industrialisation and the awakening of nationalities, language really became the first marker of identity.
Today, we are gradually becoming aware that we exist individually and collectively through language.
This gradual awareness is opposed to a certain ambient, summary and reductive universalism, which would have us believe that we can say everything with a language and that, whatever the language, it does not matter whether it is the language of the powerful of the day, as long as we have only one.
As anthropology makes us aware, the rebirth of cultural identities is a pure product of the society of communication, which is what it develops. The utopia of generalised communication does not lead to generalised harmony, but to an awareness of identities, which can take radical forms, by exacerbating a deviant identity quest.
In L'identité culturelle2 Sélim Abou links the aspiration to identity to the "most constitutive need of the human person: that of recognition". For him, the process of recognition lies at the "crossroads « junction »of three powers of the symbolic: desire, power and language. »... "Language is that which expresses the aim of desire and power and assigns to recognition its ultimate purpose: that of being, at any moment of existence and even at the end of it, a triumph of life over death, of meaning over nonsense. »
It is as a communication theorist that Dominique Wolton in his recent essay Vive l'incommunication, la victoire de l'Europe, first explains that information is not communication, and that the utopia of communication comes up against a major phenomenon that he calls "incommunication" which makes communication a permanent attempt to negotiate not only interests, but also perceptions, different visions. Every interindividual conversation is a negotiation about the meaning we give to things and the interest of the conversation, what the interlocutors and actors expect from it, lies in the gain of meaning. The result of a successful conversation is an enrichment which should be reciprocal, but which is not always so if one of the actors, out of deafness and pride, absolutely wants to be right, which may be true, but above all to make it known.
The linguist Alain Bentolila has nicely titled one of his recent articles, which we strongly recommend3 " The child does not learn to speak as he grows up, it is the language that makes him grow up ". This means that for the child, language is above all a conquest. Look and listen to the two-year-old child who comes to you and starts babbling sounds that he would like to be words. He does not ask you to teach him to speak, but first tries to make himself understood. And his victory will come from the fact that he will see that you have understood what he wanted to tell you.
A good conversation, like a successful negotiation, is a conquest. If we analyse a conversation that is not strictly utilitarian, we see that one part is devoted to making sure that the interlocutor understands the same thing as you and vice versa. Another part is devoted to exploring areas that have their share of unknowns, and all the salt of the conversation comes from the fact that these unknowns elements are not the same in each of the interlocutors. Finally, a third part of the conversation focuses on the progress made by each of the interlocutors through the conversation. And the feeling of this progress is the source of immense satisfaction. Of course, in a real conversation, all these elements are mixed, but are nevertheless mobilised at varying levels during the course of the conversation.
It should also be seen that differences in the level of understanding and the unknown have two sources.
First of all, each person carries with him or her throughout his or her life a kind of corpus that never ceases to evolve, made up of individual stories of all kinds in defined social contexts, readings, contact with nature and with others, sensations, feelings, emotions, passions, memories, sounds, visions, dreams, and so on. It is this stable and evolving corpus that constitutes identity, both individual and collective, for there is no individual identity that is not also collective.
Each person also carries with him or her a certain vision of the world, of the world around him or her and of the world beyond. And life in society is made up of this perpetual adjustment of different world views to varying degrees.
What is true at the individual level is obviously true at the collective level.
At the collective level absolute knowledge is unattainable, and absolutely unattainable. We have seen that generations of philosophers teach us that the world is infinite and infinitely expanding. This means that universal knowledge, even by uniting all the world's scholars, is simply impossible and will never be possible. If we doubt it, an example experienced today by billions of humans is there to remind us. Before the coronavirus began to spread, it was unknown and did not exist, at least not in its present form. So, for us, at a glance one could say, the world is changing. And tens of thousands of researchers around the world are mobilising to learn about it and to find cures and vaccines. Waiting for the next one.
It is therefore not abnormal that individual and collective world views differ from one individual to another, from one people to another. There is no difference in nature between the individual level and the collective level. Simply the complexity at the collective level is infinitely greater than at the individual level, which is already extremely complex.
Collectively as well as individually, there are open or closed identities. There is a close relationship between identity and otherness. A well-constituted identity, free of threats or exaggerated feelings of threat, is an assurance of openness to the other. A fairly evocative index at the collective level is the proportion of books translated according to country. United States: 0.7%, France: 15%, Germany: 11%4. Something to think about.
We fully agree with the notion developed by Dominique Wolton of incommunication. The whole area of vagueness and uncertainty that characterises any conversation, like any negotiation, grows in complexity with the level at which they are placed. Think of the government of a country, but also the government of a group of countries such as the European Union. And indeed incommunication is the field of negotiation to find the adjustments that will take us collectively forward, provided we want to. This is an absolutely unprecedented human adventure, in which Europe is unquestionably objectively a leader in today's world, but is not aware of it.
We can return to language and sovereignty.
Linguistics and communication
Language is first and foremost the power to name things. In the beginning was the verb. It is not a small thing. Then comes the exchange, because if you have nothing to say, you have nothing to exchange.
This may seem obvious. Yet it is not clear to everyone. We have seen that many linguists, and not the least of them, were in the eighties falling into the field of the mathematical theory of communication. Today, it seems that we are going in the opposite direction. As information and communication theories have shown their limits, they are discovering the linguistic question in all its depth, and Dominique Wolton is a good illustration of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
In an article published in the daily newspaper La Croix5 , a reflection challenged us.
"In just a few months, these new terms have become part of our daily lives. According to the semiologist Mariette Darrigrand, this is explained by the historical character of the period: "During a crisis, we need more than usual to create terms capable of giving meaning to what is happening. This is all the more true with the one we are going through since, compared to 2008, the crisis is generalised and multidimensional. The extent of the renewal is such that we are experiencing a paradigm shift, i.e. a change in grammar, in language models, with a real effort in terms of vocabulary. »
A symbol par excellence of language renewal, the word "cluster" is on everyone's lips. And if its meaning now contains a negative connotation, this has not always been the case: "Cluster is a very old word, which comes from Saxon languages. It first translated the fertility of nature, capable of reproducing itself, as in a bunch of grapes. As a metaphor, the term was then used to refer to a group of people. In the 1990s, the word was revived to be applied to the world of start-ups clustered around Silicon Valley. It was even theorised by strategy professor Michael Porter in his book Clusters and the New Economics of Competition," says Mariette Darrigrand. »
Incommmunication and metaphor
In fact what the semiologist does not see or say is that while the word cluster may have a metaphorical value in English, it loses this value in French, as in any other language in which it has not taken root, and if this happens, it will not be with the same metaphorical value. Metaphorical value is in no way transferable from one language to another. Therefore, for a French cluster does not a priori mean anything, as long as the word is not brought into people's heads by dint of media repetition.
And nothing justifies a transfer from English to French since the metaphorical dimension is already the characteristic of the word foyer, which, long used by scientists for epidemics, is based on the rather obvious metaphor of fire and the place from which the fire develops. The word outbreak metaphorically shows the reality of pathological development better than a word precisely devoid of metaphorical value, a code word of some sort, such as a chemical code. If the word cluster replaces the word foyer in the scientific world, it is not for a semiotic or scientific reason, it is simply because the word is English and most scientific articles today are written in English. There is no reason why the lingua franca used by scientists should reflect common usage. Descartes was much wiser, having published his Discourse on the Method in French for the broad educated public of his time who no longer understood Latin, and then translated it into Latin for scientists who did not all understand French.
The semiologist indicates that the word cluster was already used in astronomy. For our part, we discovered in the 1980s the word cluster, which was used to designate the blocs of data on the hard disks of computers, the French word still being used in computer manuals. The word was later reused to refer to computer clusters. Then, we found it again in the 2000s to replace in economics the notion of pôle de développement or pôle de compétitivité, following an article (and not a book) published by Harvard professor Michael Porter. But the concept of pôle de développement, slightly transformed in the French law in 2005 into a pôle de compétitivité, had been invented fifty years earlier by the French economist, historian and philosopher François Perroux, whose main weakness was not being American. The metaphorical power of the term cluster cannot escape anyone's notice, a power that the English term cluster is once again totally lacking, outside the scope of the English language6.
Even more worrying is the more systematic abandonment by our Italian friends of words common to their language in favour of English words to designate situations that are as ordinary as possible. Thus the word confinement, in Italian, confinamento, has given way to the English word lockdown.
