Du temps en temp, the issue of English and other foreign words infiltrating the French language flares up like a cold sore. It’s a contentious topic that occupies a singular place in French cultural identity and it dates back centuries – the Académie française, a council charged with protecting French, was established in 1635. This summer, it kicked off again as President Macron’s government took aim at advertising slogans and copy using foreign words. Anne-Sophie Guerin, French-Scottish copywriter, and Riccardo Fregoso, French-Italian executive creative director, both at McCann Paris, dissect the debate from their perspective. In English, bien sûr.
Anne-Sophie> It’s funny how the way a language is perceived is always dictated by those who don’t speak it. When was the last time you heard a French person say that French was the sexiest language ever? From a copywriter’s perspective, le French is not sexy at all.
It’s long-winded and factual. When you know how great a headline would sound in English and then you see your tragic French alternative, it kind of makes you want to move countries straight away.
Riccardo> In the end, it all comes down to history. The French have always been keen to preserve the academic purity of their language, whereas the English - and the Italian too for that matter - much less so. For the English it was a question of global power. For the Italians, it dates back to the Second World War. They decided to embrace the American influence in every aspect of popular culture: music, literature, food, design, etc.
Anne-Sophie> In a way, the French advertising industry is embracing this “invasion” too. Although academia is desperate to preserve French as it is (there are even chats about reinforcing the law on that matter), English is everywhere in our daily advertising lives. In our conversations, our emails, in the work we produce. For us, English is a shortcut.
Riccardo> It’s true, we use English all the time on an operational level. We don’t even realise just how much. Brief, brainstorm, big idea, workshop… are all words which we use in English. And then it gets weird and we mix it all up. “Je reviens vers toi asap”, “ça fait sens” (this expression is a pure copy of “it makes sense”: totally incorrect grammatically but people use it anyway… well, because it makes so much sense). “Je te le drop”, “tu l’upload”, “t’as liké”, “tu me le forward”, “j’ai update le doc”, “la glue créative” are more modern atrocities that we use without even thinking.
Anne-Sophie> It’s just so much quicker. And creatively, it’s much more stimulating. Evian - Live Young, Nespresso - What Else? They’re simple and concise. They’ve become part of French culture too. Luckily, we were spared the French translations. Let’s be honest, Nespresso – Quoi d’autre? doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. So here it is, our big fat revelation: the real sexy language is English.
I guess, in the end, there will always be two languages: the one you hear and the one you write. The one you hear when a French actress in a Godard film whispers declarations of love into her lover’s ear… and the one you write ham headlines and wrinkle manifestos with.
Riccardo> Yes, the one we write Big Ideas de Merde with.