CAN FRANCE ROUT THE ENGLISH?

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Parisians are famous for their cultural arrogance. If you don't speak French, Parisians will seem about as warm as pate de foie on cold toast. In fact, their snobbery extends to anyone who is not from Paris-including other Frenchmen.

But the proposed legislation to ban English words from the French language, introduced by Jacques Toubon, French Minister of Culture, is considered ludicrous even by Parisians. During a week in Paris, I had the opportunity to speak with many Frenchmen on the subject. Most Parisians feel the use of language is about as easy to legislate as morality, and although Mr. Toubon's intentions to preserve the French language are good, the law could never have any teeth. Many English words and phrases are already firmly entrenched in everyday usage, such as "weekend" and "marketing."

While in Paris I read three newspapers daily, and though I found no news of Mr. Toubon's proposed law, I came across several English words in some of France's most prestigious and conservative papers, most notably Le Monde. "Weekend" was used several times. The French alternative would be le fin de la semaine, which most Parisians find lugubrious if not ridiculous.

Nonetheless, Mr. Toubon has published a dictionary of English words now used in France with their French equivalents. "Dictionnaire des Termes Officiels" is a hefty volume intended to eradicate English from the French language once and for all. Where no French equivalents exist, they will be invented.

Many Parisians I talked to consider Mr. Toubon's efforts another political joke worthy of relentless satire.

But according to a late-night TV special on Tourbon's law, 50% of all Frenchmen feel that English is a threat to the French language. Most blame the media for the English invasion. Young people are particularly susceptible because of the fascination with "the American dream." Walk down any street in Paris and you will see plenty of advertising of American films, and American songs are constantly played on the radio and in night clubs. In fact, 51% of France's youth feel the incorporation of English in their language is a natural evolution.

Preserving the French language is laudable, but how would such a law be enforced? Punishing someone for using English is a threat to personal liberty, and most Frenchmen find the idea repugnant.

Beyond that, translating many English words is simply impossible. I can't wait to see Mr. Toubon's equivalent for hot dog.

Mr. Weil, a free-lance writer, lives in New York.

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