If Michel Serres were still with us, there is no doubt that he would see this as an incomprehensible debasement.
It goes without saying that language is not managed by decree and that language policies are only effective in synergy with usage.
The replacement of a language which is essentially metaphorical, and which draws its power from metaphor, by a lingua franca, a sanitised language, even if it was used by the scientific community, is an aggression against language, not an enrichment. For scientific English resembles English but is not English. It is a service language, in the sense given to it by Heinz Wismann and Pierre Judet de La Combe7 , closely subject to immediate but invasive usefulness, by the mere force of the media and the bad example set by some of our elites. It is a language representative of the technical society and managerial ideology from which it is urgently necessary to free ourselves.
They have the natural balance of power. Self-awareness and attachment to life's instincts are forces that are just as natural, which can be countered by translating them into civic and linguistic awareness. Nothing could be more legitimate. It is at the level of individual consciousness that linguistic sovereignty, as we try to define it here, takes its source. In our democracies, it is the people who are sovereign, so it is with the citizen that we should start.
Sovereign actions and policies
But political power and public authorities in general obviously have their role to play. And the first role, before any regulation or directive, is to set an example. In this respect, there is much to be said that goes far beyond the limits of this article.
But of course, public authorities can take far-reaching decisions, which can in turn have massive effects on uses and behaviour.
We will take two very strong examples.
The first is that of the Italian Constitutional Court in a fundamental decision taken in 2018, in which the Court declares practices such as those developed by the Milan Polytechnic Institute, which had decided to switch exclusively to English all training provided from the master's level upwards, to be unconstitutional. A very short excerpt is given below:
"The phenomena of internationalisation must not force the Italian language "into a position of marginality": on the contrary, and precisely because of their emergence, the primacy of the Italian language is not only constitutionally unassailable, but - far from being a formal defence of a heritage of the past, incapable of grasping the changes of modernity - it becomes even more decisive for the continuous transmission of the historical heritage and identity of the Republic, as well as a guarantee of the preservation and valorisation of Italian as a cultural asset in itself. »8
The second example is largely valid for the future.
Machine translation has made its discreet entrance on the website of the German Presidency of the European Union9. It is a small revolution and we have high hopes for the development of machine translation in language management at the level of the European institutions. We are well aware that automatic translation has made considerable progress in recent years, but not to the point of dispensing with any proofreading of published documents. However, apart from texts in German, English and French, which are originals, for the other languages it is the direct result of computer processing that is put into the hands of Internet users. This is why the OEP is calling on its Internet users to take part in an evaluation of this experiment. We are well aware that, at the end of the road, it is the obligation that is now imposed on all editors within the institutions to write in English, which may be called into question. Ideally, drafters could write in their mother tongue and produce translations in the other European languages they know. The consequences of these changes in practice would be considerable, thanks to the resulting rebalancing between the official languages of the EU, which would put an end to the completely abusive dominance of English.
Let's stay with machine translation: this, if used properly, can also reverse the habit in the scientific world that today 80%, if not in some sectors 100% of publications are written in English. This too would be called into question by the development of machine translation. A researcher, Nicolas Bacaer, has started translating scientific articles and publishing them10 in an open archive, an example of which is given below. It opens up a completely reasonable and realistic perspective.
Under the general title "When Europe Wakes Up! "we had subtitled Letter No. 71, "Reclaiming the use of the spoken word". It was, of course, its power to name things and its ability to reinterpret the world we were aiming at. Nothing is more necessary today.
1Cf. Zbiniew Brzezinski, Le Grand Échiquier, Payot, 1997
2Sélim Abou, 1981, Éditions Antropos, collection Pluriel, Paris, p. 17
4Index translationum, Unesco, dernière année connue 2007-2008.
6Christian Tremblay, 2012, « le concept de cluster : un exemple de rupture mémorielle », dans Terminologie (II), comparaisons, transferts, (in)traductions, éd. Jean-Jacques Briu, Peter Lang
7L’Avenir des langues, 2004, Les éditions du Cerf, Paris
There is a lot of talk these days about "economic sovereignty". Could we talk about "linguistic sovereignty"?
The word "sovereignty" is essential. If the concept itself appeared with the birth of the modern state and expresses the superior power of the state over any other kind of power, and since the state ceased to owe its existence to God, it had to draw its legitimacy from the people who are the true sovereign. And if the people cannot find their juridical expression in the State, they cease to be sovereign. There are peoples on this Earth who are in the situation of not having a State, who aspire to sovereignty but are unable to obtain it for lack of a State.
"Sovereignty" is often confused with independence. This is not false, for just as there is no such thing as absolute independence, there is no such thing as absolute sovereign power, if only because sovereign power meets other sovereign powers.
The French economist and philosopher François Perroux, to explain that absolute economic independence does not exist when there is an exchange, found a very suggestive formulation, which was the notion of modality of interdependence, and said that in the real world there are strong modalities of interdependence and weak modalities of interdependence. Only in textbooks or in political declarations can one speak of equality, although it is well known that, beyond the equality of rights, it is observed that some are more equal than others, as the expression goes. In an economy where inequality is the rule, one will seek to build a strong modality of interdependence to one’s advantage at the collective and individual level. Aspiring to have more influence on one's partner or competitor than the opposite is part of life, even if one does not seek it a priori. Since we have to live with the others, we are going to set rules for ourselves, and these rules, which we hope will be fair, will, whether we like it or not, reflect the state of power relations as they exist in a given historical period. This is how international relations will evolve over time between various levels of unilateralism and multilateralism.
In linguistic matters, a parallel can be drawn with state sovereignty and with the economy, but with fundamental differences.
The first difference, an existential one, is that if you can appropriate a territory, if you can make something your own and if territory or goods can be exchanged or negotiated, you cannot appropriate a word invented by yourself or someone else. Once a word has begun to express a piece of reality (material or imaginary) and is shared by the community, it can begin to circulate like a virus.
A writer is the author of a work over which in modern society he has acquired proprietary rights, but he cannot appropriate the words he has used, even if he was the first to use them.
This is why the expression 'linguistic borrowing' is rather misleading and out of place. Indeed for a loan to exist, there must be a borrower and a lender. And, generally speaking, a borrower in principle must repay the amount of his debt. There is no such thing with the language. It would be more appropriate to speak of "captation" or "adoption". When we adopt pizza or couscous as one of our favourite dishes, it is the idea that we take without the intention of giving it back, and the people where the idea was born do not have to suffer so much because they are not deprived of their pleasure and can instead take some pride in being the source of such shared pleasure.
In some cases linguistic "borrowing" is exactly the opposite of an adoption and is more akin to forced sale.
One will have observed in this exceptional period of coronavirus lockdown that in all the languages people have been very creative linguistically. Many words of circumstance will be ephemeral, such as "coronapéro" or "workers' teleday", but others are bound to last. This is the case, for example, of the word cluster (of contamination) which is directly imposed on us by scientific circles without any linguistic or scientific justification, replacing words that are understandable to everyone, in particular "outbreak of contamination" or "concentration of cases of contamination. "It is a clear fact of linguistic domination which can be explained by the fact that the language used in scientific circles has become the English langage and that for some decades now, no one has a point of translating or using pre-existing vocabulary. It is being replaced. If we take the word "tracking" or "tracing", we can make the same observation. However, "tracking" (the term used in one of the few scientific articles on the subject with a French translation) or "tracing" would have its raison d'être. Verification is easy: the word "traçage" lends itself to a quite powerful paradigm: trace, trace, tracer, trace, trace, trace, trace, etc. that can be very easily taught and which offers in itself an intellectual richness that any student can easily appropriate, which neither "cluster" nor "tracing" allows. Anglicisms in these cases are disturbing factors that impoverish the language and disrupt the natural processes of understanding and transmission. It is necessary to understand the processes underlying these phenomena, which are not "borrowed" and whose social significance is profound. How and why do we, whether politicians, journalists or scientists use terms that are not understood by all and which conceptually add nothing to the language?
Another major difference is that of territorialization and borders.
