Deconstructing anglicisation and anglicisms (II) – The linguistic sinks1
Among the 3.8 million viewers who watched the debate between Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Éric Zemmour on the French channel BFMTV on 24 September, some may have noticed, to their surprise, that the expression "fact-checking" came up about fifteen times in the mouths of the journalists and the debaters, who were surprised, even embarrassed, not to find a substitute for it in the contest between them.
This episode is very characteristic of the present situation.
The two protagonists being known and proclaimed sovereignists, one cannot suspect them of pro-American complacency. But journalistic conformism and the natural pressure of the debate explain this unexpected concession.
We say "journalistic conformism" and "concession".
It would be insulting to the two journalists Aurélie Casse and Maxime Switek not to be well-informed about the numerous fact-checking columns that have appeared in the press under other names revealing a beautiful verbal inventiveness.
The newspaper Le Monde has set up the Decodex, a tool to help you check the information circulating on the Internet and to spot the rumours, exaggerations or distortions. The people who work on Decodex are the decoders, and the column always starts with the title « Decryption »
On France 24, the decoders are called The Observers while AFP lapses into sobriety with AFP Factuel.
In Le Figaro, the column is called La vérification and the newspaper explains: "In the flow of news, half-truths, real and false pretenses, lies, big and small, slip in. To sort out the real from the fake, find in this dossier all our verifications".
On France Info, « Le vrai du faux » is a news and fact-checking programme (as the channel puts it) that sifts through the small and large approximations circulating on websites and social networks.
This does not prevent the channel from continuing with "TRUE OR « FAKE »...".
In Libération they explain to us "Why CheckNews (that's the name of the column no longer does fact-checking with Facebook",whereas 20 Minutes they are content with Fake Off .
What can we learn from this first observation?
Even though the language is not at pains to use simple words to designate a simple action which consists in verifying the statements made by such and such a person in such and such a circumstance, can the reference to the American word in a programme that we know will be listened to and seen by a large audience be seriously interpreted as a mark of political allegiance to the dominant power, the United States. Or rather, according to the expression used by Bernard Cerquiglini, a sort of (probably unconscious) tribute to the culture which is considered to be dominant and which has in this case invented this new practice in the media, basic by the way, consisting in controlling the information which is manipulated and spread.
One might wonder about the meaning of this tribute, which is somewhat reminiscent of the tribute a vassal pays to his suzerain, and about the concept of cultural control coined in the 1960s by the economist, historian and philosopher François Perroux2.
Clearly, in the world of the media, as in other domains, there are behavioural norms which are totally dependent on a cultural hold of which we have lost awareness, which is the nature of a cultural hold. We suggest to designate these manifestations specific to various societal domains as "linguistic sinks " by analogy with thermal sinks in the field of building, more familiarly called "heat sinks ".
The idea does not come out of the blue. In his fine book, Nos ancêtres les Arabes, ce que notre langue leur doit, Jean Pruvost3 devotes a chapter to the paths of Arabic words. He sees six of them: two religious paths, the Crusades and the expansion of the Arab world from the Hegira onwards, the conquest of Spain and the intellectual influence of the Cordoba library, the development of trade between East and West via the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the colonisation and decolonisation of the Maghreb, and eventually the suburban housing estates in France and rap, a musical and poetic art of great importance in the French artistic landscape.
Thousands of these anglicisms are used in relatively small sectors of society, and a few hundred end up penetrating the everyday language and appearing in the dictionaries after many years.
We are quite aware that if an average Frenchman used the term fact-checking at an informal get together or an ordinary business meeting he would pass for a pretentious snob (a nice Anglicism that has long been accepted although it is a bit outdated, with colourful modern competitors like 'hype' or 'geek') or even a snobinard (a well Frenchified derivative).
This probably explains why fact checking is not yet in any current dictionary, but has been taken into account by FranceTerme (JO of 8 April 2017), in the "communication" domain, under the equivalent "Verification of facts" and with the definition "Verification, most often by journalists, of the accuracy of publicly stated facts, particularly in the media", a concept that is, all in all, very banal, and which makes one wonder why there is any need to resort to English to talk about it.
Especially since this professional practice of fact-checking is undeniably useful, as it is a kind of ABC of the journalistic activity and is similar to what is called "investigative journalism" on a smaller level. If this term exists in French, it is because it covers a form of specialisation of tasks, but it does not designate an innovation in terms of fact checking.
Thus, the French journalist Fabrice Arfi explains:
"When you go to look for information, you check it, you cross-check it, you recontextualise it, you prioritise it, you historicise it if necessary, you confront it with the people concerned, you publish it, (...) you do the work of a journalist2.
What is it, then, in Voltaire's country which drives people to use an American term to designate a practice with distant origins, if not to think of oneself as belonging to a certain professional elite, in which, as far as the English language of the Americas is concerned, there is a kind of presumption of legitimacy to which the journalist submits.
You said borrowing!
It is important, even if it is a truism, to say that not all anglicisms as well as linguistic borrowings are to be rejected. On the contrary, when they are a source of enrichment, one should hasten to adopt them, even if it means adapting them to better assimilate them.
Ferdinand Brunot (author of a monumental history of the French language published at the beginning of the last century and continued by Charles Bruneau) distinguished between the necessary borrowing and the luxury borrowing. The necessary borrowing is a borrowing that enriches the language. the luxury borrowing does not have this quality, but in any case it has a positive connotation because the luxury borrowing
always starts from the language that receives it, i.e. the speakers go looking for it, and in the end it is always one more enrichment. Moreover, usage eventually sorts out and discards unnecessary borrowings.
There is a third category of borrowing, unfortunately forgotten, which the conditions of globalisation today place in the front line, and which corresponds to what we suggest to call the borrowings of domination, i.e. borrowings which establish themselves or are imposed from outside.
It is the conditions of this penetration that lead us to speak of "linguistic sinks", the mechanisms of which we must try to understand, after having appreciated its consequences, which can be positive or negative, for the individual or for the community.
We believe that these mechanisms are not sufficiently studied, when they should instead be the subject of precise research. The interest of this approach is to circumscribe the phenomena to their areas of production and diffusion and to show that the mechanisms can be different depending on the environment corresponding to the linguistic sink. This is the approach we have taken with the New Dictionary of Anglicisms and Neologisms project carried out by the OEP5.
It is clear that we are moving away from any linguistic characterisation of « borrowing » to focus on the social dynamics, the birth of anglicisms, and their effects, which may be elimination or coexistence, in order to consider influencing their course.
The scientific field, which we have mentioned in previous editorials, is the first linguistic sink to be looked at.
Cluster and scientific discourse
The word cluster has emerged in relation to the pandemic because most scientific papers are now written in English, including by French-speaking scientists. Although the word cluster has nothing scientific about it and comes from everyday English ("swarm of bees", "block of houses", "banana bunch", "star cluster", etc.), it is used in technical and scientific language in a multitude of contexts. Whereas the expression 'foyer of infection' or 'foyer of contamination' was already in use among researchers and health professionals in France, the term 'cluster' will quickly impose itself in the media, after a short transitional phase during which the French and American terms will cohabit, just long enough for the French finally to learn the latter.
It is surprising to note that the same process had taken place in the 2000s. We were coming out of thirty years of ultra-liberalism where any territorial State intervention to promote local development was suspect. It was then that the concept of development cluster, under the pen of Michaël Porter6 , an American professor and researcher at the prestigious Harvard University, could be seen as an innovation and attracted the attention of European institutions and many governments, in particular the French government. Except that Michael Porter had merely reinvented or updated the growth and development poles theorised thirty years earlier by François Perroux, a student and heir to the famous Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. However, for an American professor, it was probably better to be linked to classical economics and in particular to the theory of comparative advantages put forward by David Ricardo in 1817 in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, rather than be in the tradition where we find one of the great inspirers of the economic reconstruction of France and of the French-style planning that accompanied the Trente Glorieuses. In any case, the term cluster has become established throughout Europe, including in France, as the generational leap has led to a kind of amnesia, a break in memory in the economic sciences and in the terminology of the European Commission. However, when it came to incorporating the concept into the French legislation, we saw the reappearance of the concept of pôle de compétitivité in the 2005 finance law, which was simply an update of François Perroux's theories. The amnesia had stopped, at least in part.
To stay in the scientific field, a similar fate seems to have accompanied the term tracking.
The writings behind the French application stopcovid, now known to all, are almost all written in English by French people. However, when the press started to talk about it, the application was rather referred to as a digital tracking application. We also noted in one of the few scientific articles in French related to the subject the term "suivi (des cas contact)" , which is not at all difficult to understand and is characterised by sobriety. But very quickly, it was the American term tracking which was imposed by the minister, as well as by senior civil servants and finally by the media, without the latter needing to make the French term coexist alongside its American counterpart, since the latter is so close to its source (tracier in old French "to follow on the trail", from the Latin trahere). There is nothing to say that, with time, tracking will not eliminate itself, with traçage or suivi regaining their legitimate rights.
In any case, these two examples clearly show that, for words which have fallen into common usage, the science-media pairing operates, with the media being at the heart of most of the issues when they do not act exclusively.
