Everything seemed pretty quiet in France over recent months regarding the position and status of the French language. It has been a good few months since the most recent hullabaloo over the insidious role that the English language had been assuming in France, courtesy of wily Anglo-Saxons or short-sighted, unpatriotic French men and women. And so the first controversy of 2017 breaks as Paris’ bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games chooses an English-language slogan ‘Made for Sharing’.
Seemingly determined to cement its reputation in the Anglophone world as opposed to the English language in all aspects of French life, the Académie française has issued a statement noting the use of ‘Made for Sharing’ by such un-French giants as Burger King, Cadbury’s, and Quality Street chocolates, and unanimously expressing their disapproval of the language chosen. The Académie also notes that the official languages of the Olympic Games are French and English – in that order in Article 23 of the Olympic Charter.
The launch of #madeforsharing took place on 3 February, and since that time, over on the webpages of Le Monde, readers have been making full use of the comments sections of newspaper articles to rage against the choice of language for the slogan. ‘Shame’ is a popular theme of the responses, with individuals lamenting in strong terms the national disgrace and the financial cost of France’s capital city bid team using first and foremost an English-language slogan. The concession of second, French-language slogan – Venez partager – is little consolation to those who are frustrated by the use of English in something that is supposed to exemplify Paris in particular and France more generally.
Bound up in this linguistic storm (in a tasse de thé?) is the co-option of the Eiffel Tower into the Paris bid and its use as the screen onto which the English-language slogan was projected for the formal launch of the bid. The Paris 2024 campaign crafts the ’24’ into a representation of the Eiffel Tower, and supporters of the bid – from schoolchildren through to politicians – are called upon to replicate the image using their fingers as a sign of support. We have seen elsewhere how the use of the Eiffel Tower has been emblematic in France’s understanding of itself and its on-going creation of an identity.
So what is going on here? It almost goes without saying, but the Paris 2024 bid team are speaking to multiple audiences simultaneously. Given the diffusion of English across the globe, the choice to deploy it is clearly pragmatic. On Twitter, @Paris2024 deploys a range of English- and French-language hashtags, addressing those who might not speak English, and given that Los Angeles has been the bookmakers’ favourite amongst the bidding host cities, Paris 2024 needs to do all it can to win over members of International Olympic Committee, who will vote in Lima in the autumn to award the Games.
At the same time, Paris 2024 could have predicted (and in all likelihood did predict) the backlash that has been initiated in France. There is nowhere in the world that language is nothing more than a medium of communication. Language is never neutral, and in France, the values attributed to English, especially in domains of life which represent, exemplify, and embody the country, are invariably contested. The tension lies on the one hand in the understandable desire to speak to the widest possible audience and to demonstrate a global (as opposed to local or parochial) outlook, and, on the other hand, to convey all the intangible but fundamentally important French things that the French language clearly does for some – if not all – Frenchmen and women.