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‘Say things in French!’: Minister reignites debate over language with Twitter plea

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By Luke Hurst
‘Say things in French!’: Minister reignites debate over language with Twitter plea
Copyright  Francois Mori/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The French culture minister has ignited a debate over the encroachment of other languages in France, by telling his followers to “say things in French”.

Franck Riester made his plea in a Twitter post on Sunday, which marked the 25th anniversary of the Toubon Law that governs the use of French on TV and radio.

The 1994 law banned the use of foreign languages in all TV broadcasts — meaning all foreign-language shows are dubbed. It also dictates that radio stations must play French songs at least 40% of the time.

Riester said: "The Loi Toubon is 25 years old! It's the interpretation of article 2 of our Constitution: 'The language of the Republic is French.' Our daily lives would be so different without this simple demand: say things in French!"

While the culture minister’s comments may seem like innocuous patriotism in a country that prides itself on its language and culture, the debate over the issue is more complex than that.

In 2015, the then socialist culture minister Fleur Pellerin caused a stir when she criticised the Toubon Law, stating “a language is always moving”, and arguing that neighbouring languages such as English and Italian had given the French hundreds of new words.

Pellerin, who was born in South Korea and speaks French, German and English, argued at the time that “French is not in danger and my responsibility as minister is not to put up ineffective barriers against other languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on.”

Critics rounded on Riester’s tweet, pointing out that President Emmanuel Macron regularly uses English idioms.

"Macron himself uses Anglophone slogans!" said Didier Van Staevel, replying on Twitter.

Cinema executive Christophe Courtois pointed out that top French companies regularly use English slogans rather than French, such as Renault's adverts titled "Never Too Much" and Air France's "France Is In The Air" posters.

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