In the United States, many people have the conception that France is somehow opposed to the English language. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sprinkling your French with English is considered cool and au courant; so many French singers now record in English that it’s increasingly difficult for French radio stations to find French-language music to play; and you see advertisements on TV in English in France more than you would believe. (One morning in Paris this summer, I had the news on the TV while I was eating breakfast. As usual, I was struggling pretty hard to understand anything. Suddenly, I was understanding everything, and the past year and a half of intensive French study had clearly paid off, and I was finally, finally, getting it. Then I realized: I was hearing an advertisement, and it was in English. Sigh!)
As you might suspect, the area where the greatest incursion of English into French happens is in technical terminology. The leaders in creating French-language equivalents for English technical terms are actually not the French, but the Canadian folks at the Office Québécois de la langue française. They maintain the Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique web site. This is an on-line dictionary that lets you search for technical terms in a specific domain, or in all domains simultaneously. Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow say in their book The story of French that the French Academy’s web site gets two million hits a year, while the Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique gets fifty million hits a year. Quebec’s work in keeping French terminology up-to-date and a viable alternative to English terminology has been adopted as an approach by countries all over the world.
- le terme: term, word; also term, date, or limit.
- la terminologie: terminology, in the sense of specialized vocabulary.
- le vocabulaire: vocabulary.
- le lexique: lexicon, vocabulary; glossary; small pocket bilingual dictionary or phrase book. I think it’s also the set of words in a text, but I can’t prove that right at this moment.
(Yes, the title of this blog post is an Ursula K. Le Guin reference: The word for world is forest.)