A simplistic idea would be that linguistic boundaries correspond to political boundaries. Reality is quite far from this representation. First of all, the idea of linguistic boundaries is of a completely different nature from political boundaries. If in large conurbations such as Paris, London, New York, Lagos or Abidjan, in certain neighbourhoods we see populations of the same origins grouping together, is it legitimate to speak of borders? Incidentally, the modern situation is no different from what it was already during Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the great trading cities on the Mediterranean region, which were very cosmopolitan cities. Louis-Jean Calvet describes and explains all this very well in La Méditerranée, mer de nos langues1.
let's take a different approach to the problem, from the political borders. As the states we know today were being formed, the very changing borders have moved a great deal over the centuries as a result of wars, treaty redrawings, accompanied or not by migrations and population movements.
Take the case of France, for example. An inaccurate picture would have us believe that the expansion of the French language coincided with the territorial progress of the French monarchy. It is an almost universal fact that linguistic expansion goes hand in hand with the power of the states, and we would like to track this quasi-law on the history of the French language. But this remains a very superficial view of things, because for example, in the 12th century, when the kingdom of France was a small kingdom, the territories where the French language was already present were much larger than the kingdom was.
The kingdom was roughly divided between the domain of the « langue d'oïl » and the domain of the « langue d'oc ». The « pays d'oïl » encompassed regions totally outside the authority of the King of France, including Wallonia, most of Lorraine and Franche-Comté and as far south-east as Neuchâtel in Switzerland. But there were usages of French, Old French at that time, far beyond, in the Italian peninsula and in the Middle East, not to mention the fact that French was the language of the courts and classes cultivated in England, Germany and Flanders2. Obviously, not all the populations in the territories concerned spoke this French, far from it. But this means that as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, and no doubt much earlier, French was already the common language of a ruling class and literary koinè that expanded with the development of the urban bourgeoisie, without much relationship with the kingdom of France.
The non-correspondence between state borders and linguistic areas is a fairly general rule, correspondence being the exception, even if in the 19th century the movement of nationalities tended to make the political borders correspond, yet in a very imperfect way, with linguistic geography. In any case, this non-correspondence has the effect of making more complex all reflection on the idea of linguistic sovereignty.
We must now consider language first and foremost as a social and anthropological fact.
The idea is not really new because we have to go back at least to Plato and Aristotle to see it expressed in a very strong way.
To oversimplify, before Plato, one believed that the word was the thing. With Plato one understands that words are used to designate things, and that eventually several words can designate the same thing, without forgetting that the fact of designating is not an individual fact. The word only becomes a word when it is shared by society. Language is indeed a human creation. The name, distinct from the thing, serves to distinguish reality. It is therefore an instrument of knowledge3. Aristotle went further by linking language and thought: "Belongs to thought all that must be established by language "4.
From the moment when we associate language with knowledge and thought, we see that the "I think therefore I am" can easily be reformulated as "I speak therefore I am". Language, a social fact, is therefore also a formidable power, even the power par excellence, which comes before physical strength.
We must question this disturbing shortcut.
A fundamental question is the relationship of language to the real world. To say that the name makes it possible to distinguish reality, does it mean that the name, the word, does not belong or is external to reality. This is difficult to argue, even though this idea has dominated Western philosophy for centuries and we are not yet rid of this unfortunate representation. Here is a simple example. Everybody knows today what a fake news is, in French a "fake information" or an "infox". One of the most extraordinary infoxes in the history of mankind was the invention of "weapons of mass destruction" by President G.W. Bush, in order to allow the United States to wage a war aimed at restoring American domination over the Middle East. The so-called "weapons of mass destruction", as we know and the authors have confessed, never existed, but the war did. How could such a war, which did exist, have been triggered by something that does not exist? So the word is not external to the real world, it is part of it, and more than being part of it, it contributes to transforming it. We know, thanks to astrophysics and quantum physics, the infinite and infinitely expanding world. The only limit to the power of speech is its relationship of complex power to the real world to which it belongs.
At this point, we must point out two paradoxes that clash.
The first is how in the West we have managed to define language as an instrument of communication.
Is it possible that the mathematical theory of communication5 has been able to exert such an influence on linguists that language can be summed up as an exchange of messages between at least two interlocutors in which language is reduced to a code. According to this theory, the sender's thought is transformed into a code, the natural language, and is then decoded by the receiver, the natural language, the code, being free from any link with the world of knowledge. If the language of the transmitter differs from that of the receiver, all that is required is to match two codes, and that's it. This representation of delirious language is still very present in the world of research, including linguistics, and is certainly the one that predominates in common sense. This situation is so serious that the most famous linguist of this century, who is not the only one to denounce this view of things, Noam Chomsky, expressed his concern about it vigorously in a recent essay, denying any scientific basis for this simplistic representation of language as a means of communication and reminding us of the need to return to classical thinking which claims that language is above all "an instrument of thought "6.
In an excellent novel, The Seventh Function of Langauge, prix Interallié 2015, Laurent Binet bases his entire plot, in the style of a thriller, on this forgotten function of language, which is power.
The other paradox is the opposite, "postmodern" trend, according to which language is the only reality. The real would only exist through language. This means that everything that is written and said has the same value. So the truth does not exist, or rather everything is true, which amounts to the same thing. Everyone can create their own reality. There are only power struggles. Apart from the generalized war, this is a problem without a solution.
This is not the approach of plurilingualism.
Language is part of the world, but the world is not reduced to the language. Each language can be analysed as an infinite effort to understand the world, an infinite and infinitely evolving world, in specific historical and geographical contexts, sources of an infinite diversity of experiences, and therefore, despite massive communication, no language can claim to be able to say everything about the world. This is the meaning to be given to Wittgenstein's famous aphorism "the limits of my language mean the limits of my own world".
We must therefore understand that there is no essence of language and that no language has an essence. Each language as a social reality is the product of the historical experiences of the peoples who speak it, and since these are in contact with each other, languages themselves will evolve through contact with the others. Essentializing languages means reducing them. "Absolutizing one's language condemns it to finitude. Only the angel of Relativism can open its dungeon", François Vaucluse rightly says7.
And this is where the question of sovereignty really comes into play.
"To name is to exist! ». It is through language that peoples exist.
We modern people have conceptualized language, conceptualized culture, power and so on.
Language does not merge with culture, it can accommodate multiple cultures, and cultures themselves include other cultures. Is there a European culture? Yes of course, even if we cannot define it, and as a culture it welcomes a multiplicity of languages and other cultures. All this intertwines and interacts at the pace of economic exchanges and according to technical means. They are therefore both open and closed groups, constituting environments that are eminently but unequally rich and varied for individuals. Environments from which it is not easy to free oneself, but the freedom of the individual can also be this capacity to rise and escape in part from his culture. Only in part. The literature on uprooting is immense.
It is obvious that the individual does not exist outside the environment(s) in which he or she has developed or in which, more rarely, he or she has been able to take root.
Therefore, to exist individually and collectively is to be able to say things, to speak about the world, the world before or after, and to be heard, to be able to act, it is something eminently concrete, and in one's own language or languages. Michel Serres forcefully reminded us of this: "A country which loses its language loses its culture; a country that loses its culture loses its identity; a country which loses its identity no longer exists. This is the greatest catastrophe that can happen to it"8.
Whoever doubts the relationship between language and culture should make the exercise of comparing how one express and thought secularism in different languages. This is just one example.
To want to be "sovereign" without the power of language is nonsense. But, above all, we must not misunderstand the notion of power. It is the creative power, the power of the tree that grows and rises, it is not the power to subdue. Unfortunately and tragically, the two are indissolubly linked like the obverse and reverse sides of the medal.
Can and must there be linguistic sovereignty? Yes, certainly, but States are only actors among others where communities of speakers (writers, scientists, advertisers, companies, trade unions, associations, etc.) act. Moreover, States always have language policies, even without knowing or saying so, if only through education and teaching. A policy of linguistic sovereignty can and must be eminently open to other languages without denying itself.
In a landmark book, Pascale Casanova explained how the world republic of letters9 has functioned from the Middle Ages to the present day. It should be possible to integrate into it scientific production and all the cultural production outside the literary world. The world republic would then become the republic of languages.
1Louis-Jean Calvet, La Méditerranée, mer de nos langues, CNRS Éditions, 2016, Paris, 328 p.
