The 34th Annual Conference of the Israeli Association for Applied Linguistics, Open University, 7, October, 2007


"Linguistic Politics" in the Era of Globalization: The Case of English versus French


Aviv Amit

PhD student at Tel Aviv University and Paris IV-Sorbonne



Current developments of Economic Globalization and Mass Media characterize our era and raise some important questions concerning State Politics and Language.

This lecture[1] will focus on two sorts of "Linguistic Politics" that the French regime has used in recent years: the first concerns the competition between French and English in the international arena; the second deals with the "threat" of English within France.

Nowadays, French is still defined as an international language filling the function of one of the official working languages in international organizations such as the UN, NATO, UNESCO, the Arab League, the Francophone States organization (etc.). Nevertheless, the international status of the language is now very much secondary occupying only the second place after English[2].

According to Bourdieu (1991), each language has a different "Cultural Capital" value. Thus, using this metaphor, it is clear that today English represents the strongest currency in the international "Language Market" and that anyone wanting to be a part of Globalization must speak the language. France is at present following this trend. In fact, Calvet (2002) shows that the French people are starting to yield to these laws of "Language Market" and that, for example, French speaking parents prefer their children to learn English as a second language; French students prefer taking English courses at university rather than any other foreign language and in the French academic world there is an increasing number of conferences held in English.

From a linguistic point of view, French today unquestionably "borrows" many words and structures from English. The Académie Française views this as a real threat[3] to the French language and the French regime is fighting this in various ways: legislatively, institutionally and pedagogically. Yet, some linguists in France claim[4] that, in fact, the influence of English is not as severe as it is considered to be and that for instance, only 2.5% of the words in the French lexicon originate from English.

In this lecture, we will discuss how the French government has been trying to avoid the influence of English, on the one hand, and to preserve the status of French in the EU and in the world, on the other hand. In addition, we will test the actual impact of English on French while trying to answer the question whether English is a real threat to French or not.


Partial Bibliography

Bourdieu P., 1991. Language and symbolic power, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Calvet, L-.J., 2002. Le marché aux langues, les effets linguistiques de la mondialisation, Paris : Plon.

De Swaan, A. 2002. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hagège, C. 1996. Le français, histoire d’un combat. Paris: Editions Michel Hagège.


[1]  This lecture is a part of a wider PhD thesis dealing with models of "language contacts" in the French language history.

[2] De Swaan, 2001

[3] See the official site of the French Academy

[4] Hagège, 1996