Christian Hartmann Agence France-Presse The French President, Emmanuel Macron, with the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul -Malak, during the inauguration on Monday
Museum or mausoleum? The new International City of the French Language had barely been inaugurated on Monday by President Emmanuel Macron when it was already sparking controversy.
Postponed for more than a year, this inauguration, shunned by many academicians, nevertheless brought together the French-speaking elite in the courtyard of François I's castle. It was in this Renaissance masterpiece located 100 km from Paris that the sovereign signed the famous Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539, which established for the first time the primacy of French over Latin in all texts administrative decisions and court decisions.
It was in the pouring rain that the guests, putting their best efforts against bad luck, inaugurated the sumptuous monument, which aims to testify to the international vocation of the French language. “At a time when divisions are returning, [where] hatred is resurfacing, where we would like to send communities back to back, religions, origins, the French language is a glue,” declared President Macron. It “brings us together, in our unity and our diversity.”
“Tartuffe de la langue”?
He who has often been excoriated for his immoderate taste for English formulas – from “start-up nation” to “make our planet great again” — was not afraid to assert that in France, “language has always been an object of controversy; and that there are passionate debates about the French language is a sign of good health.” “Few countries have such heated debates about their language. Thank you for allowing it. »
And the president put his words into action. Denouncing the “sulking at the Academy”, he was not afraid to respond head-to-head to the academicians who had criticized him. “When you talk to people who only speak English, refusing to speak their language is absurd. So, when you talk to international investors, yes, it is better to say “choose France”: we make ourselves understood better,” he replied without blinking.< /p>
A week earlier, the respected Jean-Marie Rouart had set the scene by calling the president “the Tartuffe of the French language in Villers-Cotterêts City”. According to the academician, who spoke in Le Figaro, “if there is one area in which he is far from shining, it is in the defense of the French language. You have to look far into the history of France to find a political leader who has done so much harm to it. And the immortal concludes: “Great initiative, worthy of Tartuffe, to put the French language in a museum so as not to have to worry about its slow destruction in which we ourselves participated. »
In 2019, the Academy itself alerted the president to the fact that the Toubon law, intended to protect the French language, remained largely unapplied.
Against “inclusive” writing
Another subject of controversy, Mr. Macron attracted applause by criticizing so-called “inclusive” writing and calling for “not to give in to the spirit of the times”. While a bill was debated Monday in the Senate to ban this way of writing from a number of administrative documents, he estimated that in French, “the masculine makes the neuter. We don't need to add periods in the middle of words or hyphens or things to make it readable.”
In addition to the low number of academicians, the representatives of organizations defending the French language seemed to have been forgotten at this inauguration. With the exception of Albert Salon, co-founder of the organization Avenir de la langue française, who was at the origin of the idea of celebrating the French language in Villers-Cotterêts.
The idea of dedicating the old castle of Villers-Cotterêts to the French language goes back many years, he says. In the middle of the presidential campaign, in 2017, candidate Macron took up this idea defended since 2001 by associations defending the French language. All in a disaster-stricken region where the National Rally was popular.
“Originally, our project was also to celebrate the Francophonie,” says Albert Salon. “But she disappeared on the way. As for Emmanuel Macron, you know, I tried everything. But I had to resolve: the defense of French is not made for that, it is not part of his DNA. »
For a long time an activist for the French language, Georges Gastaud is delighted with the inauguration of this new City. “But if the president led by example, it would still be better. On the contrary, he only cares about his “French tech” and other “choose France””, he laments. “In science preparatory classes today, we do a weekly quiz in English and one per term in French. Everyone is immersed in English, but they don't even realize it anymore. »
The inauguration took place in the presence of the Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), Louise Mushikiwabo. However, we could note the notable absence of representatives of French-speaking African countries, several of which are at odds with France.
In the absence of the Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge, who was moved two weeks ago for a ceremony which was postponed, Quebec was represented by the general delegate of Quebec in Paris, Michèle Boisvert. A press release recalled that Quebec contributed two million dollars to this project worth more than 200 million euros.
According to the Canadian Ambassador to Paris, Stéphane Dion, this City represents “a window for the Francophonie that we needed”. “It’s not a museum, you shouldn’t see it like that,” he believes. As for whether France is doing enough to defend French, he hits the nail on the head: “No one is doing enough. We are all second in this area. »