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FRENCH LANGUAGE

Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?

More and more French adverts use English words or phrases in a blending of languages that might strike an English-speaker as strange or odd. In reality, this is part of a wider - sometimes polarising - phenomenon that has been going on for decades.

Franglais: Why do French adverts love to use English words?
The French drinks brand Ricard uses a mixture of English and French in its 'born à Marseille' slogan. Photo: The Local

While wandering around France, you might pass by a bus stop featuring an advertisement not unlike the yogurt advertisement below.

An advertisement by a French bus stop

After examining the poster for a few seconds you might find yourself scratching your head at the seemingly random addition of these non-French words to an advertisement that is intended for French-speaking people. Or – maybe you just chuckle at the play on words with ‘milk’ (lait) and the French word for English, Anglais

And this kind of thing is far from uncommon in France, seemingly random English words are often chucked into French adverts, such as the below Ricard advert with its ‘born à Marseille’ strapline.

The use of English in French advertising is by no means a new trend. It is part of the wider – occasionally controversial – phenomenon of anglicismes – the borrowing of English terms into French that goes back centuries.

But linguist Julie Neveux says that the advertisements we see today are more likely part of a newer current – one that has taken hold in the past two to three decades: les californismes.

“It is true that English has become the language of marketing,” said linguist Neveux, a professor at Sorbonne University who has written a book on the subject: Je parle comme je suis

“The use of English has been ‘cool’ since World War II. I don’t think that has changed in the last 50 years, but in the last ten to 15 we are seeing more californismes than anglicismes.”

The term ‘californisme‘ was coined by French linguist, dictionary editor, and radio personality Alain Rey. He noted that the English words appearing in the French language in recent years are more emblematic of Silicon Valley than of the English language overall.

Neveux explains that while certain terms stem from English-language internet and tech related terms – think: cliquer, scroller, and mail – in France, californismes have become “more visible in every day life and conversation” in large part due to the election of President Emmanuel Macron. 

When campaigning in 2017, Macron lauded his desire for the country to become a ‘start-up nation.’

Macron has in many ways achieved this goal – in 2021, start-ups in France earned over €11.6 billion, an increase of 115 percent in comparison to 2020 where they earned just €5.4 billion. There are currently 27,000 start-ups, compared to the 9,400 there were in 2016, prior to Macron’s election.

These companies have gone on to create a total of nearly one million jobs, and will create 250,000 more by 2025, according to forecasts. 

So what does this have to do with franglais adverts? Well linguists say that the Silicone Valley culture – and English phrases – have influenced both the French workplace and popular culture.

Though a start-upper’s request for ‘un feedback’ might seem removed from the random English words interjected in advertisements, but the two are interconnected because they involve the same population.

“Advertisements speak to a particular audience,” explained Micha Cziffra who works as a professional translator, helping his clients find the right words in several fields, including marketing and communications.

He said that French people see English as “modern” and culturally relevant. It also comes down to audience, if the target is a young, cosmopolitan person, advertisers might use English to tap into that identity.

“It gives a cool, trendy impact,” said Cziffra.

He added that using English “still depends on the client, some do not want any words in English, and others – those who accept the ‘dominance of usage’ of English – will want it for putting a post on Facebook or Twitter.”

It is worth noting that are some limitations to using the English language marketing in France – it must always be accompanied by a translation in French, as per the Loi Toubon.

READ MORE: ‘Right to French’ : When is it illegal to use English in France?

More modern, more tech

While it is widely known that the Académie Française, the principle council for all matters related to the French language, have their qualms with the use of English words in French, some communications and marketing workers also have concerns about the impacts of these ‘in-groups’ on the rest of society.

Frédéric Fougerat is the Director of Communications for Emeria, a real estate firm. He is an outspoken critic of ‘Franglais,’ having written and spoken widely on the subject.

“In the workspace, it is often managers who impose English to make themselves appear more serious and business-oriented,” said Fougerat.

“It can become a handicap for others who do not speak or understand English as well. It can exclude them.”

He adds that the use of English is often intended to “impose hierarchy” as well as to signal one’s cosmopolitanism – pointing to international degrees and experience.

“The language of Molière is marvellous. The language of Shakespeare is marvellous. They are less marvellous when we mix them.”

A long history of mixing 

Yet, according to Julie Neveux, who refers to English and French as ‘cousin languages,’ the two have been mixed for centuries. 