Lockdown ou confinement
This is the case, for example, of the adoption by our German and Italian friends of the term lockdown, whereas the French and Spanish more naturally adopted the much older and more deeply rooted words confinement and confinamiento.
The Accademia della Crusca7 has invested a great deal of time and effort in this issue and has traced the development of lockdown, American and not English, as English already has the word confinement in exactly the same sense as in French.
Lock associated with down appeared in the United States in the 19th century to designate a particular piece of wood used in the construction of rafts. In the 1970s (first attestation in 1971), still in the United States, to lockdown took on another semantic value specific to the prison world: "To confine all of the prisoners of (a prison, cell block, etc.) to cells for an extended period of time, usually as a security measure following a disturbance; to confine (a prisoner) to a cell in this way.
If the term sometimes appears in the Italian press in the following decades, it is always in relation to an event taking place in the United States.
Around 1980, the meaning of the verb became more general to refer to a procedure used to ensure security in any situation or environment: "To contain, confine, shut off, or otherwise restrict access to, usually for security purposes". Then (1984), as a noun it takes on the meaning of "A state of isolation, containment, or restricted access, usually instituted as a security measure; the imposition of this state. It will be applied to computer science ("the restriction of access to data or systems") and to finance.
In this meaning related to security issues, the verb and the noun arrived in Italy "through the press". The first attestation, dating back to 2001, appears in an article in the "Repubblica" in which there is a description of New York in case of a hypothetical attack after the September 11 attacks:
"Giuliani has a secret plan, it is revealed on the front page of the New York Post on Sunday: in case of an attack in New York or any other American city, the "Big Apple" will be isolated from the rest of the world for security reasons. "Lockdown" is the headline: bridges and tunnels blocked, airports shut down, schools closed, offices deserted, police cordons around federal buildings and the Federal Bank of New York, where the largest amount of gold in the world is kept, mobilisation of firefighters, police and hospitals, which, since September 11, do not seem to have a moment's peace. (Arturo Zampaglione, Giuliani's secret plan against terror in New York, "la Repubblica", 8/10/2001)."
In the following years the quotes are rare, always referring to an event that takes place in North America (attempted attack on the White House in 2013, in 2014, another attempt on the White House and then an attack on the Parliament in Ottawa, in 2015 frequent shootings that took place in American colleges), the term lock down becomes systematic, it is no longer always in quotes but remains accompanied by an explanation.
But it was with the attack of November 13th in Paris that the word made its entry into Europe. The attackers were sought in Belgium, in Brussels. On this occasion, the Belgian police, in order to thank the journalists who suspended the dissemination of information so as not to help the terrorists, used the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown: now the word is not only American.
The word sees its use intensified in the following years, very often in the United States, but also in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, and in Germany, for terrorist threats, in London in June 2017, where a terrorist drives straight at the crowd in front of the Parliament, etc. The lockdown procedure is therefore applied in the case of events that are in some way linked to a war context, to terrorist attacks.
Throughout 2019, the lockdown procedure is activated in the case of events linked to terrorism or simply violent events. Thus, in the Italian press there are reports of the alarm still present in an American school in April, a massacre in a Texas supermarket and a shooting in Philadelphia in August; in the same month, in London, the Tate Modern Gallery was isolated because a six-year-old child had been thrown over a terrace, and in India, the whole of Kashmir was sealed off . In December, shots were fired at Pearl Harbor, the Pensacola Naval Air Station and Jersey City.
In January2020, there is a sudden change of scene. There is only one story: the isolation and closure of Wuhan's operations in China's Hubei province. As the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic spread, the English-language press used the formula it now had to indicate the series of measures taken to contain it.
Then in March Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced measures throughout Italy to curb the coronavirus epidemic, which the press translated as a lockdown.
In the Italian press, there was an explosion of the use of the term lock down. In March alone, no less than 167 appearances were recorded in the "Repubblica", 99 in the "Stampa" and 20 in the "Corriere". In April, the number of occurrences in the "Repubblica" reached 871 (21 of which were in disjunctive writing), in the "Stampa" 520, whereas in the "Corriere" the number of occurrences was 68; on 20 May, in the "Repubblica" there had already been 1,415 occurrences, in the "Stampa" 895, in the "Corriere" 145.
However, the use of lockdown is not exclusive and the term competed with other expressions which were just as relevant and made its meaning clear, such as chiusura totale, chiusura de attività, serrata, blindura, blocco, contenimento, isolamento, confinamento, covering various nuances, confinamento being, according to the Accademia della Crusca, the term that best covered the meaning of lockdown, which in a few weeks had become the keystone of a whole semantic edifice.
One may wonder about the circumstances that led France and Spain to take a completely different direction with this term and to adopt without hesitation the very Latin term of confinement. But it seems to us that if the Italian press had not summarised Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's announcement on 12 March 2020 as a lockdown, speaking only of a "protected zone" and a "discipline regime", aligning itself with the American channel CNN, which had preceded it by a few hours with the headline "Italy in lockdown", it is possible to think that what followed might have been different.
These few examples are far from covering the whole subject and a lot of research would be necessary for a fine analysis of the linguistic sinks. But each one is worthy of a specific sociological analysis, especially since many anglicisms, before eventually becoming mass phenomena, as we have just seen, are often first and foremost niche phenomena. They initially concern a marginal activity in which a specific vocabulary is forged in multilingual or not project communities until the activity ceases to be marginal. This is why terminology monitoring is necessary at a level of fine granularity, so that experts in their field have the terminologist's reflex, like this director of IBM France who encouraged the creation of the term ordinateur at a time when the microcomputer (micro-ordinateur) did not yet exist.
The Labour World? Is it resisting or not?
If we look at the world of work, the pandemic has led to the rapid development of a professional practice that was once marginal, namely télétravail. Today, no one would think of trying to propagate the English word telecommuting. However, the world of work is now invaded by anglicisms that their French-speaking counterparts have difficulty in imposing: coworking (cotravail), open space (paysager), desk sharing (bureau partagé) , free seating (siège libre), free floating (flotte libre), corner (stand, boutique, coin), concept store (boutique-concept), burn-out (épuisement au travail), bore-out (ennui au travail), food truck(bistrot ou « resto » ambulant, fast food (restauration rapide), business developer (responsable du développement), drive (achat au volant), customiser (personnaliser), etc.
Digital on the front line
The field of animation and video games does not fail to surprise, as France is at the top of the world in this field, and it is a field which concerns large numbers of people of all ages, not just young people. Nevertheless, there are many anglicisms, but also perfectly acceptable equivalents: casual game (jeu grand public) ; casual gamer (joueur occasionnel) ; casual gaming (pratique occasionnelle ; first person shooter-FPS (jeu de tir en vue subjective-JTS) ; game level (niveau de jeu) ; game level designer ou level designer (concepteur de niveaux de jeu ; hardcore gamer (hyperjoueur) ; hardcore gaming (pratique intensive) ; etc.8
We need to understand. We are no long.er in Etiemble's time. We can still castigate American imperialism, which is still very active, but after Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, it has lost its lustre. As for the consumer society it is no longer so high and mighty.If we compare the production of carbon dioxin per capita, the United States is exceeded only by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and does almost twice as much as Germany, four times as much as France, ten times as much as China, which is being pointed at, and thirty times as much as India. The least we can say is that the American way of life is not the future of the world.
A lesser known criterion is the number of incarcerations in prisons. In the United States it is 639 per 100,000 inhabitants (one in three black persons will visit a prison in their lifetime), slightly outnumbered by Cuba it seems with 794, but far ahead of Russia (359). Canada, with 104, is on a par with European countries (France: 93, Germany: 69, Spain: 122).
However, the attractiveness of the United States remains considerable, if not intact, thanks in large part to Gafam and the dream of space tourism. Nothing very exciting, therefore. This attractiveness can therefore be seen as a survival of a time which is passing, the mark of an inertia of behaviour and competence which is maintained by other dynamics which can play out for decades.
It does not matter that scientists have a language to communicate with each other, as long as they do not annihilate work and creativity in other languages and do not project this behavioural norm onto society, which they mostly do. This is a form of intermingling that will be found in other important fraternities such as the media, which are pushing in the same direction and which play a pivotal role in Anglicisation. The unnecessary use of the term "fact checking" is a good example. In the same way, dealing with covid 19 in the media with the vocabulary of the 9/11 attacks is typically seeing the world through the prism of the United States. But such an attitude can be changed overnight.One just has to be determined to change things.
1Around the project of a new dictionary of anglicisms (https://nda.observatoireplurilinguisme.eu) developed in cooperation with our Italian partner https://aaa.italofonia.info/ pending an extension of the project with a German and a Spanish partner.
2« Indépendance » de la nation, F. Perroux, Aubier-Montaigne, 1969
3Nos ancêtres les Arabes, ce que notre langue leur doit, Jean Pruvost, 2017, Jean-Claude Lattès, 318 p.
4 Fabrice Arfi, « Le journalisme d'investigation existe-t-il encore en France ? » [archive], conférence prononcée le 20 mai 2014 à l'École Militaire à l'invitation de l'ANAJ-IHEDN, à partir de 2 min 40 s.