3 Voir Julia Kristeva, 1969, Le langage, cet inconnu, Seuil, p. 109
4 Aristote, La poétique (1456b), cité par J. Kristeva, ibid. p. 115
5 C.E Shannon et W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Urbana, 1949
6 N. Chomsky, Quelle sorte de créatures sommes-nous ?, Lux, 2016
7 Dir. Samia Kassab-Charfi et François Rastier, Mille langues et une œuvre, 2016, Éditions des archives contemporaines, p.5.
8 Michel Serres - Défense et illustration de la langue française aujourd'hui, 2018, p. 55
9 Pascale Casanova, La république mondiale des lettres, Seuil, Paris, 1999, 491 p.
Prenez soin de vous et de tous - Passen Sie auf sich und alle anderen auf - Prenditi cura di te stesso e di tutti gli altri - Cuida de ti mismo y de todos los demás - Ai grijă de tine și de toată lumea - Take care of yourself and of everyone else.
Can the state of the world change the linguistic order ? This is a question that one can legitimately ask, even if one does not have the answer. Or rather, it is obvious, the order of languages being part of the state of the world, the question is useless and to affirm it is a truism. But it could be said of everything. So the question is not a good one, we should rather say "how can the state of the world change the order of languages". On that basis, we can tell ourselves that there are very powerful forces at work that explain the state of the world at a given time, and that is what we must try to understand. But in saying this, we have not yet said much, because are these forces inexorable, which makes us sink into absolute determinism, or do they depend on our will, a little or a lot. The question then begins to become interesting.
Let us take demographics, when we improve public health and the living conditions, we increase life expectancy, which increases the population at all ages, because infant mortality has fallen by a ratio of one to ten in 50 years. This is the product of our will. But once the movement has been launched, we must wait for what is known as the "demographic transition" to take place. We can influence it marginally. Conversely, countries that have long since completed their transition, such as the European countries, are affected by rapid ageing, which will accelerate all the more as the population ages. Some are surprised or pretend to be surprised, but they are wrong because demographic developments and especially their consequences can be predicted, decades in advance. Since 1945, France has chosen to promote the compatibility of women's work and family life. Today, France is more resistant to ageing than its European neighbours. Fifty years ago, China decided to drastically curb births. Today, China's population has almost stopped growing, but it has started to age very rapidly and the population will start to decline around 2030 slowly at first and then very rapidly afterwards. Demographics have laws that we need to know more if we want to act on them.
The same goes for global warming. It has been more than fifty years since the scientists identified the phenomenon with near certainty that it is an effect of human activities. Nothing happened for fifty years, before we began to suffer from the effects of widespread pollution and increasing natural disasters. But the machine is running at full speed and it is very difficult to deflect its trajectory.
Languages, too, have a long term horizon. David Graddol, at the request of the British Council, had carried out such an exercise for English in two reports in 1997 and 2006, The future of English and English Next.
How do we explain the rapid disappearance of the languages counted in the world?
In our last editorial, as a complement to the establishment of a New Dictionary of Anglicisms1, we wondered about the reasons for the pressure of anglicisation that the French language (but also many other languages) is subjected to, the extent and importance of which no one can nowadays deny. Our approach was rather internal and tried to determine the social behaviours that favoured such a penetration of words and expressions that were simply tacked onto the language.
It is a truism to say that the state of the world today is very different from what it was in the seventies.
American domination is not what it used to be. Economically and technologically, China, which was at the beginning of its economic revolution, is now following hot on the heels of the United States and even surpassing it in 5G mobile phone technology. Russia is not the Soviet Union. Its GDP, depending on how you calculate it, is between that of France and Germany, or is barely higher than that of Spain, between 8 and 20% of that of the United States. Above all its military budget, although it tripled between 2000 and 2016, is still 12% of that of the United States and barely exceeds that of Saudi Arabia. These simple figures alone are enough to fail to take seriously the threat that Russia could pose to Europe. No one is fooled. The demonisation of Russia through Putin has, first and foremost, a strategic interest for the United States: to delay as long as possible the moment when Europe will finally come out of a long sleep. The demonisation of Russia also has the function of making real or supposed dependence pay with a generalised right of espionage, which is a very real reality and which is greatly increased by modern means, this generalised espionage having the objective of giving itself an extremely brutal right of sanction against all those who do not accept the diktat. The thing is clear: the status of Europeans has evolved from that of "vassal" (the word, widely used elsewhere, is under the pen of Zbigniew Brzezinski, international expert and former advisor to Jimmy Carter, who died in 2017) to that of quasi-enemies, which does not prevent efforts to convince them, advice of friends.
Let's now talk about political and social systems.
At the risk of shocking many people, the United States is a very special democracy where one dollar equals one vote, as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz put it. It was not like that in the seventies, because election spending was not as astronomical as it is today. While most European countries have passed laws to regulate election spending, in the United States, where legal entities partake as such, like any citizens, of freedom of expression, it is normal, the Supreme Court ruled in its Citizens United decision of January 21, 2010, that large and small companies alike finance election campaigns. The nature of political institutions in the United States today has changed, although this is hardly noticeable in the textbooks on constitutional law and political institutions.
With regard to social systems, the question of setting up a European-style social security system has been debated in every election since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. We are aware of the meritorious but limited efforts of Barak Obama and the symmetrical efforts of Donald Trump to destroy its effects. But the United States is very far from having a system comparable to the European systems that are a fundamental feature of our societies.
The same could be said of inequalities. Yes, lots of things are not going well in Europe, but inequality has reached such a level in the United States that the average American lives no better today than in the 1970s.
And we say nothing about the environment, violence, firearms regulations, prisons, and endless wars, never victorious. Everything indicates that the United States as a global entity (in detail, that is something else) is moving further and further away from Europe and perhaps even from the world.
Significantly, in the great global coronavirus crisis we are experiencing, the United States is largely failing, both internally and externally. It is not living up to its position as the world's leading power and leader in the Western world.
The fundamental question is whether this great changeover that is taking place can have linguistic consequences.
A very curious situation: our contemporaries, still in the midst of the "American dream", even though it the latter has been missing for decades in the United States itself, are still looking for the latest linguistic coinage that would come to us from across the Atlantic. They even invent pseudo-works such as developing co-housekeeping (Fr 2, 15 March 2020, 1:47 pm used by a minister) in the context of the health crisis, in the sense of mutualising or sharing childcare at home, whereas « housekeeping » means housecleaning service. Sorry for the anecdote, but it is significant.
We are more attracted by the larding or stuffing of our language than by learning foreign languages. One would think that there is a gap between the attraction for a culture and the reality that prevails. As if language movements were clinging to certain aspects of a culture, often marginal, based on the generally accepted idea that new ideas always come from across the Atlantic.
The idea comes from very far away. Thomas Piketty reminds us or makes us discover in Capitalism and Ideology2 the historical role played by the American educational advance in the nineteenth century and during most of the twentieth century. At the time, the United States was more than half a century ahead of Europe in terms of universal primary and then secondary schooling, with a corollary of much higher productivity and standard of living than our own. And this lead will later be reflected at university level. Hence the immediate credibility and rapid adoption in the 1950s, in the material, intellectual and moral rubble of the Second World War, of ideas from across the Atlantic, particularly in the fields of education.
Things are changing. We will take full measure of this with the climate issue that will be with us for decades to come, and today, with the health crisis. The United States has ceased to be a beacon for humanity and is perhaps even the model to be avoided at all costs. The time has come to seek within ourselves and in the dialogue with the rest of the world, the resources to overcome the enormous challenges we face. Is the future still American? We have good reasons to doubt it. This is a central question.
Let us talk about values. Let us quote George Steiner who has just died3 :
« There are no 'minor tongues'." Each language contains, articulates and transmits not only a unique load of lived memory, but also an elaborative energy of its future times, a potentiality for tomorrow. The death of a language is irreparable, it diminishes man's possibilities. Nothing poses a more radical threat to Europe - at its roots - than the exponential and detrimental growth of the Anglo-American language and the uniformity of values and world image that this devouring Esperanto brings with it. The computer, the culture of populism and the mass market speak Anglo-American from the nightclubs of Portugal to the shopping malls and fast food outlets of Vladivostok. Europe will surely perish if it does not fight for its languages, local traditions and social autonomies. If it forgets that "God resides in the detail". »
Let's pay attention to the fact that Steiner doesn't talk about English, but about Anglo-American and the values it carries with it, he who loves German, French and English. Learn English without restraint but not only, enjoy American literature but not only. Globish is not English, even if he it looks like it. But inlaying one's language indiscriminately (borrowing is perfectly acceptable, even vital to a certain extent) with so-called English words is not good practice.
