Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Difficulty in being French

The French have a very long history of trying to preserve the French language and culture in the face of the insidious influence of Anglos -- both the Brits and the Americans. Years ago, an effort was made by the French to restrict the percentage of American movies shown on French television stations. Thanks to them, the EU has gone along with this same protectionist policy. A study of EU, especially French, protectionism notes
The 1989 EU "Television Without Frontiers" directive and quotas implemented by the French Government limit the number of American films shown in French theaters and on French Television. The EU Broadcast Directive was passed inOctober 1989 in an effort to protect and promote the Europeancultural identity. The directiverequires that EU member-states reserve a majority (51 percent) of entertainment broadcast transmission time for programs of European origin. France lobbied hardest to pass the EU directive and has since implemented the most stringent quotas within its national system.
The study notes that when France produced movies as good or better than American movies they welcomed them. One may reasonably infer that the French people want to see more than the crazy French Arts Facists are comfortable with.

Interestingly, the Brits and Aussies have robust movie industries and both make very high quality movies. You should check Aussie movies out. They do not see protectionism as a problem. What they do is train great actors and ship them off to the US. Indeed, if anyone needs protection it is American actors for Aussie and British actors litter the landscapes of our movie screens and I couldn't be happier about it. Who could object to seeking Kidman and Watts in its nation's films. I believe that if Aussies, for instance, didn't appear in high quality Aussie movies, their actors wouldn't be invited over.

At this time, the French are in a terrible quandary. It seems that there is an Eurovision song contest and the French entry has -- Alors! -- some English lyrics. It seems that the French entry comes from France's culture minister, Sebastien Tellier, and "his entry, entitled Divine, combines both English and French lyrics with electro music.
France's culture minister has defended his song, saying the country should fully support his bid for victory."

Only the weak need employ protectionist policies. If French movies can't compete with American movies now, the solution is to produce better movies, not restrict the import of movies from elsewhere. I would suggest that the French follow the lead of Australia in developing the performing arts.

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Blogger Adam said...

While Australia does certainly not have anything as stringent, and self-defeating, as the 51% EU rule, it does have content laws that a certain percentage (in the order of 10%) of free to air TV must be locally produced. It also subsidises the local film industry. The argument is that specifically Australian films wouldn't exist without it. Maybe, maybe not, but it's not a perfect example of free trade versus protectionism at any rate.

11:57 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

While not perfect, the Aussie rule seems to me to be about right for them considering that they are so far from the major centers of production, the US/Canada, UK, and Europe. 10% might be a reasonable world standard. I wonder what the Indian rule is if any. They have content (no sex and maybe not any kissing) restrictions that may make it something like 95%.

10:36 AM

Blogger Bilbo said...

Very interesting post. When I lived in Berlin and worked with the French military (nearly 30 years ago, now), I used to be amused at their very Francocentric approach to language, art, etc. But there were also Germans bemoaning the number of English words creeping into German as well. Not every language is as adept at absorbing words and phrases from other tongues as English is. I've enjoyed German and Russian movies, although I can't say I recall having seen an English or an Aussie one; as for the standard Bollywood films from India, they've very colorful and fast-paced, but I've never seen one that made any sense to me. Maybe I'm just not sufficiently multicultural.

1:41 PM

Blogger The Doctor said...

This isn't the first time you've written disparagingly about "The French", you seem to have nothing positive to say, surely you will accept that this borders on racism?

How can you justify using this miniscule issue of cinema as a justification for the posts title "The Difficulty in being French"?

You wrote "Only the weak need employ protectionist policies" and that is true, nobody will argue that the French movie industry generates as much revenue as the American, but being commercially weaker they must take some action and I see nothing wrong at all with this policy.

Visit any US Cinema multiplex (other than those in larger cities) and you will rarely see any European films or even independent US films, instead you will see predominantly low IQ drivel that Hollywood churns out all the time.

6:24 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Even when a borrowed word is in conflict with the phonology of a language, the word may still be borrowed, as is true of English baseball terms used in Japan.

I know of no language with as many borrowed words from so many languages. The language is a melting pot for sure.

6:33 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I have disdained the French since I learned that DeGaulle demanded that he and a French division (or whatever unit type it was) be the first entrant to Paris even though he had done little or nothing nothing to win his country back. He did mount a winning battle in the defense of France in WW2 but, of course, France fell very quickly. Then there was the decision of France to leave NATO though it commonly fights with NATO. He really hated the Brits and Americans, doubtless because he felt that they didn't pay him and his Free French forces enough respect. I got this from Wikipedia:

"De Gaulle oversaw the development of atomic weapons and promoted a pan-European foreign policy, seeking to diminish U.S. and British influence; withdrawing France from the NATO military command, he objected to Britain’s entry into the European Community and recognized Communist China."

The cinema restrictions are not a small thing. A lot of money is involved. But it is just part of the continuous effort of the French Academy to rid French of any English borrowings. It is a losing battle but the French are comfortable with losing for they have done so much of it.

Then there is the reputed French disdain for tourists who don't speak French. Truly arrogant. The French wish to pretend they are a world power though what power they have is slowly diminishing.

6:46 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

It's kinda funny, because English has only taken the form it has due to the Norman French who conquered England and as a result forced a lot of French words into the English language. But I guess when things go the other way it's intolerable.

