Slugger O’Toole tells the story of an Irish citizen who tried, and failed, to use the web site of the French national train company SNCF to pay for a ticket. The problem: Ireland is absent from the list of pre-defined country names on the address form of the payment site. Asked about this, the SNCF answers that Ireland is part of Great Britain…

To be fair, in my experience the French tend to be reasonably good at geography. Still…

Via Crooked Timber.

… 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.

What’s your MP up to?

Je fais écho en anglais à un billet en français, que vous pouvez lire en VO vous-mêmes.

  • 2005-02-03
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In his post De la démocratie au Palais-Bourbon#[1] on his blog at Ceteris Paribus, Emmanuel offers some thoughts on the role of French members of parliament and how the voting public keeps an eye on their work and votes — or rather, doesn’t.

As a political blog, Ceteris Paribus has several things going for it: Emmanuel’s posts are informed by knowledge about the polical process abroad, with frequent references to the UK, the US and the EU level; he has been doing a good job of analysing political processes from other countries for his French readership; and he isn’t gentle with any French political party, an at the same time largely avoids the all-too-common trap doing no more than deploring the weaknesses of the French political system.

But back to the note in question. Emmanuel refers to a previous post by Versac (another French political blogger) wondering why there is no organisation or web site in France that tracks the votes and attendance record of every member of parliament — a practice that is common in the US and the UK alike.

The discussion doesn’t stop here. Emmanuel, in a slightly provocative tone, explains what is, in his view, the reason for this lack of public interest, and goes into some details (my translation, for the original follow the link above):

The reason for this is very simple: there is absolutely nothing to gain from it. Except in a few rare cases, the deputies vote scrupulously along party lines. […]

The crucial point is that the freedom of action of the MPs in the UK or the senators in the US is an order of magnitude greater than what exists, at present, in France, where the majority blindly follows the government and the deputies of the opposition do nothing but abiding by the instruction they receive from the party leadership. This is the fault of the [so-called] rationalised parliamentarism that originated in the 1958 constitution and/or the cowardice of the deputies themselves, who do have significant means at their disposal to use against the government (eg, appointing inquiry committees) but only rarely use them.

[…] What is left is the parliamentary theatre, which is largely on par with the offerings on the grands boulevards, and the work — which recieves only a paltry amount of media attention but is none the less fundamental — that goes into rewriting legislative drafts.

If you read French, be sure to check out the comments on this post, which offer some ideas on how members of parliament in presidential and parliamentary systems might be more or less pushed towards developing a voting profile that might set them apart from the respective party mainstream.

[1]: The Palais Bourbon is the seat of the French National Assembly. You can try the English version of the parliament’s web site, if you are interested in details and history.

  • 2005-01-11
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After letting Guillermito’s case settle down in my mind (and on the web) for a few days, some final notes (to complete what I wrote in parts one and two). First, I got to meet Veuve Tarquine, the charming and knowledgeable law blogger, at Paris Carnet. She explained to me that the problem with Tegam’s (the […]

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Analysons Brassens

A site full of analyses of Georges Brassens’ songs is back after repairing the database.

  • 2004-08-10
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Analyse Brassens est de retour! J’y ai fait référence dans le passage sur vénus callipyge dans le billet qui parle d’épithètes homériques et autres. (Oui, l’article est en anglais, mais faites défiler et regardez la fin!) Mais leur base de données a connu un accident vasculaire cérébral, me semble-t-il, vite signalé au webmèstre. Il l’a […]

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Minimalist Kitkat

Comment un slogan publicitaire anglais est «traduit» en français, loi Toubon oblige.

As you probably know, there is a law in France, called “loi Toubon” after the former minister of culture who sponsored it, that requires all product descriptions and adverts (“be they in spoken, written or audio-visual form”) to be in French. If several languages are present (read: if the slogan is in English) the French […]

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