6 Clusters and the New Economics of Competition, Harvard Business Review, nov-dec. 1998, https://hbr.org/1998/11/clusters-and-the-new-economics-of-competition
8 Liste extraite de https://www.developpez.com/actu/129316/Jeux-video-une-nouvelle-liste-d-anglicismes-que-vous-ne-devez-plus-utiliser-en-francais-a-ete-publiee-au-Journal-Officiel-de-la-France/ mais qui est reprise du travail des commissions d’enrichissement de la langue française dont les résultats sont publiés au journal officiel, en l’occurrence : https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000034391219
Deconstructing anglicisation and anglicisms (I) 1 (Translation using DeepL)
The term "deconstruction" triggers emotions and passions pitting the demolitionists' clan against the conservatives'.
Critical activity is as old as philosophy. If we want to act, we must first understand. To trace the critical approach back to the origins of philosophy is in fact to mobilise the most recent layer of the human mind, which is still very little rooted in consciousness.
To understand the world, to discover the other side of the coin, to reveal what is hidden behind appearances, to show the invisible and the unseen, to reveal what upsets common sense, this is the ABC of thinking, it is to some extent deconstructing. We must therefore deconstruct in order to build, but nothing prohibits deconstructing deconstruction, it is even recommended. Any work of deconstruction deserves to be examined, criticised and therefore deconstructed.
There is nothing more misleading than to imagine that knowledge progresses in a linear fashion.
Our ambition here is very modest. We want to initiate a deconstruction of anglicisms and anglicisation or rather Americanisation.
Is Americanisation the source of Anglicisms?
Bringing together "Anglicisms" and "Americanisation" is not innocent, as they are not exactly the same phenomena.
Baudelaire was one of the first to castigate the 'Americanisation' of our ways of life, but the equation of Americanisation with technical progress is neither clear nor legitimate. Tocqueville before him in Democracy in America collected observations on a model of society detachable from the actual American soil and its inhabitants. The march towards democracy, a political regime that remains a minority in the world today, cannot be interpreted and has not been interpreted as Americanisation. In fact, there is no march towards but rather a moment in history when, reversibly.
Anglicisms' are a very different approach, since they are conceptually a particular modality of linguistic borrowing and historically their origin is closely intertwined with the histories of the French and English languages.
However, it is impossible today to separate Anglicisms from a historical context marked by the multiform manifestation of a global domination exercised over our societies by an overpowering state and by the resulting 'cultural grip'. 2
One can be offended by this or find it wonderful. That is not our purpose. It is to unravel the substrates of behaviour and to bring to light the real power relations at work. In short, we are going to put aside emotion, whether it is on the side of identity convulsion or ethereal submission, in favour of a lucid analysis accompanied by an existential combativeness.
Let us say straight away that linguistics is not of much help to us.
The material is overabundant, but the sanitised interpretation that emerges is that Anglicisms are the manifestation of a natural and universal phenomenon which is borrowing between languages in contact. This is generally welcomed, because borrowing is seen historically as enrichment, which is true most of the time.
Our aim will be to show what in the anglicisation as we experience it today does not confirm this ideal, even idyllic vision of interlinguistic exchanges. Is what we call borrowing enrichment, or is linguistic evolution always simply an adaptation to the world as it is?
The liberal doctrine postulates that all economic agents, employers and employees, sellers and buyers, etc., are a priori equal, and that in the exchange everyone wins. The reality is obviously the opposite. It is when there is relative equality between the actors that the law can be the same, otherwise it is up to the law to compensate for the inequality of the economic relationship. Of course, each field of activity has its own specificity and the cultural field is not managed in the same way as fruit and vegetables.
French legislation on cinema and the audiovisual sector, all the European or Asian legislation that has been inspired by it and the European policies based on the international convention on the diversity of cultural expressions, adopted in 2005 under the aegis of UNESCO, have had no other purpose than to compensate for an unequal relationship between the American cultural industries and the others. Intervention here is the condition for fair competition and creativity.
The linguistic field is no exception to the general situation where effective inequality is the general rule and effective equality the exception.
It is essential to agree on the terms, on those that are indispensable to us.
First, there is the notion of power.
It's a scary word. Yet life would not exist without power.
In verses 6-8 of Acts chapter 2 of the New Testament, we read:
6 "When the Apostles were gathered together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?
7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or the moments that the Father has set by his own authority.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Nietzsche will use the term 'power' in a different philosophical context, but the meaning is not fundamentally different.
To designate the source of thought and feeling, Vico spoke of animus, which he distinguished from anima, the source of life. For Bergson, it will be a question of vital impulse.
Let us acknowledge that at our level, these differences are of little importance, the term power having the great advantage of its ubiquity and ambivalence.
Thus, a political and military power can be opposed to a cultural or religious power.
Let's take the example of the Roman Empire. It defeated Greece, but all the Roman elites spoke two languages, Latin and Greek, and the Greek culture of antiquity survived to reach us through the Arab East.
We have already observed that deriving the influence of languages solely from political power relations could lead to serious misunderstandings. Thus the development of the French language never really corresponded territorially to the political development of the French monarchy and then the French Republic. When William the Conqueror seized the British crown in the 11th century, he was not the king of France, but a Norman vassal acting on his own behalf. And the crusades were essentially in French without the king of France being the sole standard bearer. The territory of French was not that of the king of France, in the same way that today the French-speaking area does not correspond, because it has never corresponded exactly with the territory of the French nation. French in Africa developed after the end of colonisation, but its initial impact is due to colonisation. This obvious observation is also true for English, Spanish, Portuguese or Arabic, etc.
The sayings "a language is a successful dialect" or "a language is a dialect plus an army" have little explanatory value, although they are repeated over and over again. If they had any argumentative value at all, it would be enough to provide a language with an armed force to guarantee its existence.
This being the case, the link between political power and linguistic influence is generally true, but this observation is not sufficient.
Some semantic elements must be added to the notion of power.
The notion of power is so general that it can be applied to the tree that grows, the storm that rumbles, the tennis champion who crushes his opponent, the warlord who protects the villagers, etc. Another characteristic is its ambivalence. Another characteristic is its ambivalence. Power is independent of good and evil.
With the idea of power, a social dimension is added to power. Power is the exercise of power in relation to the environment, starting with the power one exercises over oneself, over others and over nature.
After power comes domination, which, if we accept to follow Max Weber, is the exercise of a legitimate power, which supposes to know what we mean by the term "legitimate" or "legitimated". The question of legitimacy is so vast that we do not even want to address it. We simply cannot ignore the fact that it is a permanent issue and that it will be impossible to ignore it.
Hyper-concentration of power assets
Talking about the American hyperpower has become a commonplace. Everything is known, or almost, but the path from hyperpower to the feeling of a norm of behaviour internalised by a majority of European populations needs to be deciphered.
Let us look at some of the characteristics of this hyperpower whose monopoly is being challenged by its new rival, China.
If the quantitative data, such as the share in the world product, do not particularly plead for a hyperpower with a secure future, the dynamics of domination is carried by the hyperconcentration of assets.
Military power comes from American over-armament, which in turn comes from a defence effort in dollars per capita that is second to none.
Military power is coordinated with financial power linked to the hegemony of the dollar, which became total with the suppression of its convertibility with gold in 1971. The dollar has become a reserve currency representing 60% of the world's reserves and for the time being this reserve currency status, contested at the margin by China and Russia, exempts the United States from the obligation to meet its public and trade deficits. The entire financial system, IMF and World Bank, is controlled by the US and the New York Stock Exchange is dominant among financial markets.
Scientific domination is linked to the research effort that the United States maintains at a very high level. Since the scientific world is closely correlated with the business world, technology, largely supported by public funds and clearly perceived as a means of power, is raised to the highest level. This investment in research and technology is the best manifestation of Americans' confidence in the future.
Little attention is paid to institutional aspects. However, despite the separation of powers, presented by all the constitutional law courses as a particularity of the American system, when it comes to external action, the concentration or more precisely the collusion of powers is extreme. The intelligence services, the judiciary, defence and the large American multinationals act in concert to monitor, spy on, trap, prosecute, condemn, subdue and skin foreign companies, particularly European ones, that come into conflict with their interests. We are no longer in a liberal façade but in an underground economic war without mercy and without any respect for human rights where reality exceeds fiction3.
The ideological power, i.e. the vision of the world that the United States has wanted to impose for three-quarters of a century4 and especially since the fall of the Soviet empire, has lost its superbness. Only in Europe does it continue to enjoy a favourable prejudice, which can only be explained by the lack of creative inspiration in Europe itself.
This ideological power is based on an infallible nationalism carried by both the Republican and the Democratic parties, where the same cult of American power is expressed in different ways.
The cult of power, reinvigorated by Republican Donald Trump's America First, which is not denied by Democrat Joe Biden, has a cultural counterpart: the closure to all external winds expressed, for example, by a rate of foreign works translated into English of less than 1% of the titles available from American publishers, whereas this rate varies around 16 to 18% in Germany or France.
Media power is too well known to dwell on. However, even if this is known to anyone who makes an effort to document it, it must be stressed that media power cannot be improvised and that American media power has been built for decades on a very American science, namely public relations. Without going into detail, identifying a country's future elites, inviting them to host programmes such as the young leaders programme, or offering them university positions, means building and cultivating networks with a high chance of success. We should not be scandalised by this. It's good work, some would say. Most European leaders from the West and the East have gone through this process and most of them are very good students.
