For a long time, when a husband killed his wife, his act was described as a “crime of passion”. Since 1992, we have been talking about “femicide” – “murder of a female human being because of their sex”, according to the dictionary definition. The reality has remained the same, but the way society views this type of homicide has changed. “Femicide” left its mark. The term was not enough to put an end to these criminal acts, obviously, but at least the authorities are now under strong pressure to act in this area.
The case is not isolated. “Ecocide”, “Islamo-leftism”, “great replacement”: the French regularly discover new terms launched into the public debate by militant groups. Language activism at the heart of the fascinating conference “Fighting with words: neology and activism”which was held on November 16 and 17 at the University of Strasbourg, in Alsace, on the initiative of two linguists, Vincent Balnat and Christophe Gérard, teacher-researchers at the University of Strasbourg and members of the Linguistics laboratory, languages, speech (LiLPa).
This is because these neologisms provide many services to activists of all persuasions. Set the objective to be achieved (“sisterhood”, “climate emergency”). Providing visibility to a minority (“transgender”). Without forgetting to designate the enemy (“agromafia”, “Islamo-leftism”, “Françafrique”). “The success of a struggle does not depend solely on the words used, but a militant battle often goes hand in hand with lexical creations. These neologisms make it possible to draw attention to the phenomena that we are fighting or the objectives that we are fighting against. “we want to see it come to fruition”, underlines Vincent Balnat.
In confrontation, all linguistic methods are good. Compound words (“climate skeptic”); prefixes (“anti-speciesism”, “provax”, “antivax”); suffixes (“dégagisme”, “ecocide”, “femininitude”)… And this is all the more easy since the French language lends itself very well to these inventions – which does not prevent, here as elsewhere, frequent recourse to anglicisms (“#Metoo”, “greenwashing”).
From “Jean-Pierre Raffarien” to “Macronavirus”
Proper nouns do not escape this movement, especially when it comes to ridiculing the opponent. This is verified first and foremost in political life and demonstrations, from “Jean-Pierre Raffarien”, to “Jospinocchio”, via “Macronavirus” or the more trivial “Jean-Cul Mélenchon”. Particular attention is paid to the names of the parties themselves. It is no coincidence that Marine Le Pen, intent on her demonization enterprise, abandoned the overly bellicose National Front in favor of a unifying National Rally.
More singular: it happens that certain groups claim the stigmatizing term with which they have long been labeled, at least, internally, in the mode of “I assume what I am”. “Certain homosexuals are reappropriating the designation “queers”, while young immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa present themselves as “negroes””, indicate Vincent Balnat and Christophe Gérard. Others, on the contrary, seek to turn these names against their opponents, particularly on the far right, where we like to denounce the “Zionists, “the droidelomiSSes” and other “Islamonazis”… References that we found during the Covid epidemic, where slogans against the “Nazi pass” and “vacSSins” flourished.
Conceiving new words to wage an ideological battle is not recent. Convinced that mastering vocabulary was a way to impose their ideas, the French revolutionaries were undoubtedly the first to use it systematically by forging hitherto unknown concepts (“sans-culotte”), by modifying civilities ( “citizen” and “citoyenne”), by transforming place names (Bourg-la-Reine renamed “Bourg-L’Egalité”) and even the division of time (“nivôse”, “pluviôse”, “ventôse”…) . Many totalitarian regimes will follow their example, notably the USSR (“social-traitor”, “proletariat”) and the Third Reich (“sub-humanity”, “de-Judaize”, “Aryanize”). The Internet, however, is significantly changing the situation. “Social networks allow a more rapid diffusion of neologisms and encourage everyone to demonstrate lexical creation, in particular through the use of hashtags,” notes Christophe Gérard.