Good minds will say that caring for languages is of secondary importance in the present times. Languages go hand in hand with freedom. One can die to preserve them. And we must. It's not secondary or futile. It's about survival.
In 1973, Europe had an inspiration, which soon evaporated.
On 6 November 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War had begun, the nine governments of the European Economic Community issued a joint declaration on the situation in the Middle East. While the United States had proclaimed 1973 the "Year of Europe" and invited the Europeans, as if they had been "kings of the East before the Roman Emperor "4 to sign a new Atlantic Charter, the assembled Europeans undertook, on the proposal of the Englishman Edward Heath, with the approval of France, who wrote the first version, the drafting of a declaration on European identity5. This declaration was initially intended to be only an internal document with a view to a common response to the American initiative, but in the end, the new Atlantic Charter having fallen through, it was published quietly at the European summit in Copenhagen on 14-15 December 1973.
There followed a long parenthesis that culminated in the invasion of Iraq, which was triggered on the basis of the most considerable state lie (fake news or infox) in the history of mankind, with the approval of all the European governments standing at attention except France and Germany.
It is time to rediscover the inspiration of the Declaration on European Identity, which identity is not a cult, but an idea to be built for the world of tomorrow.
2Capitalisme et idéologie, 2019, p. 636
3Georges Steiner, Une certaine idée de l’Europe, 2005 (in : « Une certaine idée de l’Europe », Actes Sud, 2005, pages 52-53)
4Expression of Georges Pompidou
Why be interested in Anglicisms when you don't sacralize the language and try to preserve it as a museum piece. Because language is a living organ that structures our relationship to the world and which itself undergoes all the transformations and twists of the world.
Speakers will therefore seek in its own resources or in other languages the means to understand and say or write what they have to say or write.
Everything goes very fast in our world and common concepts, perhaps one per day or one per week, are hard to say.
The latest example, for us, keen as we are, of the world's current events, the outpouring of hatred on social networks (and not only) is becoming a matter of concern. So the oddball who belches and insults instead of talking, writing and reasoning (probably too reactive, conformist, petty-bourgeois, elitist, big-capitalist or whatever) must be named. As luck would have it, this noun will be "hater" (Laurent Delahousse on France 2 on December 14, with a definition), from the verb "to hate" (haïr). No doubt "hater" is universal, while "hateful", both adjective and noun (like "amoureux"), is fatally French, therefore "provincial".
Perhaps "hater" will be ephemeral and even limited to a single job. This is not certain, as this is not an isolated case.
Academicians and the Académie française are alarmed, and obviously their legitimate and common sense reaction, catches the attention for five minutes, and quickly passes for a rearguard action, even as a fight against progress and modernity, notions that in other fields pass for outdated in the name of postmodernity.
In any case, it is legitimate to be alarmed, but it is still better to try to identify the processes that lead us to this gigantic universal gibberish, so gibberish and so universal, that we will have ceased to understand each other. This is one of the interpretations of Babel. In a personal translation but validated by Arabists François Rastier quotes Sura Les appartements (verse 13) of the Koran, which says: "We have divided you into languages and nations so that you may learn from one another". Modern translation: gibberish is not an effective means of communication and exchange.
Linguists rightly remind us that languages are largely borrowed, especially French.
What holds us back is that borrowings are almost always interpreted by linguists as enrichment. And that is what we would like to verify and at the same time understand the processes of transformation. What do they consist of and what are the factors that provoke them?
In this editorial we will not be able to go very far in this research. We take only a few examples that challenge us.
The example taken at the beginning is already quite instructive, and since it is not proven to be a loan, all hypotheses are allowed.
First of all, we are dealing with a new reality that is twofold. Firstly, social networks have taken barely a few years to establish themselves in social life and profoundly transform political life. Secondly, the outpouring of hatred that we are witnessing could not occur in the same way in the traditional media. Writers and journalists could do it, but with social networks, the public voice is open to everyone at almost no cost. That said, the social network found its name without difficulty in French (and in all languages) and hate is not really a new fact. What is new is the combination of hate and the social network. So we need a new word for people who can do this. Maybe we do. It seems that in the United States someone had the idea of building "hater" from "to hate". In French, it would be hard to derive from "haïr", "haïseur" (as in "invader"), when we already have "haïssant", as we have "amant" (but not "aimant") and "haineux" (as we have "amoureux"). So there is no lack of resource and no lack of elegance (because "lover" is not quite the same as "lover" and perhaps there are also some nuances between "hater" and "hateful"). In any case, it is the use that gives meaning, and the answer to the need for a new concept can be found in a new word, as well as in a new derivative ("hate" is so far more employable as a present participle than as a noun) or more easily by giving a new use to an already existing word. The economy of language is almost always the search for simplicity and to change a lot with as little change as possible. Therefore the preference must go to the new use of an already existing word.
Of course, we have no idea what will happen to this newcomer, but let us ask ourselves why it might be that he or she will enter the French language in the form of anglicism, in preference to a solution that comes directly from what is called the genius of language, and of which French is full.
Let us first review some of the clichés that we are being watered down to the point of thirst.
English is easier, shorter, more direct.
As Claude Hagège reminds us in a recent interview, only people who don't speak it or speak it badly can come out with such nonsense. English is indeed phonetically very difficult and a very idiomatic language. It is easy to check by reading an article in Time or the Guardian. If the argument of simplicity or closeness had any credibility, the French would have long ago switched to Italian. One could qualify it as basic english or globish, but basic english is not English, it only has the appearance of it, and we are not in the context of specific uses such as writing weather reports or commentary on a football match in which one should be able to get away with 150 to 300 words.
Second argument sometimes used: the word does not exist in French (of course any reader can make the translation by taking another language, and will make the same observation). We have just seen what it is. However, the words do exist, are available to serve, but if one does not know one's own language, one may actually believe that the word or words do not exist. However, many of our French speakers lack even a basic vocabulary, which makes them prefer the word they hear without further question. There are in fact two audiences. There are people, often quite old, who are not very "connected", and, on the other hand, a younger audience, very "connected" to rudimentary French, and for whom the sprawl of everyday use of English words, or words resembling English, is a marker, not of "distinction" in Bourdieu's sense, but of a perceived "superiority", like the temperature on the weather report, and yet so "fake". In the middle and upper layers of this category, a small layer of snobbery can be added, with Anglicism appearing as a marker of culture, and the effect of mimicry of bands, groups, networks and professional teams can play to full effect. To appear "hip", sorry, "up to date" fits well in the decor. Their vision of the world is globally structured by the winds from across the Atlantic, which carries via advertising both hyperconsumerism and an Eldorado that has become for decades purely imaginary.
The double repetition effect caused by the initial message and by mimicry exerts a leverage effect on this type of audience and ensures optimal propagation of the new terms. Mimicry and distinction are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually reinforcing. Whether Claude Hagège likes it or not, there is ease and the illusion of ease. And there, the repetition of the same sounds and the same words ends up creating an impression of ease, the basis of assimilation and learning. Depending on the ideological context, this phenomenon will also be called intoxication, head stuffing, conditioning, training, watering, feeding, etc.. If we say "bottle-feeding", we introduce nuances of pleasure, irenicism and dependence at the same time, attached to early childhood, which brings us closer to our subject, because hyperdependence on communication is a characteristic of the times we live in, and it is created from a very young age.
To extend the reasoning, let us say that there is a middle effect. For repetition to have its full effect, there must be a favourable environment.
In 1928 Edward Bernays produced his famous essay Propaganda1 , Noam Chomsky's "classic textbook of the public relations industry," which "cynically and straightforwardly sets out the main principles of mass manipulation, or what Bernays called the 'factory of consent. How to impose a new brand of laundry detergent? How do you get a president elected? "2 All the techniques of totalitarian power (Gobbels drew much inspiration from it), but also from corporate communication and modern political communication are found in it. However, it is not certain that everything you need to know about public relations and marketing techniques is of great use to our subject, because these techniques are within the reach of all the powerful in this world, whether it be Trump's United States, Putin's Russia or Tsi Ji Ping's China.
We want to highlight three phenomena.