The last but not least link is linguistic. The development of English is an undeniable element of American soft power. As early as 1951, the development of English was a strategic axis of world conquest, in which Americans and English united their interests.
The exploitation of all these assets in a coordinated and unified manner, which could be summarised as asset hyperconcentration, is certainly the source of the current power and dominance of the United States. For taken in isolation, these assets are insufficient. Thus, while the US military budget is around 40% of total military budgets, GDP has fallen from 27% in 1950 to 13% of world GDP today, and native English speakers represent only 6% of the world population.
It is the chain rather than the links that makes the strength here and if some links can break, the chain itself can break. The Americans are fully aware of this, for whom the confrontation with China is the major challenge.
In this game, Europeans are gentle amateurs.
Let's try to review the motivations of the behaviours that lead some people to use this word rather than another and for our discussion to choose to use an English word in preference to a French, Italian, or German one.
No one disputes that language is constantly evolving. Language is used to express the world, and if we accept that the world is not immobile and circumscribed, then language evolves with our perception and view of what we hold to be reality. Language evolves with our view of the world and our experience of it.
He who does not know his own language will look for the words he hears.
We cannot ignore the simplistic idea, still widespread, that language is a simple tool, already too complicated, and that a language with a minimum of words should be able to replace all others. Since all languages say the same thing, we might as well keep only one, English of course.
Fortunately, not everyone thinks like this, but the development of linguistic awareness is largely hampered by an extremely frugal and deficient linguistic culture in the population, which stems from the lack of proper linguistic work in education.
There are also other forces at work where the question of American domination is not the main issue.
Distinction in Bourdieu's sense is obviously a very strong aspect of behaviour.
Since knowledge of English is desirable for a large part of the population, pretending to know English by peppering everything with English words, not always to good effect, is well worn, it is believed, often wrongly.
Among young people, the use of English is a way of joining the ranks of the initiated. It is to be considered intelligent and modern to forget one's own language, which is at the same time considered old-fashioned. The ecological concern is commendable, but the insensitivity to linguistic and cultural diversity, which is to be put on the same level as biological diversity, is a contradiction that only highlights the superficiality of ideas.
There is usually no political dimension to this kind of behaviour, other than an unconscious allegiance to the powerful that one otherwise denigrates.
If ignorance of one's own language, if the absence of linguistic awareness and the search for distinction are the primary explanations for the use of Anglicisms, which account for most of the linguistic borrowings from European languages, it is appropriate to assess the role of media pressure, which is particularly developed in our societies. It has to be said that in our mediatised societies, the media actors are the carriers or transmitters of knowledge. This observation raises the question of why the media prefer a particular word to another.
For example, we could try to understand why, on the occasion of the covid 19 pandemic, the French term 'confinement' was used in France, and why 'confinamiento' was used in the Hispanic world, but that, conversely, in the English-speaking world, 'confinment', which does exist in English, was discarded in favour of the American word 'lockdown', and that the same was true in Germany, which had Eindämmung, Eingrenzung, Einschließung, etc., and in Italy, where the Italians had the word "confinamento". The Accademia della Crusca5 published a long study on this subject, examining the many candidates and concluding that the best placed, as in French and Spanish, was in fact "confinamento", which was most in tune with the idea of confinement to prevent or limit contact with the outside world.
The term 'lockdown', born of an American port term, had its use extended to the prison field and was therefore a good contender. But where it did catch on, the only explanation is that it was American in origin and had the support of the American media, which journalists around the world peel back every day.
America is supposed to deliver the norm and no questions are asked. Any attempt otherwise is seen as an attack on the established order, which, without examination, is American.
From this quick overview, our provisional conclusion is that reducing anglicisms and anglicisation to a pro-American conspiracy is not very serious and devoid of any operative virtue. The American game is well known and its existence cannot be denied without a good dose of blindness. Moreover, certain circles are active supporters of American projects and companies throughout the world. But to reduce Americanisation and one of its most visible aspects, Anglicisms, to the weight and betrayal of an oligarchy is a bit short-sighted. Do we know the beginnings of a great linguistic replacement, as Pierre Frath describes it6 in Anthropologie de l'anglicisation?
In the next editorial, we will try to give some clues as to how to better evaluate the importance of the phenomenon, which cannot be summed up in the number of anglicisms that enter the dictionaries each year, and to better identify the penetration routes that we propose to call linguistic wells, by analogy with the notion of thermal wells through which the cold rushes into poorly protected flats. Perhaps we will be able to draw from this some possibilities for action that go beyond deploring.
3See on this subject Frédéric Pierucci and Matthieu Aron's moving testimony Le piège américain, L'otage de la plus grande guerre souterraine témoigne, prixlittéraire Nouveaux droits de l'homme, Jean-Claude Lattès, 2019
4Read the excellent editorial by Michel Feltin-Palas in the Express on 29 June 2021 (https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/les-anglomaniaques-idiots-utiles-de-l-imperialisme-americain_2153848.html)
In his inaugural lecture on general linguistics at the Collège de France on 26 October 2020, the linguist Luigi Rizzi observed that "language is a central component of human life. We live immersed in language. We use it to structure our thoughts, to communicate our thoughts, to interact with others, but also in games, in artistic creation. Its omnipresence, paradoxically, makes language difficult to approach as an object of scientific study. It is so inseparable from the major aspects of human life that we no longer see its remarkable properties. "
In Les mots et les choses Michel Foucault points out, even though language is at the basis of all things in life, thought and all scientific developments, that linguistics became in the nineteenth century one science among others, and language one scientific object among others (p. 307 ff), and to sum up, he says "this thought which has been speaking for millennia, without knowing what it is to speak or even that it speaks" (p. 317).
It must be said that in the 1950s, before language was reduced to an instrument of communication, the whole Western tradition was that there was the real world on the one hand and the mind on the other, and that the main function of language was to describe the real world as man saw it.
This is a fairly simple representation, so simple that it is still dominant today, with the added nuance that language is defined essentially as a tool for communication, without much thought being given to what communication is. Is it the exchange of information in the form of messages, with a sender with his or her A-language and a receiver, with his or her A- or B-language, and a black box between the two? This is how communication is schematized in theoretical works, particularly in linguistics.
One can understand that, seen from this angle, language and tongues, both all seen as a scientific object and as an ordinary object, are so unattractive.
Nor is it irrelevant to ask the question of what is meant by the real world.
The saying 'I only believe what I see' is absolutely dreadful. A saying that circulates a lot today under different avatars is also, "the truth is what I believe". Two antinomic speeches. But let's take a closer look.
For Descartes, reality is what is intelligible clear and distinct ideas, it is what is susceptible of exact knowledge. He does not deny the existence of the infinite, but the infinite is beyond what is intelligible.
This is not at all the opinion of Leibniz, who conceptually will make us take a prodigious leap forward.
On the one hand, the real world is such as we perceive it, but there are clear perceptions, a sort of first circle corresponding more or less to Descartes' definition, but there is also a world of small perceptions, which in modern terms would correspond to the world of the unconscious. He goes so far as to assert that the brain never ceases to function, i.e. to think, even in sleep.
But Leibniz goes much further. If he considers that humans are endowed with more or less the same capacity to perceive and think from what they perceive, it remains that they cannot have a complete view of the world and that they will always have their own point of view on it. But if each point of view must therefore be relativised, this does not mean that each point of view is without value, since humans, and more generally living beings, are endowed with systems of perception and intelligibility which are common and therefore universal, and which participate in the world order willed by God. Thus, the Leibnizian system of pre-established harmony gives the universal not the characteristic of what is common to everyone, but corresponds to unity in diversity or diversity in unity. The universal would thus be the sum of our singularities and not just what we think we have in common.
The concept of point of view, which will be found in Kant, in Saussure and in all the phenomenology, does not invalidate reality in any way, and Kant will give a new foundation to objectivity. What is objective is what is accepted as true by the community, which gives objectivity an intrinsic evolutivity, because there is always a gap between what is held to be true, common sense, as it were, and scientific truth.
The scientific paradox is precisely that scientific discovery always upsets common sense.
We are often mistaken when we use Nietzsche's quote "There are no facts. There are only interpretations" and we deduce that there is no reality and that all interpretations are equal. Nietzsche also writes: "What do we generally understand by a natural law? It is not known to us in itself but only by its effects, that is, by its relations to other natural laws which in turn are known to us only as a sum of relations." (Truth and untruthfulness in the extra-moral sense, p. 24). Reminding us that we do not have direct access to reality, Nietzsche is merely echoing Leibniz and Kant. Nor is he far from Gaston Bachelard when the latter explains that "a scientific experience is an experience that contradicts common experience." (The Formation of the Scientific Mind, p. 10).
Language is thus this invisible reality. Like the eye which does not see itself, the speaker does not know what speaking means.
The purpose of this little philosophical diversion is simply to meant that language is not only a representation of reality, but that reality is created in language when language itself does not create reality.
