The Presence of English in French Advertising

The Presence of English in French Advertising

“English is a prestigious language, evoking positive connotations for brands: sophistication, international status, and technical superiority. The use of English in advertising serves as a mood enhancer and “attention-getter”, it creates humour and contributes to brand recall” -Elizabeth Martin

The French government is committed to defending their language and culture over anything else, attempting to banish the presence of foreign languages in French print advertising to preserve their sacred tongue. The government has even gone so far as to implement laws, such as the 1994 Toubon Law, which restricts the use of English in French media.

In Rory Mulholland’s article “Boycott the English language says top French intellectual” published in October 2013 by The Guardian, French philosopher Michel Serres calls for a boycott of all products and videos that are not translated into French. He complains, “there are more examples of the English language in Toulouse than there was German during occupation due to this “invasion” of France by the English language”. Stephen Clarke, a Paris-based English author reacts: “It is pretty thoughtless to compare advertising posters that we are free to ignore with Nazi proclamations informing people that they will be shot if they are found out of doors after curfew or sent to death camps if they belong to certain ethnic groups.” Serres’ opinion is clearly over the top, and it reflects the unnecessary “fear of the unknown” which often comes along with the adoption of linguistic features from other parts of the world. In 2013, the culture ministry even declared that words such as 'email', 'blog', 'supermodel', 'takeaway', 'chewing gum' and 'weekend' should be banned and replaced with French equivalents - ‘mot-diese’ in place of ‘hashtag’, for example.

Luckily, times have changed. The contrasting article from March 2015 portrays France's then Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, who argues that attempts to protect the French language from foreign “invaders” are counterproductive. I overlaid these contrasting words onto the article images to show how the overarching opinion in France has drastically changed in only a few short years. The English loan word ‘manager’ has even been adopted into the world of business in France, which Martin points out in her article. The terms managériales (adjective) or manager (verb) are being used instead of gérer or gérante. Pellerin claims that these English contributions are “generous”, and have enriched the ever-evolving French language which is surely not frozen in time. Monolingual French speakers are actually a minority in France, and this polyglot quality is reflected in the culture minister herself: Fleur Pellerin is a digital economy expert born in South Korea and a fluent English and German speaker, in addition to speaking French. Pellerin reassures the population that French is not in danger: “my responsibility as minister is not to erect ineffective barriers against languages, but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on”.

English in the media provides simple catch phrases and the joy of speaking this generation’s social language. Global English, or Globish, has surely become the worldwide lingua franca. Though French will remain rich in meaning, history and linguistics nuances, it is a sign of Globalization when we see English entering into the advertising realm of other countries.

Given the complexity of bilingual creativity in this environment, language legislation can only have a limited effect on the creative strategies and messages found in advertising campaigns... Those who want to ‘protect’ French from English in this context certainly have their work cut out for them” -Elizabeth Martin