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Mr Chirac says "non" to to English

March 28, 2006

Is the writing on the wall for native-speaker English?

Hello again,

I enjoyed the expression of high dudgeon expressed recently by France’s President, Jacques Chirac, who flounced out of an EU summit because one of his fellow countrymen addressed the meeting in English. Quelle horreur! Jacques found his Gallic pride deeply insulted but his reaction was ill considered. First, he should have been proud that a French captain of industry is fluent in another European language. I really couldn’t name one British boss capable of delivering a speech in another language: if there are some I’d love to know. The British are lazy and arrogant when it comes to learning languages: after all, everybody speaks English don’t they? . . .

. . . But secondly there is a linguistic issue that is more serious. The globalization of English is eroding its subtleties and identity. David Graddol’s recent report for the British Council, English Next, suggests that native-speaker English is not the variety that is dominating the world arena. Non-native speakers are cobbling together their own pared-down variety and have neither the time for nor the interest in the finer points of the language of Shakespeare. Now, Mr Chirac, I’m sure you would throw a fit if French suffered a similar fate.

In any case, we seem to lack leaders who understand what is going on in the world, linguistically speaking. English in some form or other is indeed a global phenomenon, but great trading blocks are being established that bypass English speakers. In South America, the various economic partners have no need of English, neither do Asian trading groups. What Mr Chirac should be doing is looking at his educational polices to ensure that young French people have the linguistic tools for success in the future. His compatriot set a good example; but Europeans need to start looking further afield linguistically if they are to keep abreast of the changing world economic picture.
Bye for now.


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  1. Peter Morrissey Says:

    Tony Blair has made public speeches in French

  1. james fillmore Says:

    Many British politicians speak foreign languages.
    I live in Spain and over the years I have seen current affair programmes where British politicians have participated speaking Spanish.
    Various points 1. Most Europeans tend to learn the same foreign language which is English whilst the British learn different languages.Hence it is more probable that a foreigner will speak English than that the Englishman will happen to speak the foreigner's particular language
    2. The French are paricularly agressive about their language. I have heard they object to speaking English to their customers in tourist resorts.
    I spend a lot of time on the Mediterranean coast where ther are large number of French tourists every year. Some have houses ther and have been coming for years. They almost never speak any Spanish, entering shops and bars expecting everyone to speak French. They rarely speak more than pidgen English. this isn't a crticism, people have no obligation to speak foreign languages but I do think this should be put in perspective.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    I'm glad you have heard some British politicians speaking in Spanish. When I worked with French aerospace executives they told me a joke: what do you call person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? British.

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