It is clear that Leibniz is one of the first to have grasped the problem of the diversity of languages. Without abandoning the hypothesis of monogenesis, he gave up the idea of an Adamic language that would say everything about man in favour of the idea that languages carry their own creativity. And his interest in languages, which never stopped growing throughout his life, makes it possible to see in him, not a founder of linguistics, but at least a precursor of comparative historical linguistics.
A generation later, through different ways, the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico explained the diversity of languages by the diversity of historical experiences. This is not a question of trivial nature.
Let us reread the explanation given by Jürgen Trabant1 : "The civil world, that of which we can have science, that is to say assured knowledge, because we have made it ourselves, thus consists of two orders of things: the material organisation of the world, the "coltura" which makes possible political organisation in a narrow sense, and the intellectual organisation which is a linguistic or let us say rather semiotic or "sématological" organisation. Man is the one who works and thinks, who works with others and thinks with others, who therefore speaks. The mondo civile is not only the political organisation, but always also language or sign.
The two things always go together: man does not only create a political organisation as such, he always designates it, he creates at the same time signs to think-speak this political organisation. "
But thinking about the diversity of languages, from the explicit perspective of multiplicity within the unity of human language, is undoubtedly the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Not only did he study a multiplicity of languages, but he theorised the genesis, the diversification, the splitting, the development, the decline and the disappearance of languages. Beyond the physical elements of climate, geography, weather, population mixtures, there is history and political events.
We live in a permanent language bath in which our behaviour is determined.
It is enough to pay attention to this fact for a whole day to understand the significance of this kind of statement.
Let's take a very small example: the french word of laïcité. It is impossible to understand if you have not assimilated 800 years of French and European history in one way or another.
You cannot get rid of it without destroying 800 years of history in the memory of humanity. To see it as a slogan, or worse as an act of war, is the most perfect expression of infinite barbarity, both internal and external. Talking about laicity is a noble and essential activity.
This means very clearly that language is simply existential.
It is therefore surprising that language is so absent from thought such as it is lived.
We don't say 'of modern thought' because language is, on the contrary, extremely present in a certain modern or rather postmodern thought which separates it from reality and ultimately disqualifies it.
To borrow journalistic language, we say that language has completely got off the radar and we will give some painful illustrations of this.
Certainly, there are signs that something is wrong. First, there are the appeals of the Unesco concerning the accelerated disappearance of rare languages which, if we fail to save them, we would at least like to preserve the descriptions in order to fill museums and maintain a few research laboratories. There is also the belated interest in regional languages which, as far as the general public is concerned, is part of a criticism of modernist globalisation rather than a reflection on the meaning of language. Apart from these very subtle signs, it is a desert.
Here are some very simple ways of measuring the linguistic desert that inhabits our contemporaries.
In a famous book published in 1971, Future Shock, by Alvin Tofler, 601 pages, the question of language is mentioned only once to deal with the acceleration of vocabulary renewal. Half a century later, one can read with interest Futur, Notre avenir de A à Z by Antoine Buéno (Flammarion, 674 p.). One will be surprised not to find even a word on language in the chapter on education.
Other examples of this linguistic nothingness of the present time. Take a general culture book, the kind of little manual that you use at the last minute for the competitive examination you are about to take, which I will not mention. 48 cards, the "language" card is in 25th position between "intellectual" and "liberalism", a question of alphabetical order. Take another: 115 cards, 3 on the brain, 1 on Nebuchadnezzar, none on language and tongue.
Is language a blind spot in contemporary thought?
One more example to convince us of this. From September 2003 to March 2004, a major national debate on Education was organised at the request of the President of the Republic and the government. The comments made during these six months were reproduced in a book entitled Les Français et leur École - Le Miroir du débat. It cannot be said that language is totally absent from this 575-page book, where on page 57, in relation to the definition of the common base, there is a consideration full of common sense: 'The command of language of language above all - If we stick to knowledge, we find two subjects in the first place, French and mathematics, followed by English and history. Very often, the discussion is limited to French alone, as in this secondary school in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye district, where there is concern that "most pupils leaving primary school do not master the French language", and then regret that "new subjects taught (computer science) reduce the hours of fundamental subjects like French". This reflects a strong concern about the lack of mastery of the language.
In some debates, however, the issue is considered to be distorted by the national assessment (CE2/6e), which focuses solely on French and mathematics. Doesn't the institution itself distinguish two 'noble' disciplines at the expense of others? This supremacy is denounced: "The wider the field of study, the more likely children are to adapt (to the world that will be theirs in ten years). It is therefore necessary to preserve all subjects, and not to focus on French and mathematics" (public schools in the Cholet district). "
It is clear from this single extract from the book devoted to language that there is a great deal of indeterminacy that will be found in the educational policy pursued from the 1960s to the present day.
During this entire period, during which it was mainly a question of adapting education to the imperatives of the economy and the globalisation, and this was done by governments of both the left and the right wings, the practice of repeating a year, which was highly developed in France in particular, from primary school onwards, was gradually abandoned. So whole generations of pupils went into the sixth form without the linguistic fundamentals that would enable them to progress in other subjects, the idea being that they still had time to acquire them. And these pupils then failed in special education sections until they reached the age limit of compulsory schooling, with no serious hope of entering the world of work. It was Jack Lang who, from 2000 onwards, sought to reverse the trend by organising early support to correct the disastrous language deficit of the pupils leaving primary school. This policy was not pursued and is now being taken up by Jean-Michel Blanquer through the splitting in two of classes in priority areas. But we cannot take back the hundreds of thousands of children who have been sacrificed (between 150,000 and 200,000 children per year for 40 years, that's between 6 and 8 million children lost or almost) by pure ignorance of the language fact. Of course, the decrees for the start of the new school year and the curricula have always stressed the primary importance of language. But as this 'primordial importance' was apparently not understood by decision-makers or by society as a whole, the consequences of what 'primordial importance' means were not drawn.
This degeneration of language that can be seen in this example has important consequences for social behaviour.
It is quite easy to understand that the victims of the practices we have just mentioned are of course the most vulnerable populations, and it is not necessary to look very far into the most recent news to measure the serious consequences.
Of course, the linguistic aspects are not the only ones involved, but they are undeniable and are all the more serious as they are not known.
Do not think that we are making a central issue of the "beautiful language", the privilege of "cultured" people. It is rather the question of using the right language.
Daily life is full of illustrations of this problem.
In the midst of the pandemic, the question of vaccination arises. Reports are circulating that people vaccinated with Astrazeneca have suffered from very specific thrombosis and that some have died. The headlines include phrases such as "but these cases are still rare", "but the risk is minimal", "the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the drawbacks", "it's better to be vaccinated anyway", "more lives saved than deaths". Searching inside the articles, one ends up extracting three figures which, at the time of writing this article, are no longer accurate: worldwide, there have been 16 reported cases, including 4 deaths, out of 34 million people vaccinated. Obviously, disseminating information in this form could not fail to provoke a vast movement of mistrust in the population. This is a typical example of the lack of language skills at various levels of the communication chain, which, to avoid offending anyone, we will refer to as communicators. If the said communicators had had any idea of the notions of probability or risk, which seem to be part of a minimal general culture, they would have used other expressions than these vague formulations which had only a distant relationship with reality. Measuring the disaster, after a few weeks, some scientists ended up explaining that the risk of dying from being vaccinated with Astrazeneca was no greater than that of leaving home to cross the street or take a car: a risk of between 1 in 100,000 and 1 in 1 million.
In such a context, how can we prevent resurgences of magical thinking, invoking the wrath of the gods, that is to say the most primitive forms of human thought.
We have come to the end of our investigation into linguistic sovereignty. We have seen that languages cross borders in many ways, although they are always rooted in territories, even when they have characteristics of common languages or lingua franca. Unlike economic properties which must be disposed of when they are passed on to someone else, in the case of languages and everything they carry within them, they enrich those who appropriate them, but no one is dispossessed of them. Among the quotations that the OEP highlights, that of Michel Serres is at the heart of our subject: "A country which loses its language loses its culture; a country which 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"1. One cannot formulate better that language is an attribute, an essential element of sovereignty. But just as language can be shared, so can linguistic sovereignty. It is an essential and absolutely miraculous civilizational process, so miraculous that one is hardly aware of it, to the extent that the linguistic fact is not present in any school curriculum and that ignorance of the linguistic fact in our societies is almost total.
But more substantially, what can "linguistic sovereignty" mean? To surprise you, we are going to use an English buzzword, "empowerment".
In a recent article entitled "Notion: 'Empowerment' or the 'power to act'", the newspaper Le Monde explains to us that the term, which appeared in the 1970s in the United States, "without any real equivalent in French", evokes the capacity of each of us to empower ourselves and to act on our environment.
Rather than saying that empowerment has no equivalent in French, the journalist should rather have said that there is no perfect equivalent, which would have been a truism, because the reverse is also true, and that it is very rare that there are perfect equivalents from one language to another language. And the strength of the speaker will depend on his ability to find in the words of his own language, and why not in other languages, what he wants to say, but beware, he can only do so if he does indeed possess the language of the other, far from any mimicry that makes him ridiculous in the eyes of the one who really possesses the source language. Nothing is more ridiculous than a Frenchman who mimes English thinking he knows it. It is better to really know it.
