The Absurdity of Top-Down Control

Thank god English is generally defined bottom-up rather than top down, a mirror of the liberal capitalist society both we and England used to have.  The alternative is absurd:

The word on the table that morning was "cloud computing."To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with "informatique en nuage," which literally means "computing in cloud."

France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology -- a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador -- was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term.

"What? This means nothing to me. I put a 'cloud' of milk in my tea!" exclaimed Jean Saint-Geours, a French writer and member of the Terminology Commission.

"Send it back and start again," ordered Etienne Guyon, a physics professor on the commission....

Before a word such as "cloud computing" or "podcasting" ("diffusion pour baladeur") receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister's seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state's General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

"Rigor cannot be compromised," said Xavier North, the 57-year-old civil servant who heads the General Delegation.

In particular, its heartening that the French have a finely-tuned understanding of their rights.  They have no hard and fast right to free speech as we have in the US, but

Article Two of France's Constitution states that, "The language of the Republic shall be French." The French government, therefore, has a duty to offer citizens French alternatives to English words, he says. "Our citizens have a right to communicate without speaking English."

I discussed this same topic earlier.  This makes for another excellent reason to oppose laws mandating English as our official language, promulgated by folks who are outraged at having to press 1 for English -- it can't be a good idea if the French do it.

I found this incredible:

Each of France's government ministries has at least one terminology committee attached to it. The job of the people on the committee is to spot new English words and create and define French alternatives before the English version catches on. Ms. Madinier called on the committee in charge of computing terminology -- which is part of the French Finance Ministry -- to handle the expression "cloud computing."

I would have thought that the influx of so many new concepts and technologies in English might have been a clue that maybe France needed to do something about innovation; but no, apparently it will be fine to gravy train off American and English innovation as long as they can come up with a French name for everything.  The only other country I know of that was so fixated on making Anglo-American innovation look homemade was the Soviet Union.


  1. spiro:

    I love the effort that the Frenchies give to preserving their culture (symbolically) through language, while the constant influx of immigrants from northern Africa and the disparity of birthrates between these immigrants and the native Frogs is rapidly turning France into a Muslim state.

  2. James:

    The more absurd part is how little just about every Frenchman I've ever come into contact with cares about the Académie française. Everybody ends up using "cloud computing" and "podcasting" anyway.

  3. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    The "English" term probably came from some other language anyway. English's ability to absorb foreign words and phrases has made it the lingua franca of the planet.

  4. ArtD0dger:

    I'm sure they have an official melodious phrase infused with Gallic inflection for "double-plus ungood."

  5. nom de guerre:

    must...resist....impolite....."gallic translation of 'snail-eating surrender minkeys'" comment....

    oh, what the hell. the late great sage trevanian eviscerated the french and their laughable frenchishness years ago, in his wheels-within-wheels novel 'shibumi'. to wit:

    "le cagot laughed. "after all, his father was french and very active in the resistance."
    hel smiled. "have you ever met one who was not?"
    "true. it is astonishing that the germans managed to hold france with so few divisions, considering that everyone who wasn't draining german resources by the clever maneuver of surrendering en masse and making the nazis feed them was vigorously and bravely engaged in the resistance. is there a village without its place de la resistance? but one has to be fair; one has to understand the gallic notion of resistance. any hotelier who overcharged a german was in the resistance. each whore who gave a german soldier the clap was a freedom fighter. all those who obeyed while viciously withholding their cheerful morning bonjours were heroes of liberty!" (....) "the same people who dilute their burgundy for modest profit willingly spend millions of francs on the atomic contamination of the pacific ocean in the hope they will be thought to be the technological equals of the americans. they see themselves as the feisty david against the grasping goliath. sadly for their image abroad, the rest of the world views their actions as the ludicrous egotism of the amorous ant climbing a cow's leg and assuring her he will be gentle."

    MAN, i miss that guy. oh, sure, we've still got unsurprisingly lesbian patricia cornwell and not-been-dead-all-that-long robert ludlum - the giants - pumping out masterworks as regular as bowel movements, but somehow, it's just not the same.

