Is this the ‘creative demise’ of French?

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Is this the ‘creative demise’ of French?

Last week, I visited Paris as a member of the Korea-France Forum. After an all-day discussion session, French organizers invited the Korean guests to the Institut de France, an exclusive site open to the public only once a month on the third weekend of September. The 17th-century neoclassical marble structure was grand and impressive.

The origin of the Institut de France is the Academie Francaise, which Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, established in 1635 to purify, maintain and preserve the French language. Standard grammar, spelling and pronunciation were outlined for the French language, which was to be protected from pollution by foreign languages like Italian or English. Therefore, the 40 members of the Academie serve for life, safeguarding the French language.

French people are known for their love of language. All borrowed words are changed into French. In 1994, a law was passed that bans any language other than French in all government and business communications, contracts and advertisements. Jacques Toubon, the culture minister at the time, promoted the bill, and the law is named after him.

In France, email, which is used globally, is translated as “courriel.” Wi-Fi is “acces sans fil a l’internet.” It would be like the North Koreans using a literal translation for “ice cream.”

Korean-born Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin recently made a shocking remark: “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.” She also mentioned that outside influences should be considered “enriching.”

In fact, it’s hard to neglect the flood of English terms in the information technology (IT) field, from “cloud computing” to “hashtag” to a “start-up.” However, her comments were criticized as an attempt to undermine the purity of the French language when the culture minister is supposed to be the “protector” of the language.

About 200 years before the Academie Francaise was established, Hangeul, the most effective writing system in the world, was created in the Joseon Dynasty. President Park Geun-hye frequently uses mismatched subjects and predicates and inappropriate words and phrases. It’s hard to understand what she’s saying. In the same way, Korea’s president and the Korean-born French minister are leading the “creative destruction” of the Korean and French languages. King Sejong and Cardinal Richelieu would turn over in their graves.

The author is an editorial writer
for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 2, Page 35

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