In the usual bilingual dictionaries, one will find "empowered by or to" for "habilité par ou à », "giving the means to" or "giving oneself the means to", "receiving the means to", and besides, it is not uncommon to read on packing boxes "empowered by Microsoft or by Google" etc. So the emergence of the word empowerment is not foreign to a certain economic context and borrows from the language of business and management at the same time as it is linked to movements defending the rights of minorities and feminist movements. For example, on the Saint-Gobain website, you will find "Empowerment: tomorrow, everyone in power in the company? "on the https://femmedinfluence.fr/ portal, a section on the front page Empowerment.
In fact, in French, there is no lack of approximate equivalents and what matters is not that French (the same can be said of German, Italian, Spanish, etc., it is up to each one to transpose it) is behind a standard that comes from another universe, but above all that there is a difference in approach that protects us from ideological pressure, without ignoring the phenomena that are happening in our societies, including those on the other side of the Atlantic. We must digest anglicisms rather than « platings/ veneerings » out of sheer imitation without making a distinction. This is the type of exercise the OEP is engaged in on its website https://nda.observatoireplurilinguisme.eu.
Thus, depending on the context, one could say "collective power to act", "power to act as a citizen", "citizen action", "taking or regaining control", "participating in the exercise of power", "conquering autonomy", etc. The concepts and paraphrases are infinite.
In matters of language we prefer the word 'sovereignty', because it qualifies the power to determine oneself in the last resort. Dictators know this...You remove words, you put in other words, and you control thought. So we do not hesitate to see in the idea of language and plurilingualism (plurilingualism means that there cannot be only one language), a metaphysics of freedom. This principle is essential: freedom to say and think, to think and say. This is plurilingualism. And speaking of "linguistic sovereignty" is only the affirmation of this fundamental principle.
Concretely, we must now look in the present context at how to reaffirm a linguistic sovereignty which must not be mixed up with some kind of nationalism, we hope that this has been clear since the beginning of our investigation.
One must start with what is obvious or should be obvious.
To learn the language and to learn the language of the country you live in. This is essential and it is a conquest. The right to education is a fundamental right which is acquired through language.
The value of language has been undermined for decades in the education system. We have taken the wrong path. But turning the tide is not easy. Above all, fundamentally, language in our education is still seen as a tool, a subject like any other. Even when we say that it is the subject that enables us to learn other subjects, we have only come part of the way. Language allows us to think. It's extraordinary, but that's the way it is. No thought exists outside language. Language and thought go together. This means that any degradation in language leads to a degradation in thought.
So in concrete terms, when the State signs an agreement with the Hauts de France Region to fight illiteracy, it is an act of linguistic sovereignty. When it splits in two the primary school classes in areas targeted for special help in education, it is also an act of sovereignty. To bring the cohorts of children starting secondary school classes without mastering the fundamentals from the fifth of a generation, (i.e. around 160,000 students), to half (i.e. 80,000 students) is a great ambition, even if one would like to do better.
But it is not enough: at all levels one must instil a different relationship with language. Language is not a tool, it is the dynamic process by which thought is achieved.
Of course, as soon as one speaks of "sovereignty", the question which is on everyone's lips is the question of anglicisms.
We must be clear, linguistic borrowings are part of the life of languages. Languages change, because the world is changing, and over the centuries, those who make languages evolve never stopped creating new concepts and words. Who are they? Historically, they were poets, writers, clerics, scholars, legists who enriched languages and gave birth to our modern languages by drawing on multiple sources, in the language itself, in local dialects, in Latin, Greek, Arabic, in the languages of neighbouring countries, etc. For these people travelled a lot, exchanged a lot, and knew how to spot the gems of knowledge to take them home and continue to exchange with their peers. This is how the "great languages" were born. Marie-Hélène Lafon, winner of the Prix Femina 2020, is right to say that a writer is "an adventurer of the word". Anne-Marie Garat, Femina and Renaudot prize of High School Students in 1992, who kindly accepted our invitation in 2008 to the cultural event that we organised at the UNESCO as part of the International Year of Languages on the theme "Intellectuals and artists for plurilingualism and linguistic and cultural diversity", explained the same thing to us: writers are creators of languages.
The mistake is to believe or make people believe that the creation of language is a spontaneous process and that it is usage which creates new words. Put that way, it's a real joke. No, usage may or may not end up consecrating the new words, but it has nothing to do with the mechanisms which are at the source and which will influence or direct usage.
Thus the word cluster, about which we have already talked a lot, has nothing to do with usage. It was imposed by scientists for reasons that are neither linguistic nor scientific. In the field of hard sciences, most researchers are currently writing their articles directly in English, and they have simply reproduced the English word, and said that it was the word to use, making an impact on ministerial cabinets and the media, which for a time made the English word and the French word "foyer" coexist in the same sentences, which is its strict equivalent in the context of the pandemic, and in this context alone, to finally use only the English word, considering that the number of repetitions was sufficient to think that the word had finally entered the willingly rebellious, though not always well-intentioned, skulls of the French. In the case of cluster, the "linguistic well" was therefore scientific, the scientific community having played a highly questionable normative role in its very principle.
But it is clear that behind the scientific ukase, there is an interplay of power.
The balance of power is more present today than it has ever been in history. It is well known that during the Renaissance, many Italian words slipped intothe French language and all the European languages. This was the product of the first Italian Renaissance, in which Italian culture shone brightly, without the support of any political power, much to the great regret of Dante, who watched with envy as the French monarchy gained in prestige and power.
The situation of languages in the European institutions is a perfect expression of the balance of power at the time of the last wave of expansion of the European Union in 2005-2007. Having barely emancipated themselves from the Soviet Union, the future new members were to join the European Union and NATO simultaneously which were in a way two sides of the same coin. It was inconceivable that the negotiating languages could be any other than English, especially as the British were in the room. If the British had not been at the helm in the negotiations, the Romanians would not have had to reformulate their application files, initially prepared in French, in English. Perhaps other countries such as the Czech Republic or Slovakia had the means and the desire to use German. But we are not rewriting history. The fact is that it was a geostrategic balance of power that tipped the whole linguistic balance of the European Union. Another geostrategic context, such as it is today, would have led to a probably different result.
Obviously, in the current period other purely economic factors are at work. We mentioned the word empowerment at the beginning of this article, even though conceptually it brings almost nothing new to the linguistic material we have in the French-speaking world, and it is likely that the same is true with our European neighbours. It is simply a word in vogue in the United States, carried by both marketing and social movements and amplified by social networks, which contribute, as Le Monde Diplomatique of this month of January forcefully underlines, to the "Americanisation of public polemics", since there is nothing left for debate. We have not waited for the breath of America to speak of participation (the word was popularised by General de Gaulle in 1968) or of participatory democracy, collective action, being master of, being actor of, etc.
Therefore, it is important to be able to exercise a filter on all linguistic movements, not in a normative way, which would be vain, but in a reflexive way, i.e. to understand and interpret linguistic movements, essentially Anglicisms, to also welcome what comes from the outside and to ensure the perfect breathing of the language, its freshness and vitality. Such an approach is proposed by the site set up at the OEP under the title New dictionary of Anglicisms and Neologisms2, in synergy with standard-setting institutions such as FranceTerme3. It is also a similar approach, both critical and benevolent, that Jean Pruvost proposes in his recent book La story de la langue française-ce que le français doit à l'anglais et vice-versa4.
This work is also a manifestation of linguistic sovereignty. And this reflexive work, in order for it to be produced, must be underpinned by something very strong, so strong that to designate it we have no other word than resistance, which we understand to be an individual and collective choice.
This action is crucial, but there are others.
The OEP held a virtual colloquium with the University of Paris on automatic translation and its social uses. All the presentations and discussions can be reviewed online5 , until the publication of the book which gathers them together in the Plurilinguisme collection.
There are two crucial areas where really, there is a lot to be done. The first is that of the European institutions, the second is the field of research and scientific publication.
As far as the European institutions are concerned, we have already observed that since English has imposed itself against all the rules established as the sole working language, with the others being only figurative, all editors, whatever their mother tongue, have indeed been forced to do first-level translation work. Their English text is then revised by the translation services, and it is from the translation services that a text that they wrote themselves in English will come out in their mother tongue. This is the Brussels mould. As there are no written rules that require them to work in this way, the writer can perfectly well produce his text in his own language and simultaneously produce his text in English and possibly in one or two other languages using automatic translation tools. Any professional translator knows that this is possible, and any seasoned user of these tools, whether professional or general public, knows that it is perfectly feasible as long as the editor knows how to proofread, which is a matter of course. If we change the way of working, which only made sense in the days when high-performance machine translation did not exist, we will no longer see 80% of the texts produced by European services in English.
But in any case, automatic translation can also revolutionise a lot of things in the communication of the European Commission and the European Councils and the European Union. The sites of the europa.eu platform will at last be in 24 languages, public consultations will finally be open to European citizens, and press releases and rapid information, which everyone can receive by simple subscription, will finally be accessible to all.
Another area where automatic translation can bring about a revolution is in the publication of works of research.
We are in a situation quite similar to that of European civil servants.