Geopolitics, which is essential, cannot be overlooked. It was not a narrow-minded anti-American who wrote that Europe is only "the bridgehead of American power and the springboard for the expansion of the world democratic system in Eurasia", it was the great expert and adviser to the President of the United States from 1977 to 1981, Zbigniew Brzezinski3. With a military budget representing 40% of world defence spending, 7 times the Russian budget and x times the Chinese budget, the situation has not changed much, if not many contextual elements. In antiquity, the Roman imperium did not prevent the Greek language from continuing to shine for centuries and being shared by the Roman elites.
Of course, there is scientific domination. But this domination is far from total. On the other hand, this domination was enough to make English the language of the scientific community. Some people claim that English is the Latin of today. This is not true, since the domination of Latin in the scholarly world for centuries did not in any way prevent the flourishing of "vulgar languages", and Descartes wrote his Discourse on the Method first in French and then disseminated it later also in Latin. Similarly, the history of the French language has never been totally linked to the political history of the French nation.
So we have to look elsewhere. There is globalization. But we still need to know what it is.
In the eighties, a wave of companies wanting to mark their international roots took English as their official language, no doubt thinking that anonymity was a good marketing idea. Some thought that the nation-state was in its twilight years, and with it democracy, seeing in the absolute market the only way to achieve the general interest (theirs). This movement was a long-lasting one. However, for companies, English is no longer the subject of debate. As soon as a company, big or small, wants to act internationally, it cannot do without English, but that is not the point. The linguistic need is not limited to English, it depends on the territories, customers and partners. The second languages (which nothing prevents them from being the first to be learned) are in ambush for the professional development and performance of the company.
Moreover, the issue is not strictly linguistic. The desired skills are also cultural. It is necessary to understand the values involved, behaviours, hierarchical relationships, negotiation, etc. And knowledge of English from this point of view is not enough.
So what is of concern is the fact that opinion lags far behind that of the companies themselves.
So we have to look in other directions.
From the middle to the reflex conditioned by the effect of technological pressure and the mastodons of mass culture, the field is wide, too wide for this modest article.
Let's take "our ten must-have series of the year 2019" published by Le Monde, and simply look at the titles: "Fleabag" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Mindhunter" (on Netflix), "The Good Fight" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Succession" (on OCS on demand), "Pose" (on Canal+ Séries), "Transparent" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Too Old to Die Young" (on Amazon Prime Video), "What We Do in the Shadows" (on Canal+), "Russian Doll" (on Netflix), "Il Miracolo" (on Arte). Look for the mistake!
Another incursion into the new world, still drawing from the newspaper Le Monde, thousands of parents shout "Help, my child is addicted to Fortnite"! »
Because the game of "battle royale" has conquered the 8-12 year olds, to the great despair of some parents, overwhelmed by these kids who won't take their hands off their controllers and scream incomprehensible things, helmets screwed on their ears. At the same time, numerous concordant scientific studies denounce the devastating effects of the small screen on the brains of young children.
Impressive, isn't it? We suggest another game: count the number of anglicisms that these video games carry.
What if a language's global vocation depended on its ability (or rather that of its speakers) to tell the world. To pose the problem in these terms is not absurd, given that it is a bit the history of Greek and Latin. One would realize that English is not alone (has it ever been?), and that there are even many candidates, with all due respect to our Panurge sheep, or our millions of lemmings fascinated by the small screen, and to our media specialists of the immediate world.
The American steamroller would look more like the pachyderm than the cheetah, unless it is the windmill. It's been a long time since the United States stopped pretending to rule the world, locked as it is in its own cultural vacuum.4
This is why we invite you to take an interest in the new dictionary of anglicisms that the OEP is implementing in collaboration with Défense de la langue française. A contribution to a better understanding and perhaps a better control of the phenomenon.
1Edward Bernays (1928), Propaganda, translated from English by Oristelle Bonis and reissued in France by Les Editions La Découverte/Zones, Paris, 2007
2Cover page of the French edition.
3Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997), The Grand Chessboard, Basicbooks, Paris, 2010
4Reread for example Les Américains, Michel Jobert, Albin Michel, 1987; Après l'Empire, Emmanuel Todd, Gallimard, 2002
The Roman Empire was not monolingual, but bilingual, because the Roman elites discovered the full value of the Greek culture and language from which they drew their inspiration. Everyone knows Gargantua's letter to Pantagruel in Chapter 8 of Rabelais’ Pantagruel in which Gargantua, before even listing the long list of fundamental knowledge to be acquired in the sciences, arts, law, history and religions, wrote to his son in these terms: "I intend and want you to learn languages perfectly: first Greek, as Quintilian wants it, then Latin, and then Hebrew for the Holy Letters, and Shaldaic and Arabic similarly; and you to shape your style in the imitation of Plato, as far as the Greek language is concerned and in the imitation of Cicero, as regards Latin, ".
We probably know less about Diderot's recommendations to Empress Catherine II in his Memoirs for Catherine II, Diderot who, in the Encyclopedia, condemned the curriculae of the French university of his time which, remaining true to a medieval and "Gothic" tradition, was based on Latin, Greek, rhetoric and Aristotelian logic1. He had planned three levels in education. Simply "the capacity to read well and to write well for the first level and a little arithmetic; the second level will allow a better knwledge of science and logic; the third "leads to the state of a scientist". One will learn: « the Russian language by principle, the Latin language, the Greek language, the Italian, English and German languages" (p. 662). This is the linguistic space of the Europe of Enlightenment".2
A revolutionary opening, in his Project for a university, Diderot considers that "A university is a school whose door is open indiscriminately to all the children of a nation, and where masters stipulated by the State initiate them to the elementary knowledge of all sciences" (p. 749)... Is it worth recalling that Diderot wrote at a time when Educationwas reserved for the privileged and was essentially provided by members of a religious order? »
Have things changed today, when English seems to dominate everywhere? In reality, some fundamentals are unchanged. When it comes to languages, the elite is always plurilingual In the ancient times we have just mentioned, the educational ideal was first aimed at the upper classes, and the new idea that emerged from the end of the 17th century, taken up by Diderot and Condorcet a few years before the French Revolution, was that education could reach all the social classes. But the idea is then more to democratize an elite or aristocratic model than to provide second-rate education.
The unifying thread of this, plurilingualism from ancient times to the present day, is the appetite for knowledge linked to the ability to gain access to the original works in various languages, which is very far removed from the very modest ambitions of modern education. For modern education learning foreign languages has no objective of knowledge at all, it is simply to give oneself the means to get by almost anywhere in the world with a minimal linguistic knowledge. This is what the concept of "English of International Communication" means, that is, if we want to free ourselves from hackneyed a language that sounds like English but is not English.
In fact, it reduces language teaching, in this case English, to very little.
This reduction of language to a communication tool is a constant feature of educational programs to this day and has been widely used for decades by many linguists. Unfortunately, it is based on a misconception.
Chomsky3, who is not especially expected in this field, sets the record straight in What kind of creatures are we4, stating that "languages are not tools designed by human beings, but biological objects in the same way as the visual or digestive systems. "and to follow on to the "concept of communication" which "is largely devoid of substantial meaning and serves as a generic term for various forms of social interaction". It therefore plays "a role - albeit a minor one - in the concrete use of language", but the essential thing is that this dogma of language having a communication function "has no basis in itself, and there is now sufficient evidence to think that it is simply false. Language is certainly sometimes used for communication, as are clothing styles, facial expression, posture and many other things. However, the fundamental properties of linguistic architecture confirm the teachings of a rich philosophical tradition for which language is essentially an instrument of thought5". Chomsky thus follows in the footsteps of Vico, Leibniz, Humboldt and many others6. To go even further in the formulation, Chomsky considers that "there is no reason to doubt the fundamental Cartesian idea that the use of language has a creative dimension". In fact, Descartes had not invented anything and was only making available to his contemporaries the idea enclosed entirely in the word "poetry" derived from the ancient Greek ποίησις (poiesis), the verb ποιεῖν (poiein) meaning "to do, to create".
This purely instrumental conception of languages, which predominates both in education and in the whole general culture, where the linguistic fact is dramatically absent, is likely to shake all motivation among children and young people as well as among their teachers.
We remember a major national debate on Education that took place between September 2003 and March 2004. It is symptomatic to note that in the 550-page report published under the title "Les Français et leur École", modern languages did not appear in the fundamental learning and that only 3 lines devoid of interest on page 380 were devoted to modern languages.
