Why French?The French are well known for being protective of their language.

At school one teacher used to tell us that the French hated English and would deliberately make new words as dissimilar to the English as possible, just to make things difficult. I’m not sure how true this is, but they definitely have a lengthy process for introducing new words to the language.

Keeping the French language relevant isn’t easy in the Internet age. For years, French bureaucrats have worked hard to keep French up to date by diligently coming up with equivalents for English terms. Though most French people say “le week-end” and “un surfer,” the correct translations of the terms are “fin de semaine” (“end of the week”) and “aquaplanchiste” (“water boarder”). A “start-up” company is referred to as “jeune pousse,” or “young shoot” (the term pousse is used for vegetable sprouts), while the World Wide Web is translated as “toile d’araignée mondiale” (literally, global spider web).

But technological advancements mean new Anglicisms are spreading over the Internet at warp speed, leaving the French scratching their heads.

Before a word such as “cloud computing” or “podcasting” (“diffusion pour baladeur”) receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister’s seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state’s General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

“Rigor cannot be compromised,” said Xavier North, the 57-year-old civil servant who heads the General Delegation. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Yep, that’s right. For a new word to get the official seal of approval, it has to go through three organisations and be passed by a government minister, a process that can take years.

The right to French words is enshrined in the Constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic shall be French”. This is further upheld by laws passed in 1994, which stated that work contracts, adverts and all government documentation had to be in French. Government institutions such as la délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France (DGLFLF) and the Académie française aim to enrich and promote the language.

I can’t think of any other country or language that does anything similar to the French. With English I think it’s generally accepted that the language is ever evolving and new words are being added constantly, so there’s not enough time to keep track of them all. Even the famous Oxford English Dictionary is often behind the times – their list of new words added each year sometimes reads like a list of words that have been and gone from popular culture.

So, whilst I salute the French for attempting to preserve their language (and there are many near-extinct languages that would benefit from the same treatment), perhaps the length of time the bureaucracy takes to approve a new word may become a hindrance.