In order to satisfy the great international scientific journals, which are commercial companies, many researchers, especially in the hard sciences, have given up publishing in their own language and write in English. While this facilitates the circulation of articles in scientific communities, the negative effects are disastrous. At least three can be targeted. The first is that the language in which the researcher conducts his or her research - a distinction must be made between the language of research and the language of publication - are no longer used in research work, and are no longer supplied with new concepts. This is what Pierre Frath calls a loss of domain6. The second effect is to prevent transmission. Enlightened audiences, who are not researchers in the same discipline or researchers themselves, cannot easily read scientific articles in English, and when these works feed reviews or popular scientific works, the documents are larded with English concepts that are not even transposed, making it difficult to understand the results of the research and their social consequences. The third effect is that the capture of the scientific publishing market by oligopolistic commercial companies has meant that the prices of books have soared to the point where they are no longer accessible either to individuals or to under-funded universities. The scientific community is thus cut off from the public conceptually and materially. This deadly situation can only be remedied through general accessibility to scientific publications and translation.
The final effect of the process thus initiated is not only the scientific community being cut off from the population, but also the devaluation of the language spoken by the population, which may thus lose territories of knowledge and be relegated to purely private and family use.
Today, automatic translation can help to overcome this kind of difficulty.
Automatic translation is thus a means of regaining full control of one's linguistic expression while ensuring optimal dissemination of one's work.
But beyond autonomous machine translation, there is translation itself, because machine translation is only an aid to translation, which professionals use extensively for themselves.
In the 12th century a vast movement of translation began throughout Europe, whereby Europe discovered or rediscovered the sciences and letters of Ancient Greece and the Arab world, at a time when the Arab world, severely plagued by divisions, was nevertheless flourishing intellectually and scientifically. It was from this vast movement of translation that two centuries later the so-called Renaissance emerged.
Today, a new trend is taking shape in world publishing. As Patrick Chardenet7 points out, "The fundamental question is not the codification of specialised articles, the translation for publication in a scientific, supposedly universal language. The question is that of the reception in such and such a language of articles produced in such and such a language. Entering into a process of understanding a stabilised article in its original language is certainly more enriching for the researcher-reader (and therefore for his scientific productivity), than accepting the translated article which would seem identical to the one in the original language. »
Conducting an active policy of production in the original language and translation is what the French committee Ouvrir la science8 invites us to do. It is also a means of linguistic sovereignty.
Perhaps do we need a new intellectual and moral reform? From this point of view, raising the linguistic level of the entire population, strengthening the teaching of modern languages within the framework of plurilingual and intercultural education and developing translation are the priority instruments for regaining linguistic sovereignty, which is clearly indispensable and even vital.
1Michel Serres - Défense et illustration de la langue française aujourd'hui, 2018, p.55
4Jean Pruvost, 2020, Tallandier, https://www.observatoireplurilinguisme.eu/pole-recherche/parutions/14249-la-story-de-la-langue-fran%C3%A7aise
6Pierre Frath, 2017, « Anthropologie de l’anglicisation des formations supérieures et de la recherche », dans Plurilinguisme et créativité scientifique, collection Plurilinguisme.
7Tendencias editoriales y multilingüismo (Patrick Chardenet) - https://www.observatoireplurilinguisme.eu/dossiers-thematiques/education-et-recherche/28--sp-765/13862-tendencias-editoriales-y-multiling%C3%BCismo-patrick-chardenet
In a first editorial we showed that linguistic territories did not generally coincide with political territories and that the relationship between language and politics was a complex one. To say that the influence of a language is directly linked to political power is true only to a certain extent.
In a second editorial, we tried to show that linguistic awareness is a new idea, closely linked to the communication society, and that there is no point in revisiting history with today's eyes. This is a scientific error and an eminently widespread mistake. But what is true, and in the end so seldom , is that the past remains rich in experience and lessons that we must try to apprehend objectively rather than through a retrospective and moralizing look. For example, we are quite capable of understanding the processes which led to the radical decline of most regional languages in France, and not only in France. It is therefore quite possible to determine under what conditions the same processes can be prevented from recurring in Africa with local and national languages. This is the subject of a recent book published by the OEP1.
Territorialisation, linguistic awareness, these are two essential dimensions of our subject, "linguistic sovereignty". For we have understood that we exist individually and collectively through language. It is difficult to assert the contrary. We speak of "language" in the singular, i.e. in the generic sense of the term. But nothing prevents us from using the plural. So we exist through language or through the languages we speak. It is through language or languages that we gain access to culture. And this is true for everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.
A third major dimension must be taken up. This is the relationship of domination which langages and culture cannot elude. But if we wish to have a chance of understanding something about them, we must first of all admit the ambivalence of domination. Before considering domination as an abomination, one must be aware of this ambivalence which is deeply rooted in the common language. If I say of Picasso that he dominated twentieth-century painting, I am not saying that he used all his strength to destroy his competitors and drained all the artistic creativity that surrounded him. It's a bit like a tree that grows higher than the others. It is creativity and creation that create domination. But it can take pathological forms, the ones we usually talk about, the ones that humiliate, oppress, destroy. The problem is that the same entities can be both at the same time in varying proportions. That’s where the difficulty lies. And it is not possible to think about sovereignty without this ambivalence in mind.
As regards sovereignty and independance, reality imposes modesty on us.
Let’s take Serge Halimi’s excellent editorial in the October issue of Le Monde Diplomatique entitled « False independance ».In front of donald Trump at the >hite House, we can see the Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and the Kosovor Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti. To sum up, Donald Trump tells them :you small Europeans that you are, candidates for entry into the European Union, you are going to do as I say. Either you obey Washington DC, or I will cause your downfall. Of course, they obey and agree to transfer their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They are not the first to be treated like that and to react in the same way.
It is clear that the very notion of independence is a myth. Even Robinson Crusoe is not independent because he depends on nature. The general rule is interdependence, but when you have said that, you haven’t actually said anything. As François Perroux2 had observed and developed, what counts are the modalities of interdependence, and it is necessary to be able to define strong modalities of interdependence and weak modalities of interdependence. From then on, the subject begins to become interesting. Thus, strong modalities of interdependence are those that make you less dependent on your partners or competitors than they are on you. This key to reading, which concerns all areas, economic, technological, political, cultural and military, is the only one that allows you to understand globalisation and to have a strategic approach. And this is true whatever the environment, whether we are in a world where multilateralism reigns or in a world where the balance of power alone counts, as is the case today.
After half a century living in the background of the United States, Europe is beginning to emerge from daydreaming. It is concerned, for example, that all the personal data in the world and especially in Europe supposedly in the 'cloud' is not really in the cloud, but stored in huge pools of computers and hard disks and available to the US government if they need it. This almost absolute monopoly in the field of intelligence is obviously problematic and it has been decided to build up capabilities in this area. It's never too late to pull yourself together. Moreover, this concern is not completely new, and if we go back a little in the past, we can remember the Galileo programme of satellite radionavigation complementary to the American GPS system, but above all a competitor after having broken the American monopoly, and whose full development was brought to an end this year in the most perfect discretion.
But the question prior to that of the modalities of interdependence is that of what we want to do and why.
If we are not able to answer this question for the present as well as for the long term, it should come as no surprise that some small countries are trying to pick up the scraps of small-scale alliances with the powerful of the day.
Therefore the question is first of all one of will, and the linguistic question, however essential, comes next.
It is clear that if we see in the United States the future of the world and a universal model, the dies are cast. One can only join the Empire and integrate into it. This is not what history teaches us, nor a critical analysis of the world as it is and as it will be.
Above all, we must not think that the period opened, and hopefully soon closed by Donald Trump, changes the order of things in any way. Trump has only precipitated and caricatured a situation that had been taking hold for decades. Today, as many commentators have noted, the world is running out of leadership, and the United States has ceased to play that role, simply because it is no longer capable of doing so, and probably never has been. Emmanuel Todd already made this observation in an essay published in 2002, Après l'empire - Essai sur la décomposition du système américain3 , whose counterpoint reading of Zbigniew Brzezinski's Grand échiquier4 , published five years earlier, is extremely instructive.
Twenty years have gone by and what we can see is a considerable upheaval, beyond what could be imagined, of the great world balances.
When a country, which was described as the only "hyperpower", is the second biggest polluter on the planet after China, and by far the biggest polluter per inhabitant (more than twice as much as a Chinese person), it is clear that this country poses the greatest threats to the world.
When a country is the only one to find itself in a continuous situation of trade deficit over four decades, the debt is abysmal and puts it in the dependency of its creditors. Until Donald Trump declared a trade war on China, the United States' largest creditor was China. The US consumes far more than it produces. In 2000, the US trade deficit for the year was $450 billion, it will be $3.2 trillion in 2020. As China stopped recycling its dollars from its trade surpluses and savings to the US Treasury, Europe has now taken over with the German surpluses. The United States lives on credit and if it acted like a normal country, it could not maintain its standard of living for long.
But that's not all. It has been amply demonstrated that growing inequality has for decades deprived a majority of Americans of the benefits of growth. The American social system is totally unsuited to periods of crisis and lacks the resilience of European systems, which, although they have not escaped the development of inequalities produced by neo-liberal ideas, have undoubtedly limited their effects. One could add many features of American society that stand in sharp contrast to European societies (the death penalty, crime, prison population, eugenics, exacerbated religiosity, warlike adventures with no way out, a democracy that is turning into an oligarchy, etc.). And the American riches (the wide open spaces, the literature, the cinema, the research, the famous universities, the faith in the future, the hospitality, etc.) tend to appear as many lost islands in an ocean of uncontrollable drifts. One thing is certain: today, a gulf is widening between the United States and Europe.