It is therefore not surprising that in 15 years no serious progress has been made in language learning, neither in France nor in most European countries.
If we take the programme of modern languages for the second year of high school, under the stamp of the Conseil supérieur des programmes, we discover a surprising preamble:
"The globalization of exchanges, the strengthening of the cultural and linguistic diversity of societies and the development of electronic communication make the role of modern languages even more fundamental today. To participate fully in these economic, social and cultural developments and to integrate into today's world with confidence and without apprehension, it is essential that French pupils achieve sufficient fluency in modern languages, particularly in the field of oral communication. »
You can deduct that languages, whether it be the mother tongue or foreign languages, play a role in the formation of the mind, in the discovery and construction of a true culture.
A minor reservation however, in the third paragraph: "Just as a matter of priority, while consolidating his or her linguistic and communication skills, the student deepens his or her knowledge of the geographical and cultural areas of the languages he or she is learning in high school, and opens up to new worlds and spaces through a presentation free of stereotypes and prejudices. »
But we can see that this is indeed a false priority and lifeless knowledge, because it is a matter of adapting to a world on which none of us have the power to act. The question is never raised to ask whether language is a freedom and a power.
Clearly, issuing a certification in language is little more than the equivalent of a driving licence, both essential and derisory at the same time. Too bad it can't be bought, because if it were possible, we could dispense with the expenses of a training course.
The devaluation of languages obviously goes hand in hand with a fascination for English and a neglect of other languages. Even if the extreme polarization on English contributes to reducing more than broadening the field of vision on the world and reinforcing a supremacy that is only too prevalent.
Indeed, if a certification in English is equivalent to a driving licence, it is quite normal for families to swear only by English.
The attractiveness of English is the application of an anthropological law problematized by Pierre Frath7, in the line of Jean Calvet's gravitational model of languages8. It is a law that has always worked and is working particularly well today all over the world in all linguistic contexts9. The challenge is to ensure a better future for oneself and one's children and to raise oneself socially. This is the real driving force behind the language preference for English, as it is behind the disappearance of so many languages in the world.
This idea is also based on a postulate which is wrong.
In countries where, in the middle of the last century, the level of secondary schooling was still quite low and language learning still concerned only relatively well-off groups, it is understandable that English has attracted attention and that as education became more democratic, other languages have seen their position decline rapidly, particularly in France where many languages were available.
It is surprising that this unadulterated preference for English continues to this day. Because the world has changed.
From the last European Conference on Plurilingualism held in Bucharest in May 2019, we learned from the testimony of several companies that public opinion is far behind the companies themselves. For them, the question of English is outdated. Of course, it is important to have a good command of English, especially as you move up the hierarchy. But the linguistic need is not limited to English, it depends on the territories, customers and partners. Moreover, the question is not strictly a linguistic one. The desired competence is also cultural. It is necessary to understand the values involved, behaviours, hierarchical relationships, negotiation, etc. And knowledge of English from this point of view is not enough at all. The real "elites" know all this very well but do not brag about it.
It should also be noted that the language competence has an economic impact, both from the point of view of the company's performance and from the individual's point of view, as one cannot go without the other. The lack of knowledge of English is often a handicap for recruitment and career development, but plurilingualism is a much stronger asset than English alone. A good command of a second language immediately gives the advantage over the single one. English is not an asset, but its lack of knowledge is a handicap on the labour market. It is from this point of view that the analogy with a driving licence makes sense.
While learning English alone is similar to the school of the poor, many parents still see English as a lifeline for their children, a guarantee of social advancement when it is a way to avoid exclusion.
It is therefore necessary to combat the prejudice of the « all-English » language. But Einstein would have said that it is more difficult to disintegrate a prejudice than an atom.
So, hammering, hammering untiringly the right and simple ideas, giving them the best possible dressing, diverting simplistic marketing arguments towards more noble goals, this is perhaps the only thing we are able to do...
But above all, we must understand and make people understand: Plurilingualism is much better than the « all-English », because plurilingualism is a poetic conception, in the sense of the ancients, creative, we would say today, of politics, the economy and society.
1Article Collège de l’Encyclopédie (p. 752).
2Didier Béatrice. Quand Diderot faisait le plan d'une université. In: Recherches sur Diderot et sur l'Encyclopédie, n°18-19, 1995. pp. 81-91; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/rde.1995.1292, https://www.persee.fr/doc/rde_0769-0886_1995_num_18_1_1292, p.88.
3Nous citons Chomsky en raison de sa célébrité, mais il n’est pas seul.
4Quelle sorte de créatures sommes-nous, Noam Chomsky, 2016, Lux, p. 27 à 29, édition originale What kind of creatures are we, Columbia university press.
5On peut regretter les termes « instrument de la pensée » ou « instrument of thought » dans la mesure où Chomsky met en cause la conception strictement insrumental du langage qui prédomine très largement de nos jours dans toutes les enceintes, depuis les sphères universiatires jusqu’à l’opinion publique. Sans doute est-ce le résultat d’une simple difficulté de formulation. Leibniz a eu l’idée que la langue est « un milieu », ce que ne peut renier Humboldt pour qui « le monde (extérieur et intérieur) nous est donné par le langage, il nous est toujours donné par une langue déterminée ». Point de vue que Chomsky reprend à son compte en citant Humboldt : « chose assez particulière, le langage fait face à un domaine dépourvu de la moindre limite, qui contitue l’essence même de ce qui peut être pensé. », d° p.16-17.
6d° p. 27 à 29
8CALVET, Louis-Jean, 1999, Pour une écologie des langues du monde, Paris, Plon.
9Voir à cet égard La langue mondiale. Traduction et domination, Pascale Casanova, Paris, Editions du Seuil
On returning from the first World Congress of Francophone Researchers and Experts organized by ACAREF (Académie africaine de recherches et études francophones) at the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, from 11 to 14 June 2019, it is natural to take a benevolent look at Africa.
First of all, this congress, which attracted nearly 250 participants, after having collected 675 proposals for participation, was not lacking in ambition.
Twenty years ago, such an event would probably have been held in Europe and could have been entitled "Human Sciences at the Bedside of Africa". But this time, this congress succeeds three other DELLA (Didactics and Teaching of Languages and Literature in Africa) symposia held in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The last had already shown the vigour of a young generation of African researchers and revealed that Africa, because of the development challenges it faces, is a field where innovative research can flourish.
The CMCF was therefore a natural extension of it and aimed to go beyond the educational and linguistic framework and to question the humanities, i.e. the whole range of humanities from the point of view of their impact on societies and their capacity to address African development issues.
As English-language research enjoys unrivalled referencing systems, it was imperative to highlight the progress of French-language research.
Over the past twenty years, Africa has undergone a profound transformation.
Africa was the main beneficiary of the EFA (Education for All) Plan adopted at the Dakar conference in 2000 and is the first continent to be targeted by Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Today, it accounts for 30% of development aid, whereas it currently represents only 17% of the world's population1, but a set of data shows that Africa has indeed entered the emerging world.
Growth (although questionable in some respects, this criterion remains unavoidable) was twice as fast from 2000 to 2017 as in the previous two decades and 72% above the world average (+4.9% against 2.84%).
This growth, despite large disparities and insufficient poverty reduction, affects almost all countries, without any need to distinguish between French-speaking and English-speaking African countries as it has been done in the past.
To get an idea of the sustainability of the process, some data must be integrated.
First, this process is based on considerable progress in the areas of health and education. Significant progress remains to be made, but the growth observed would not have been possible without the inflow of capital and the development of internal savings for which the improvement of health and education was a prerequisite and the most powerful lever. A virtuous relationship is clearly emerging between improving health status and raising the population's level of education on the one hand, and the attractiveness of economies for investment, both domestic and international, on the other. Direct investment to the African continent increased from $15 billion to $38 billion between 2000 and 2008 and to $45 billion in 2015. This growth can be explained. According to the French Council of Investors in Africa (CIAN), Africa offers the highest rate of return on investment in the world. It is interesting to note that a significant proportion of investment comes from African diasporas around the world, particularly in France. According to the World Bank, remittances from the sub-Saharan African diaspora amounted to $2.2 billion in 2001, 4.6 billion in 2008 and 10.6 billion in 2015. For North Africa and the Middle East, the corresponding figures are $1 billion, 6.7 and 6.8. These results are remarkable. However, over the period, the investment rate, between 20 and 23 per cent of GDP, remained below the global average, between 23 and 26 per cent, and is still far from East Asia and the Pacific, which is between 37 and 43 per cent, and South Asia, between 25 and 38 per cent.