Franglais is a menace that is not real. We must distinguish between language and the symbol of economic dominance of English,” said Neveux.

To her, the outcry over anglicismes is more reflective of fears of American dominance in commerce, technology, and the general global economy.

“In the 17th century, there was a panic about Italianismes – a fear that the Italian language would invade and take over from French, because Italy was an economic power at the time.” 

Neveux agrees that concern around exclusion is legitimate – older generations in France are less likely to have a strong command of the English language, and socioeconomic status can also exclude working class populations from gaining English-speaking experience abroad.

But in advertising, exclusion is the name of the game. There is, according to Neveux “an economic interest in not talking to part of the population” for selling certain products.

Even governmental announcements have audiences in mind.

Neveux looks over public announcement from Paris’ 10th arrondisement above, written in a playful mix of English and French. At first she giggles, and then she explains that there is clearly an audience in mind.

“For the Mairie du 10ème, it is clearly focused on youth. It has a humorous tone, and it’s intended to appeal to a younger generation who like to play with codes.” 

The final group concerned by English words in French advertisements is of course native English speakers themselves, as these adverts appear very different for Francophones versus Anglophones. Julie Neveux explained that this is due to the fact that once an English word is appropriated into French, it often takes on a French pronunciation and a revised meaning in the French context. This makes the English word essentially French in practice. 

“Think of the word ‘week-end‘ in French. It comes from the English term ‘weekend.’ It has a different meaning from ‘fin de la semaine’ in French because it accentuates the English idea that the working week is over,” said the linguist.

Neveux explained that in French, people say ‘je vais partir en week-end’ which translates exactly to “I am going on weekend.” The syntax of the sentence is different in French than in English, as over the last century the French word ‘week-end’ has evolved to carry its own sense.

This is why if you see an advertisement like the one below, while scratching your head trying to make out the meaning, the French person beside you may be laughing, loving the joke. 

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FRENCH LANGUAGE

The 13 French words that English-speakers just can’t stop using

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up integrating themselves into your everyday English, and after a while you end up speaking a weird mixture of French and English. Here are some of the most common French additions.

The 13 French words that English-speakers just can't stop using

Sometimes we pop these words into everyday chat out of laziness, if there is not a sufficient English equivalent for what we are trying to communicate or just because the French word sounds better.

The Local reached out to readers to ask for their suggestions, and here are some of those French words that people just can’t stop using, even if they are speaking English.

Kiffe

The verb is kiffer, and it is French slang for ‘to like’ or ‘to enjoy,’ but you can also say that you did something ‘just for the fun of it’ or ‘just for the kiffe.’ In French, the sentence is ‘pour le kiffe.’ This is a good one to introduce into your English vocabulary, especially if you’re describing an activity that is not very serious and you want to add another flair of fun to it.

Attestation

If you live in France, you need a lot of these. Most administrative processes require some form of ‘attestation‘ (pronounced ah-test-ah-see-own). While you could say ‘document’ or ‘form’ in English instead, you probably have gotten so used to needing attestations, that you just use the French word instead.

Croquettes

If you have a pet, you can kiss the boring “cat food” or “dog food” goodbye. The French word, croquettes (pronounced croh-ketts) is simply much more fun. You might think that this secret language to discuss your pet’s food might get past them, but you would be surprised how quickly your formerly anglophone pet learns what ‘croquettes‘ means too.

Quoi

One of The Local’s readers suggested this, and it is a great addition to the list. If you want to sound authentically French, you can just add a ‘quoi’ (pronounced kwah) at the end of a phrase. It is kind of like saying ‘You know?’ in English. You’ll find yourself starting to use it in English too, as a filler for the end of your sentence or just out of habit once you become too addicted to using it in French. “That’s it, quoi.”

Perturbé

Ah, the joys of French public transport. If you live in France or have visited for more than a few days, then you have seen this word light up on the boards inside of Metro or train stations. Perturbé (pronounced pair-tehr-bay) translates to ‘disrupted’ which does not seem to fit quite as well as the original French word. In the traffic-sense, it is referring to trains running slowly or being out of order, signalling that you are in for some waiting time on the platform. You might start telling your friends you are running late because “the train was perturbé.” Oh well.