  6. Evil Red Scandi:

    "The only other country I know of that was so fixated on making Anglo-American innovation look homemade was the Soviet Union."

    The phrase "Hey, Russians invented it!" is a favorite ironic joke amongst my many friends from the former Soviet Union. I'm glad I never had to swallow that propaganda - my reaction would have gotten met shot. Repeatedly.

  7. Daublin:

    My impression is the same as James': individual French people don't speak the language that the academie makes up.

    Nonetheless, there's a real difference here. Many non-Americans I have spoken to have expressed shock that there is no tsar of the English language. There isn't even an official English dictionary. Even if individuals don't follow the rules, there must be rules somewhere! Mustn't there?

  8. Colin:

    Let's also remember laws such as French language content rules for radio.

  9. JohnB:

    Ah, the French. For a multitude of amusing anecdotes, read any of the books by Peter Mayle, a Brit who lives in Provence.

  10. morganovich:

    if the utter failure of the proscribed "fin de la semaine"to replace the extremely popular "le weekend" is any guide, these guys don't have much clout.

  11. Rob:

    When I was studying computer science in France, one of the professors actsully taught the course in English ( a course on AI). His reasoning was that so many technical terms were in English that it was better to learn the subject using English. I also remember our top professor explaining to us to use vs because the technical search results were much better when searching using English words. That was in 2001, so maybe handles English better now.

  12. Rick C:

    "This makes for another excellent reason to oppose laws mandating English as our official language, promulgated by folks who are outraged at having to press 1 for English — it can’t be a good idea if the French do it."

    You're kidding, right? This does not compute. For one thing, we just make up words or borrow them from other languages and then file off the odd pronunciations. We certainly don't take 18 months--both Augusts of which were spent on vacation in the Mediterranian, and which includes a grand total of 23 weeks on strike for various reasons including a protest against putting a McDonalds in the Louvre--to come up with new terms, so this is hardly a valid reason NOT to make English the official language of the US. (Note I'm not arguing the general point of whether it should be done, just saying this isn't a sensible argument against it.)

  13. Fred Z:

    Contra the Germans, who are absorbing English words, phrases and structures and a tremendous clip. They consider it re-absorbing as to them English is only a minor subdivision of the Germano-Latin languages.

    I just got back from a visit to Germany and they are still as cheerfully arrogant as ever, but as they absorb more English, they will change for the better. I hope.

    A little off topic, but here's a horrible thought for all: The Germans all get converted to Islam, it re-invigorates them culturally and ... I prefer their current blandness.

  14. Bertha Minerva:

    Nom de guerre, that was great! Thanks for the tip, I will be picking up "Shibumi" for my next read.

    My deux centimes: My dear spouse is French and one of my (not his) favorite parlor games is counting how many syllables it takes to say something in French vs in English. English doesn't win EVERY time, but often enough that I'd guess the French probably do about 20% more talking than we do, to say the same things.

  15. nom de guerre:

    ahh, the germans. sad indeed to see them neutered and befuddled by the twin opiates of marxism and socialism. imagine if they'd somehow managed to remain german, rather than become eloi, during their occupation.

    dateline berlin, 1 december 1989: "with joyous abandon, all germans everywhere applauded with wild enthusiasm, some dancing on the remains of the berlin wall, as germany was at last reunited. chastened by the past, hopeful for the future, germany now eagerly looks forward to a new era of a single german nation, peaceful and industrious, as the 21st century approaches. the lessons of the past were hard, and dearly expensive, but german brainpower, work ethic, and technology means that the future shines brightly indeed for a new germany in which 'east' and 'west' are relegated once again to mere compass points."

    dateline berlin, 2 december 1989: "germany invades poland!"

    another cool thing about german is the language itself. easily the most aggressive-*sounding* language in the world (except possibly for japanese), even their love poetry comes off sounding warlike: "with a lightning blitzkrieg strike, i shall send my armored columns storming into your unprotected lowlands, my dearest love!"