Clearly, this virtuous circle only works in a state of relative political stability combined with a climate of trust that goes hand in hand with more democracy and in a favourable economic context, all conditions that are difficult to obtain and weakened by multiple threats.
The second remark concerns the content of growth. Revenues from natural resources - the ancient foundation of the African economy - accounted for barely 24% of growth over the past ten years; the rest came from other growing sectors such as finance, retail trade, agriculture, and telecommunications. Not all African countries have natural resources, yet GDP growth has accelerated almost everywhere. This means very clearly that growth responds to the needs of local markets without staying away from international markets.
This economic activity is based on very strong local entrepreneurship, and, as Sabine Patricia Moungou Mbend, Vice-Dean of the University of Yaoundé II, Barnabé Thierry Godono and Lucain Som, of the Université Aube Nouvelle, point out in their study on the economic prospects of sub-Saharan Africa, published on the OEP website, the digital economy is very present and is developing much faster than traditional sectors, while irrigating most of them. Currently, the African continent, which still accounted for only 3.85% of world GDP in 2017, is the second largest market in the world in terms of demand for information technology.
Another remarkable feature is the strong feminisation of the economy and particularly of entrepreneurship. Diaretou Gaye, Director of Strategy and Operations at the World Bank, quoted in the same study, noted in 2018: "Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose the path of entrepreneurship, a reality that is not sufficiently discussed". About 25% of working women are led to start their own businesses and thus contribute to about 65% of the continent's wealth. The performance of women-owned businesses is estimated to be 34 per cent higher than that of men-owned businesses.
And what drives them to the company? According to the same study, the first factor is the need to feed the family. In this respect, the case of Rwandan women is exceptional, remarkably highlighted by the program Envoyé spécial. Rwanda, the country of women - April 18, 2019 (France 2, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XN5k2MuH_Fg). "Due to the lack of men, who died by the hundreds of thousands after the 1994 genocide, Rwandan women had to rebuild the country. Today, they are in the majority in the Assembly, and hold strategic positions in both the public and private sectors.
But Africa's greatest opportunity is its youth. With 65 per cent under 25 years of age, the development potential is considerable and the United Nations predicts that Africa's population, which stood at 17 per cent of the world's population in 2017, is expected to exceed 30 per cent by 2050.
Some will raise the spectre of overpopulation, which should not be ignored, but it must be balanced by three aspects.
First, Africa as a whole has an average population of 30 inhabitants per km², which does not make it an overpopulated continent given its size (9 times less dense than India, for example).
Secondly, due to the increase in its level of education and development, Africa has entered the process of demographic transition. Thus, after a strong demographic expansion, due to the rapid decline in mortality rates induced by the improvement in health status, the fertility decline trend is almost general, despite wide variations from one country to another and a rate that some would consider insufficient.
This is why the "Northern countries" cannot ignore what is happening in the South and must do everything possible to support the movement.
As the European Observatory for plurilingualism (and not the Observatory for European plurilingualism), we are closely monitoring educational and linguistic issues in Africa, which has resulted in the publication of three books and soon a fourth one.
Despite undeniable progress, education must remain an absolute priority at the three levels of primary, secondary and higher education. But let us stick to the linguistic aspect, whose implications, often poorly understood, are in fact considerable.
In the 19th century, European countries became, with the affirmation of modern nation-states, countries of monolingual culture. We specify "monolingual culture", because they are not really monolingual, indeed they are far from being so.
On the other hand, because of the extraordinary mosaic of African languages, plurilingualism is a dominant feature of African societies. This situation should be seen rather as an opportunity and an opportunity not to repeat what has happened in Europe, in France in particular, where the place of regional languages has been drastically reduced in the space of three to four generations. But you have to understand what really happened.
The ideological explanation is a very bad explanation and does not lead to any concrete answer. Thus, some people complain about the linguistic damage that Abbot Gregory allegedly committed during the French Revolution with his Report on the need and means to annihilate the patois and universalize the use of the French language (National Convention 1794). Whatever one thinks of this report, with the passage of time and the evolution of linguistic ideas, it is quite illusory to imagine that a parliamentary report, even taking into account the dominant ideas at the time of the French Revolution, could influence the linguistic behaviour of an essentially rural and very largely illiterate population. Other factors, much more significant and universal in scope, came into play. It should be recalled that almost a century later, the Jules Ferry laws (1881-1882) on public education had as their primary motivation to remedy the lack of education of the French population, considered as the first cause of defeat against Prussia in 1870. These laws therefore made primary education public, free and secular and then compulsory primary education from 6 to 13 years of age and with no difference between girls and boys. The first effect of the Jules Ferry laws was the acceleration of literacy from 75% of the population in the northeast quarter of the country and less than 50% in the rest of the country to over 95% everywhere on the eve of the First World War. Of course, this literacy was done in French and only in French, which was obvious at the time.
Beyond education, it is clear that other fundamental processes (industrial revolution, urbanization, media development) have been practiced to lead families to a disaffection for regional languages that became massive in the years following the Second World War.
There is no question of slowing down in any way the accession of populations to the major international languages, such as French and English in Africa in particular, or depriving them of the opportunity to appropriate them. But this process cannot be done in ignorance of the mother tongues. And there are two fundamental reasons for this.
Could we imagine in the Middle Ages in Europe that Latin could be learned without using mother tongues (learning to read and write in the Middle Ages meant learning Latin)? One of the great Latin teaching manuals of the time, written around 1199, Alexandre de Villedieu's Doctrinale, explains it very simply: "If at first children have difficulty understanding well,...let their attention be supported by avoiding doctoral presentations and by teaching children in their own language". (Chaurand, Nouvelle histoire de la langue française, 1999: 125).
Using local or national languages in education is therefore a prerequisite for better learning in school and preventing early drop-outs, which are a major problem for girls and boys.
The second reason is the need to protect and promote the cultural and literary heritage of mother tongues. Several speakers at the CMCF, for example, stressed not only the literary and poetic importance of African stories but also their function as civic and social tools ofeducation. And when the OIF undertakes to encourage the translation of literature into African languages into French and other African languages, it is right.
Teaching local and national languages is therefore also a necessity, but it is a question that can be assessed in the light of two considerations.
The teaching in school of the languages spoken in the families is a condition for ensuring that the family transmission of these languages continues, without which no language can survive. However, it goes without saying that the relevance of this teaching is dependent on satisfactory linguistic and pedagogical equipment for these languages, which is far from always being the case. Teachers must also be well trained in these languages when they are not native speakers themselves, which is very problematic in material terms when there are a large number of languages coexisting in territories that are not linguistically homogeneous.
The second consideration is the choice of languages. It is clear that the national and local languages to be taught must be the languages spoken in the families. Otherwise, as Pierre Frath opportunely pointed out at the CMCF in Accra, the educational benefit to be expected is nil, or even negative, and in so doing we contribute to the eradication of the languages we claim to want to protect, on the basis of a linguistic nationalism that we denounce elsewhere.
In saying these words, we feel that we are labouring th point, because these subjects are well known to the OIF and to the African governments involved in the ELAN programme, for example.
But what we would like to stress above all is the need to change paradigm and move from the monolingual to the plurilingual paradigm.
The monolingual paradigm, which still permeates the Anglo-Saxon world and European countries, is subtractive, in the sense that one language drives out the other and that any bilingual or multilingual system is in a situation of diglossia, i.e. where the languages involved are unequal and mutually competing or even in conflict. On the contrary, the plurilingual paradigm is additive, i.e. languages are perceived as complementary. Charles V is credited with having once said that "a man who speaks four languages is worth four men", a quote with many variations and authors that can be found in various cultural contexts. But the idea is not new, and it is complemented by the idea that one only knows one's language well when one knows the languages of others, an idea that is attributed to both Goethe and Saint-Exupéry. Today, numerous studies have confirmed this and concluded that everyone benefits from a good plurilingual linguistic capital.
The major linguistic challenge currently facing Africa is to opt in people's minds and in practice for the plurilingual paradigm. African peoples are quite well equipped to meet this challenge and it is now that it must be met.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator