Au revoir Mister Franglais
By Neil Hallows
The British are notoriously bad at learning foreign tongues. But with Franglais, the late Miles Kington showed anyone could get by on holiday with just a petit peu of effort.
If there is one foreign language that English speakers always seem to crack, it's Franglais.
Its rules are simple. Insert as many French words as you know into the sentence, fill in the rest with English, then speak it with absolute conviction.
Although it wasn't known as such then, Franglais is found in Shakespeare and has probably been used for as long as the English and French have had to talk to each other.
It is simple to learn - Bill Wyman's line, "Je suis un rock star", being a good start. But Miles Kington, who died on Wednesday, did it best. After all, he coined the name for this hybrid tongue.
Kington studied languages, and it showed. In a long-running series of columns for Punch, and in a number of books, he satirised the earnest but doomed efforts of native English speakers to handle French.
Like a phrase book, each of his "lessons" covered a particular situation:
* A man is accused of driving his car "avec toute la finesse d'un Rangers fan"
* A door-to-door seller assures his customers "je ne suis pas un nutter religieux"
Bodged attempts at foreign languages are as important as food poisoning to a good holiday anecdote, but Franglais is a daily reality for millions working in Europe, Africa and Canada.
The Canadian journalist Karl Mamer, author of a website on Franglais, says many Canadians speak "cereal box French", as they only get to practise it by reading the bilingual text on the back of the box in the morning.
When they then travel to French-speaking centres, like Montreal or Quebec City, their few words of French are used as a kind of peace offering to shopkeepers. He says they're thinking: "Look, I'm going to try speaking as much French as possible, showing you I'm making a sufficient effort, and then you please switch to your fluent English as soon as I've linguistically self-flagellated myself before you."
Vote pour moi
Franglais might be good enough to buy your oignons, but it's different if you want to win votes. Politicians running for office in an officially bilingual country need to try to master both languages, although some have made it to high office without knowing their coude from their elbow.
"It's a question always asked in a leadership campaign," says Janyce McGregor, a producer who covers parliament for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "They may be a rising star, and very clever, but their language skills are always going to be a factor."
It's not just high office either. A Francophone bus passenger in Ottawa complained to the city transport authority last December that drivers must be bilingual, and be sent off for language training if necessary.
But as Ms McGregor points out: "If people are bilingual, they probably won't apply to be bus drivers."
In Canada, Franglais helps French and English speakers co-exist, even if it's a shoddy compromise for some. In France it is something quite different. It is a cultural attack.
This is not the Franglais of the tourist asking awkwardly for a cup de cafe. What concerns them is the creeping advance of English words, especially American-English, into their language.
The Toubon Law, passed in 1994, was an attempt to restrict them. It makes French compulsory in government publications, most workplaces, advertisements, parts of the media and state-funded schools.
MILES KINGTON'S FRANGLAIS
Le Phone-in Programme: Je ne suis pas un bon sleeper, Brian, et votre programme me donne une sorte de company
A la Douane: Black Pudding n'est pas tax-free
Le job interview: Vous etes exactement le go-ahead personal assistant que je cherche
Au zoo: Nous avons vu seulement deux animaux avec les yeux ouverts
Le hangover: Il y a un petit homme dans ma tete, qui fait le demolition work
Source: Let's Parler Franglais! and Let's Parler Franglais Again! by Miles Kington
And French means French. Public bodies weed out English words and suggest French ones where they previously did not exist. So it was goodbye "e-mail", hello "courriel", although "le weekend" - for some the dark heart of Franglais - has survived.
London-based French journalist Agnes Poirier says those who suggest new words are often too late. "The man in the street will have already adopted English words to describe new trends."
It's true that, like a really good French waiter, Franglais always seem to be hovering nearby with a suggestion. Need a three-word headline to sum up the man who has cost Societe Generale billions? Le Rogue Trader, as the Independent - Kington's own paper - described him last week.
So e-mails still swamp courriels on French web pages. And despite the Toubon Law, Ms Poirier says the internet has led to an invasion of English words, which are picked up by newspapers because they seem fashionable, and then find their way into speech.
But why does it matter? Ms Poirier's book, Touche, a French Woman's Take on the English, has plenty of examples of the English language adopting French words and phrases, even if some of them, like "double entendre", are not actually said in France.
It's a kind of Franglais, but it has never seemed to bother anyone, except George Orwell - and he objected to using foreign phrases on the grounds of clarity rather than culture. Other mixed languages like Spanglish and Denglisch (German and English) also exist without causing nearly so much anguish.
The French see it differently because English is taking over the world and French isn't. English doesn't need defending, but French, once the European language of freedom and culture, does. And English is not just 600,000 eccentrically spelt words in a very large book, it is, to some, a symbol of Anglo-American cultural imperialism, the language of junk food.
You might think we were talking about the last two speakers of a native American dialect, rather than French, which is used by more than 350 million people. But to some, a future of Franglais n'est pas un future at all.
Parlez Franglais? Send in your favourite examples.
Coup de gace - lawn mower; Pas de deux - father of twins; Ah bien je must aller au revoir
Ken de Balle, Huddersfield
Mon favorite message est French est easy in franglais so let us all keep it allez et it will be tres bon.merci
alan le lune, gweek ,helston,cornwall
"Oui, d'accord" in French can translate as "a strimmer". In a "Pullman Hotel", in Rouen, translated from "Extinguez les lumieres inutliles" became "please extinguish the useless lights" At a burger outlet in Paris CDG airport, upon asking for "Un Woppeur" from three North African lady staff they fell about in deep mirth.
Jean 'Ardweek, Londres, Angleterre
Avez vous un cuppa?
Suzanné Léé, Londres
Nous ne sommes pas tous les football hooligans.
Ross Bif, Emsworth, Angletina
Je voudrais quatre cartouche de Marlboro Lights.
My friend uses a wonderful example of Denglish in everyday speech these days. Another friend couldn't remember the past participle of "to borrow" in German, so asked to "berugen" something. It's now become somewhat standard.
Rachel Titley, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Je voudrais une glace 'choc choc chip' s'il vous plait.
We use a local 3* hotel for many corporate team building weekends. The reservation process always makes us laugh - and uses phrases such as "J'ai fait le planning pour le rooming list et j'ai note le welcome drink sera au meme temps du babysitter qui vient apres le coffee break. Paul
Paul, La Clusaz, France
j'ai oublié ma jotter
Alasdair Thom, Glasgow
This reminds of the Only Fools and Horses episode when Del Boy and Rodney go to the reunion in France, and Del wants to know how to order Duck l'orange in French.
Marie, sheffield, UK
RIP, Miles Kington, un gentleman et un scholar.
Mike Higgins, Leeds, UK
Quel bon article! Je send le texts tout le jour a mon ami Tigs (qui est un girl, mais 'mon ami' c'est superior de 'ma amie'). C'est tres dificile avec le naughty predictive text anglaise! Je doit sendez her le BBC link immediatement. Vive le franglais!
My fave Kington franglais 'OK, OK JE NE SUIS PAS DEAF'.
Mark Leigh, Bolton
On being caught out doing something one shouldn't the response "C'est un gendarme blond" generally works well.
Garry Rucklidge, Oldmeldrum
Expressions we use include; If something is good it's 'les boilleau de chien' and a feeling in your water is 'sensation de leau'
Don Hazeldine, Lytham St Annes/UK
Cest (with a hard "c") la vie, as they say dans le France.
Jonathan Evans, London UK
vendredi, février 01, 2008
au revoir, mister franglais
As a speaker of Franglais and Spench, I loved this article.