… blogs are talking about society. And language, too, further down.

Firstly, via Laurent at the beautifully redesigned Embruns, we learn from this post by Adrien/Bix that the french “pro-life” activists (they are called les anti-avortement here, by those who don’t agree with them) have found a rather insidious new way to send young women on a guilt trip: by distributing slick, professionally produced mystery CDs with a song called Mon secret on them: a woman being smoothed by her regrets every year around the date when, years ago, she underwent “that nightmare”, her “secret” that weighs heavily on her soul. Only with a bit of detective work can this be traced back to a very well-known anti-abortion organisation (Alliance pour les Droits de la Vie, loosely translated as Alliance for the Right to Live).

The second note lives on Kozlika’s blog (who, incidentally, just installed a blog for ProChoix (”powered by DotClear“), a group, and magazine, that is located right on the other end of the political spectrum from ADV).

The post in question is entitled Les bilingues sont dangereux and, being bilingual, I feel concerned. Not that I disagree in principle, but here the pronouncement comes in the form of the fruits of the “inquiries” (the word, as you will see, seems inappropriate) and deliberations of a parliamentary sub-committee, freely translated the “committee on crime-prevention of the parliamentary panel on homeland security”. For those who read French, the preliminary version of the study can be downloaded (PDF file) from the site of the committee’s chairman.

Much of this text deals with “tracing the path of a young person who deviates from the right path to descend into a life of crime” (or something along these, er, lines). It is full of prejudices, speculation and preconceived ideas that are taken on faith, but presented as if they were scientific fact, in which, unsurprisingly, it is totally lacking.

The story it tells is that of the children of immigrants that become isolated from their peers from age three, become unmanageable around age eight or so, and later drug-addicts and criminals. What does this sad development start with? Mothers “refusing” to speak French with their infants.

I find it very difficult to coherently translate passages from this study in a way that would get across just how nauseating it is, in particular since the writing is a mixture of stylistically and even grammatically poor French, and bureaucratic jargon. Lengthy chunks are available in the French version of this post. So I will offer just a few disjointed snippets:#[1]

Between ages one and three […] If [the parents] are from a foreign country, they should force themselves to speak French at home so that the children get used to only having this language to express themselves […] If it is in the interest of the child, the mothers will cooperate and agree to this. But if they feel that the fathers, who often insist on their country’s patois being spoken, are reticent, they may shy back. […] Between ages four and six: […] Language-related problems if the mother didn’t follow the above recommendations [may appear in pre-school]. The child will then become isolated in his or her class and communicate less and less with classmates. […]

Bilingualism is an advantage for a child except in case he or she has problems because then it becomes an additional problem. In this case it is necessary to ensure that children assimilate French before inculcating a foreign language into them.

I am leaving out the ineluctable path into crime and drugs that a thusly “handicapped” (the comparison is made explicitly) child will undergo and only quoted the most salient bits that are of linguistic interest.

Now, the French public, in particular those who have taken the trouble to educate themselves, know as well as anyone else that this is pure, offensive nonsense. And that even leaving aside the bulk of evidence in favour of early bilingualism (provided there are support structures in place) and letting children naturally pick up whatever language is spoken at home, there is the huge practical problem: parents can’t just decide to speak French with their children if they aren’t fluent in it. Those people seem to be seriously in favour of children growing up without having a language in common with their nearest relatives.

Oh, and of course French linguists and students of linguistic disciplines have reacted immediately — concerning the point I just made and concerning the insulting terms the study uses for the foreign languages that are spoken in French households.

Some have said that this issue doesn’t deserve much attention, given that it’s some legally non-binding pamphlet by a bunch of activist deputies. This doesn’t mean, though, that attitudes like that aren’t, more or less covertly, held by quite a number of people who can now feel validated.

In France, more positive attitudes towards bilingual education in indigenous, “regional” languages have only recently gained foothold in the education establishment, and languages of migrants (Arabic and Chinese, mostly) are taught in a small number of secondary schools. And this progress is fragile. It would be criminal to marginalise some kids even more than they already are in the name of security dogmas.

[1]: The translation is clumsy, sorry, but so is the original.

1 comment(s) for 'Meanwhile in France'

  1. (Trackback, 2005-04-07 09:41 )

    Les bilingues sont dangereux, la suite

    Via Racontars, dans un billet beaucoup plus charpent que le mien, je viens de lire l’interview que Benisti a accorde Afrik.

    Je vous connais, vous allez encore trouver que cette commission - et en premier lieu son prsident - raconte vraiment…