READ MORE: The 9 ‘English’ phrases that will only make sense if you live in France

J’adore

This one is self-explanatory. “I love that” in English feels a bit hollow in comparison to a well-enunciated j’adore (pronounced jah-door) in French. If someone compliments your outfit with a “j’adore” it feels a bit more special. 

RIB

Because what is the English equivalent of RIB? A bank statement? That does not quite fit, because the RIB (pronounced reeb – an acronym of Relevé d’Identité Bancaire) is a special French bank summary document that contains your IBAN number and is necessary for all exchanges of money in France.

As there is not a great English translation, you’ll find yourself saying things like “Oops I forgot my RIB at home” or “Do you want me to send you my RIB?” (Another anglophone on vacation might be a bit confused why you would be sending your friend something that belongs on the barbecue.)

La rentrée

This is basically the French new year, when everyone returns to work from their holidays, the government launches a new programme of legislation and many people start signing up for fitness classes again and lists off their goals for the next year.

But in English, there really is not a good translation – you could say ‘back-to-school’ or ‘the start of the school year’ but that does not quite fit, particularly if you are not someone in school or with school-aged children. Only la rentrée (pronounced lah rahn-tray) seems to capture the resolutions-making spirit of la rentrée.

Bon courage

If your friend has a cumbersome task ahead – such as a trip to the préfecture – you might have started saying ‘well, bon courage.

It becomes a staple in one’s French and English lexicon, particularly once you begin to realise that it is not quite the same as the English ‘good luck’. Bon courage (pronounced bohn core-ahj) has a bit of a sarcastic twinge to it – as if you know your friend is embarking on a difficult journey and they’ll need that extra bit of courage they can muster up.

Brocante

It’s sort of a vintage sale, almost antiques, though not quite. It is not really a yard sale either. If you enjoy spending your Saturdays doing some second-hand shopping, you’ve probably given up on finding the English translation for brocante (pronounced bro-cahnt) and instead you just say “I bought this amazing tea set at a brocante this morning.”

Fonctionnaire 

This is technically a civil servant or public sector worker, but the French term is much more encompassing than that. You likely see the French government referring to this group of workers in the news often, but when you actually look up who is a fonctionnaire (pronounced funk-shee-ohn-air) you might be hesitant to apply the English “civil servant” because it is much wider than an English speaker might have in mind, including police officers and teachers as well as office workers.

The English ‘civil servant’ also doesn’t quite convey the awesome power of the French fonctionnaire who has the capability to either process your paperwork or utter the most dreaded sentence in the French language “votre dossier est incomplet“.

Dossier

Which brings us, naturally, to dossier. This translates as a file and can also be used in the sense of a portfolio in English, to denote the responsibilities of a certain role, usually in government.

But the most common usage is the dossier which must be completed in order to do administrative tasks such as securing your vital residency or healthcare cards. This is a collection of documents usually including proof of address, ID and financial status but it varies depending on the task you are doing and only when these documents are all assembled to the satisfaction of the person you are dealing with will your request be processed. 

Télétravail (or other télé- words)

This word really took hold during the pandemic, when everyone had to begin working from home.

With so many people and government officials talking about télétravail (pronounced tehleh-trah-vie), it became one of those words that you hear so often that you almost forget it has a translation. “Are you doing télétravail this week?” or “I get two télétravail days a week” are phrases that would be common amongst two anglophones living in France. 

The pre-fix “télé” has also extended out, after life became more online during Covid-19 lockdowns. You can have a ‘telehealth‘ or ‘télémedicine‘ appointment or a téléconference (zoom call) this afternoon.

And finally – the best for last – the essential French swear words that just feel stronger and more damning than their English equivalents:

Bordel, Merde, and Putain – the trifecta.

Sometimes it is instinctual to swear in English, but other times, when the house is a mess, and you cannot find anything you are looking for, all you want to say is that “It is a ‘bordel!” in there! 

You step in dog mess on the streets, ‘damn’ could be the word that comes out of your mouth, or a loud and frustrated merde (pronounced maird) might feel more appropriate.

And then there is the classic ‘putain‘ (pronounced poo-tahn) – the more time you spend with French people, the more this rubs off on you. From minor conveniences to serious infractions, putain begins to roll off your tongue faster than the English word starting with an F.

Conversely though, the French seem to really enjoy saying ‘fuck’, so you’re quite likely to hear that too, sometimes in situations that might seem surprising. 

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