This does not prevent certain innovations from explicitly referring to the past. The academic Philippe Blanchet, who coined the term “glottophobia”, explained it this way in L’Express: “The way you speak is an attribute of your person, in the same way as your nationality or your sex. Reject your way of speaking, it is therefore rejecting your very person. Glottophobia allows you to establish a parallel with xenophobia or homophobia, to make it clear that it is a human right that is being violated.”
After all, it would have been paradoxical if linguists did not use new words to fight their own battles…
(1) Fighting with words: neology and activism. International conference organized on November 16 and 17 at the University of Strasbourg.
France 3 is offering new special regional language programming from November 22 to 28 on its regional antennas. On this occasion, “Alsatian, Basque, Occitan, Saintongeais, Catalan, Nissart, Provençal, Corsican and Breton” will be highlighted, presented as so many “languages” by the channel. television.
“The love of gestures and know-how, the desire to defend an original vision, the art of doing nothing like others”, this is what these few words mean: “Make it iconic. Choose France“. This is how the Elysée presents the communication campaign launched a few days after the inauguration of the Cité de la langue française, in Villers-Cotterêts. A coincidence which leads some to question the coherence of Emmanuel Macron in the linguistic field…
The text examined by Parliament aims to reduce the use of Western languages in the public space. In particular, it plans to exclude English names (dirty, open, Moskva City…) and sometimes French (café) signs, posters, panels, neighborhoods and real estate projects.
The Qerouézée association is organizing the Gallo en scène festival until November 26 in order to defend this Romance language spoken in eastern Brittany. Events are planned in different towns in Côtes-d’Armor: Bréhand, Dinan, Lamballe-Armor, Landéhen, Morieux, Plérin and Saint-Brieuc.
Ten years after publication of L’Social history of the languages of France (Rennes University Press), the University of Brest is organizing, on November 23 and 24, a symposium on the same theme, in order to highlight the sociolinguistic landscape of France, whether it concerns so-called regional, overseas or immigration languages.
Thanks to collaboration between speakers and academics, 25 different translations of the Little Prince are now available in variants of the Croissant dialects, this little-known language spoken in the Massif Central. An exceptional linguistic adventure brought to fruition thanks to Tintenfaß editions, which are offering a special Christmas offer.
“Dirimer” (break, prevent); “nycthemera” (alternation of day and night for a period of twenty-four hours); “querulent” (who tends to contest or complain)… Marion Navenant proposes to bring up to date 200 words that have now fallen into disuse. A laudable initiative in itself, but why want to do it just to “shine”?
200 rare and tasty words to shine, by Marion Navenant (ed. De Boeck Supérieur).
For twenty-five years, the Summerlied festival has welcomed all musical genres, from song to jazz, including rock, Yiddish songs, bloosmüsik and Minnesang. This work, enriched with some 250 photos, traces the history of the festival and the artists who performed there. A tribute to the culture of Alsace and, through it, of all regions of France.
Summerlied. Alsace in music, by Jacques Schleef and Albert Weber (Le Verger Editeur).
Why, in France, is a single accent considered “normal”? Why do we almost never hear the intonations of Strasbourg, Dax or Montélimar on television or at the Comédie-Française? And who has assumed the power to define the “right” way to speak? In fact, in France there is discrimination based on accents, a source of psychological suffering that is more serious than one might think and, moreover, not recognized as such. Around 30 million people are affected.
It is on this theme that I will have the pleasure of giving a conference on Saturday November 25, at 4:30 p.m., in the Aubres village hall, near Nyons (Drôme), as part of the Tales and Meetings festival.
In 1880, during an international congress held in Milan, participants required deaf people to speak in order to integrate into society, disapproving sign language. Their argument? According to them, it was not a real language and could not express abstract ideas. This France Culture program looks back on this decision which had catastrophic effects.
On November 15, France 3 broadcast the recording of the first concert given in regional languages in Paris, in September, on the stage of the Alhambra. This show, organized at the initiative of the Basque singer Anne Etchegoyen, brought together artists speaking in Basque, Corsican, Occitan, Breton and Alsatian.