When a country appears not only as the leading political, economic and military power, but as an absolute model for its way of life and its ideals of freedom and democracy, this cluster of converging factors produces a dream, i.e. an enormous cultural attraction.
Today, however, not only is the American dream at a standstill, but people are about to think that it has become a kind of anti-model.
The United States is today overwhelmed by global warming and is posing a major risk to humanity. After being the hotbed of the financial crisis of 2008, it has the ingredients for the next one. It is also clearly overwhelmed by the health crisis. The slogan "Make America great again" sounds today not as a re affirmation of American leadership (we dare not speak of "empire"), but as a manifestation of the anguish of a page being turned. It will be up to Donald Trump's successors to draw the consequences of half a century of mistakes: the return to a certain normality.
Europe in all this is facing itself.
It must first get out of its congenital ambiguity.
After two world wars that had brought it to its knees, it was first built in the shadow of the United States and on the negation of national entities. Despite General de Gaulle's strong call to order, Europe persevered in this direction, supported by liberal ideology, a barely concealed formulation of a desire for hegemony. Halfway through the United Kingdom's entry into what was then the European Communities, some governments, including France, had the happy idea of a declaration on European identity which was to be signed by all the members, including the new ones, the United Kingdom and Ireland, at the European summit in Copenhagen on 13 and 14 December 1973. It was a non-event. All the Europeanists from that period until today had only one idea in mind on the linguistic side: to impose English as the language of Europe.
It is time to ask the right questions again.
Unconsciously and discreetly, the countries of Europe have over the past decades accumulated a wealth of experience that is absolutely unheard of. Soon three quarters of a century of learning how to negotiate between European countries first at 6, then at 12 and finally at 28 and 27. 70 years spent reducing our misunderstandings, or our "incommunications" to use Dominique Wolton's happy term5 , to invent for themselves a shared future in a rapidly changing world, it is no small feat. And overcoming these "incommunications" owes nothing to English.
As much through 70 years of negotiations on all subjects as through turbulent histories over almost 2000 years, the European countries have acquired an incomparable experience and understanding of the world today.
It is remarkable that the term European culture is very rarely used and that European culture is the subject of very little research. Perhaps the fact that for centuries the European nations believed themselves to be at the centre of the world and that they competed against each other for the conquest of the world did not predispose them to the necessary distancing.
Times have changed and self-awareness has become essential.
In an interview with Jean-Claude Juncker published in the Letter of the Schuman Foundation, he states that "Europe is a world power without knowing it". This is good but a bit short. In fact Jean-Claude Juncker says other things that are just as important. In particular, he says: "When I began my community life, at the age of 28 as a young Minister of Employment, we were ten Member States, then came the Portuguese and the Spaniards. There was a club-like atmosphere at ministerial level, we knew everything about each other: family, children, grandparents. After the various enlargements, all that unravelled, the relationships between leaders became strained. Europe is, of course, made up of institutions, countries, governments, but also people... This intimate knowledge of the others got lost. Far from the Franco-German poem about friendship and the lessons learned, what do the Germans know about the French? What do the French know about the Germans? The only German who knew France well was Helmut Kohl. He knew everything about the Fourth Republic, Pierre Pflimlin, Edgar Faure, Canon Kir... There is a lack of love, not so much towards Europe, but between us. There is a lot of descriptive romanticism when it comes to talking about each other in the different Member States. People like to give the impression that it is a coherent whole, based on common rules, including the rule of law, but the knowledge we have of each other is underdeveloped. What I call a lack of love is a lack of interest. From a certain point on, Europe gave the impression that it was working, which led the peoples of Europe to lose interest in each other. So the mistrust that citizens have of their national governments, this growing gap between those who govern and those who are governed, palpable, observable in every Member State, how can you expect it not to exist and grow at the level of Europe!
Very curiously, this kind of reflection echoes what could be written at the beginning of the last century. Thus André Suarez in an remarkable outstanding and striking essay in 19326 wrote about Goethe :
"True Europe is agreement, not unison. Goethe holds for all the varieties and all the differences: the mind which interprets nature cannot give itself another rule or another judgement. Only in a harmony rich enough to contain and resolve dissonance can Europe be a Europe. But the tuning of a single sound, even at an infinite number of octaves, has no harmonic meaning. To make a Europe, you need France, Germany, England, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy and the rest. »
"In Goethe’s work, Europe is a mother to countless sons; through the poet's voice, she invites them to recognise themselves. Goethe opens their eyes; may they finally consent to become aware of each other; may they be ashamed to slander and hate each other. Goethe, a powerful German, did not want Europe to be German, nor France or China to become German. For Europe to be truly itself, Germany must be the most German and France the most French that they can be: minus evil here and there, minus contempt, violence and hatred. »
In a study on Nietzsche's European ideal, François Rigaux7 writes :
"In an era of already virulent nationalisms, which were to be exacerbated during the two world wars, Nietzsche denies what he considers to be a dangerous delirium, "the disease most hostile to culture, this national neurosis with which Europe is sick" (16). His ideal is European rather than international. There are many passages in his work where he proclaims himself European, where he calls on the peoples of Europe to recognise each other: "they will immediately form a power in Europe and, fortunately, a power between the peoples! Between the classes! Between the poor and the rich! Between the rulers and the ruled! Between the calmest and the most restless" (17). It is therefore not a union of states that Nietzsche calls for, but a coalition of individuals. »
These quotations have a very contemporary inspiration which the Europeans should today regain.
The founding fathers of the European Union and all those who succeeded them all worked in their own way for the rebirth of the European countries in a Europe destroyed and exhausted by the exacerbation of nationalism and the wars which followed.
Today, even if it may seem paradoxical, it is the rehabilitation and affirmation of the permanence of nations that must be worked on. Contrary to what has been drummed into our heads for decades by a liberal ideology, which had nothing particularly liberal about it, the market does not transcend the nations. The market is organised between natio ns. If nationalism is really an invention of the 19th century, nations have always existed and the term itself has existed since the earliest antiquity, even if its contours have sometimes lacked precision. In 1744, the philosopher Giambatista Vico published his major work Principles of a new science relating to the common nature of nations, asserting that science could not only be physical and mathematical, but should also show some interest in human societies. In the course of their history, the nations of Europe have gained so much experience and learned so much from each other that it is an absolute truism that Europe can only be built on the nations themselves. Moreover, Europe is not an end in itself, it is the result of the ability and necessity of European nations to think about their future and the future of the world. In other words, Europe is not the surpassing of nations, under the effect of a force external to it, but the result of the efforts of the European nations to surpass themselves.
Europe is indeed a union of nation-states which sovereignly decide to act together, because it is their destiny and their great wisdom to act that way. And the times in which we live are forcing the European countries to rethink themselves and to rethink Europe. No one can escape this imperative, and things can move forward very quickly, as the major advances made in recent months show. Europe, the nations of Europe can only move forward or fall apart.
In any reflection on Europe, the language issue is inescapable. Language and languages are among the most precious assets of the peoples. For, as the philosopher Michel Serres recalled some time before his death, "A country which loses its language loses its culture; a country which 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.
Linguistic evolutions are long-term evolutions, like the drift of continents, sometimes with tremors that no one foresaw. We are quite aware that Brexit will not fundamentally change linguistic situations. And that is not important. English will remain in human sight, among the international languages, the most widely used language in exchanges, but as it is not the only on, it poses no problem. On the other hand, at the European level, institutionally, the only languages which appeal to the citizens are the national languages. And these must not only remain the reference, but must be restored to their rights, rights that have been largely trampled underfoot over the last twenty years.
We are here in the realm of sovereign decisions.
We must learn each other's languages. This was the wish, so poorly applied, expressed in the European Cultural Convention of 1953.
The European symbolism must become clear again, and must respect the cultural and linguistic diversity, of which the treaties have made a fundamental principle, but a diversity which is too often contradicted by institutional practice to be credible.
Much needs to be done in this area. It is a major project that needs to be opened up, which may not have the same importance as economic issues, but which cannot be postponed any longer.
1Méthodes et pratiques des langues africaines : identification, analyses et perspectives, Julia Ndibnu Messina Ethe et Pierre Frath, Collection Plurilinguisme, OEP 2019
2« Indépendance » de la nation, « Indépendance » de l’économie nationale et interdépendance des nations, François Perroux, Aubier Montaigne, 1969.
3Après l’empire – Essai sur la décomposition du système américain, Emmanuel Todd, Gallimard, 2002.
4The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski, BasicBooks, trad. Le Grand échiquier, Bayard Editions, Pluriel, 1997.
5Vive l’incommunication, La victoire de l’Europe, Dominique Wolton, Editions François Bourin, 2020
6Goethe le grand européen, André Suarès, éditions Emile-Paul Frères, 1932
8Michel Serres - Défense et illustration de la langue française aujourd'hui, Le Pommier, 2018, p. 55
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