Another strange thing about it is how often these sorts of issues will be phrased in a way that makes it seem as if too many English borrowings will destroy the language, and possibly eventually turn it into English. But yet English is still English, even with all the borrowings it has. If we can borrow a ton of French words into English, yet remain English enough for our language to be threatening to the French, shouldn't they realize that French will remain quite distinct from English even if they borrow a lot of words?
Meanwhile, the French gov't seems rather dismissive of the plight of their linguistic minorities against the encroachment of French.

3:57 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Mario, the French are not educable.

6:21 PM

Blogger Nick said...

A country's influence originates with its economic and military might, of which France has been in lack since Napoleon had his buttocks handed to him.

They were ruled then by a foreigner, and though they are loathe to admit it, the tradition continues today through the aegis of the EU.

France has a past, but no future. Fixed palisades, military or cultural, are destined to fail.

All the better the world will be when the French finally succumb to western influence and revolt against their tribal heritage.

7:22 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

There may be no future for Europe as well. Declining populations is not a good thing. And the failure to create a genuine nation out of the EU will likely seal their fate. The Brits hold fast to their ties to us, partly, I suspect because they are hedging their economic bets.

8:04 AM

Blogger SignificantMeaning said...

To compare the Australian film system with the French system is specious. The French film industry doesn't make many English-language films. It makes French-language films. So it can't easily export its actors to Hollywood.

And the British film industry only appears robust to those people who don't have to watch its product. It gets bungfuls of government subsidy.

Of course the French and the Academie are ridiculous. That's part of their gift to the world. But your misrepresentation of their aims is disingenuous. Language is in a sense culture- note the absurd demands that the US adopt English as the official language despite the overwhelming cultural and political superiority of English. If France falls to English, where will French be preserved?

8:12 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Ridiculous? I think not. Many French actors have made English language films in the UK and US. Pay attention.

The French language should be preserved in the form the speakers want without interference with linguistically uneducated bureaucrats. English is the world language because the people of the world want it that way. The Brits and Americans can't make the people of other countries study English.

There is no longer any reason to study French. French cuisine is an anachronism. As is French fashion. French cars have never cut the mustard. French scholarship must be translated into some other language to be read by most people in the world. And so on and so forth.

10:04 AM

Blogger SignificantMeaning said...

So I label as ridiculous the Academie - a bunch of bureaucrats tasked with protecting the French language from something or other - and you reply 'au contraire'. Then you say you that French should be 'preserved' (whatever that means) in the form the speakers want 'without interference with (sic) linguistically uneducated bureaucrats'.

Read more closely.

And I'm sure Hollywood is practically bursting with French actors muscling the natives out of work. It's just I can't think of any at the moment. Whereas I can think of plenty of Australian ones. Which makes your comparison specious.

As for your last paragraph, I’d accuse you of trolling if it weren’t your blog.

9:36 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Obviously, just as an American actor would have to learn French to play in French films (there have been exceptions), the list of French actors who have braved English and Hollywood consists of, not counting people that go back awhile and not counting directors like Luc Besson:
Jean Reno, Gerard Depardieu,
Juliette Binoche, Vincent Perez, Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani , Christopher Lambert (US born but raised in France and a better speaker of French than English), Irene Jacob , Sophie Marceau , Emmanuelle Beart '
Anne Parillaud, Julie Delpy, and Lambert Wilson.

Do not discount the pressure French actors are under not to leave France where coming to America is a form of betrayal.

12:26 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

This is worth a blog but I do not feel physically up to it, but John H says, "Language is in a sense culture." There is no understanding of this claim that is true. English is spoken in Nigeria, India, USA, South Africa, the Philippines, and other countries, all of which have different cultures. Hell, we have different English speaking cultures inside the US and that doesn't count the Hispanics.

Yes, there are English "official language" zealots here but note that they have not succeed.

12:43 PM

Blogger SignificantMeaning said...

Languageguy: Thank you for indulging me.

Your list of actors only proves my point. We've all heard of some of them, but none of them could ever have opened a film like Kidman or Crowe.

As for the "language is culture" thing. While you're right that people all over the world speak some form of what linguists call English, the "English" spoken in India is very different from the "English" spoken in Nigeria. The differences are a result of culture - I can hardly think what else it could be.

Linguistic diversity - not just within the English language - is a public good. And there are lots of defensible reasons for learning French; Flaubert, Gainsbourg, and Robert Bresson not the least among them. The idea that things only have value if you can eat them, drive them, or wear them is depressing to say the least.

7:53 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

You need to think harder about language diversity and the causes thereof. A major influence is language contact, where one language impacts another, as with the Norman invasion of England. The English language acquired a ton of words with the romance language word stress rule. Though we remained a Germanic language, we switched to our own version of he Romance word stress rules. The influence was not cultural except in the sense that the French speaking people were the bosses and the peons accommodated themselves to aspects of their language. That is culture in a very trivial sense of culture. The Brits did not become like the French in their cooking or dressing or in much of anything else. There were too few of them to have that kind of influence but the influx of French words, not culture, did have a striking influence. I do not mean to be insulting but you need to read more about language history.

6:48 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

There are almost no good reasons to learn French. Your reasons for that would compel us to learn German to read Kant or Russian to Dostoevsky, and etc. Terrible argument. Besides one can read these things in translation. That's how they read our stuff in many cases, certainly in the case of our literature.

6:50 AM


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