French War Cry

So here again, we see the carcass of the Hundred Years War resurrected. Before Jeanne d'Arc valiantly beat back the English, the Norman successors of William the Conqueror spoke largely French. With the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, however, the English were confined to the British Aisles, and the House of Valois took up the project, begun by Hugh Capet, of forging a French nation. By the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, France was at the height of its dominance. The French language was the common language of the European world, giving rise to the Latin term lingua franca. But at the same time, England was beginning to coalesce as a national entity under the efforts of the Tudors, and the Stuarts. In the three hundred years since the reign of the Sun King, however, the Anglosphere has come to predominate in world affairs, while la Francophonie has lost relative influence (even though more people speak French than three hundred years ago). Although French still maintains a certain panache, especially in its incorporation as loan words in English, as a common language it has been losing ground at an accelerated pace in the past hundred years.

There are different ideas as to while French is losing ground; but the most reasonable to my mind is its lack of flexibility. Certainly there are ground for pride in the rigorousness of a language; grammar nuts in the English language have certainly been tearing their hair out in regard to contests over proper spelling (the spelling of "through" as "thru" has frustrated many), case ("who" versus "whom", and when it's correct to use one or the other), tense (which can vary between Queen's English and American English, especially with regard to words like "learned" versus "learnt", or "forgot" versus "forgotten"), and even gender (in American English, political correctness demands the illogical use of the plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun, especially in bureaucratic policy manuals, instead of the nominally masculine singular pronoun "he", which when modifying an abstract noun such as "teacher" or "technician" does not denote gender). But the flexibility and mutability of English has also allowed it to adapt with the times. Moreover, its imprecision has fostered the growth of the lawyering industry.

Now, according to a Reuters report, Jean-Noel Jeanneney, the head of France's national library, is balking at Google's project of digitizing the world's great libraries. According to Monsieur Jeanneney, there would be too much of a bias in favor of "Anglo-Saxon" views.

"It is not a question of despising Anglo-Saxon views...It is just that in the simple act of making a choice, you impose a certain view of things," Jeanneney said Friday.

"I favor a multi-polar view of the world in the 21st century," he said. "I don't want the French Revolution retold just by books chosen by the United States. The picture presented may not be less good or less bad, but it will not be ours."

Reuters pegs this guy as a noted historian; perhaps he's forgoten, though, that the French Revolution occurred in the Eighteenth Century, not the Twenty-First. Then he goes on to this quaint little number:
Jeanneney says he is not anti-American, and that he wants better relations between Europe and the United States. But like French President Jacques Chirac, he says he wants a multi-polar world in which U.S. views are not the only ones that are heard.
Ah, the old, "Yes, but ..." argument, where you divine a person's real intent from the "but", not from the affirmation. The funny thing is, he's latching on to President Chirac's popular anti-Americanism without keeping in mind that French politicans are anything but idealistic. Hence, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears:
But he says he has heard nothing from politicians in Paris or Brussels, days before U.S. President Bush visits the European Union's headquarters and NATO.
Perhaps, Monsieur Jeanneney, Monsieur le President has more important matters to look after! Here's a tip: If you'd like your library to be represented, it might make more sense to make correspondence with Google than with French politicians. But there's the rub, eh? In France, they expect the politicians and the government to do everything for them. We Anglo-Americans, on the other hand, don't sit around waiting for the Library of Congress to get its act together. The effort by Google is not a publicly-funded effort so much as a public-private cooperation on a private initiative. What, there's no indigenous French equivalent of Google? Really? Try lowering taxes, what say, or, I don't know, expanding the line of cultural exports. Whine and cheese will only get you so far.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

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