Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Avenue of languages


There’s a long stretch of trees between Saint Jean Poutge and Pléhaut that I enjoy on many of my eastbound journeys to Auch and Toulouse. It can be a bit of a squeeze when trucks are tearing through, so I usually pull over to the side and enjoy the scenery for a few moments longer.

This afternoon I’d made a trip to a government office to have some paperwork from Australia signed. Although I’d waited two weeks for the appointment it turned out to be in vain as French government officials are forbidden from signing anything in another language, even if they can read/write that language and it’s intended for another nation.

It was brought to my attention that even Munson’s EU Pet Passport, which was issued in the UK is only in English and despite being an official EU document falls under this decree as well. Given that Munson and Bondi’s pet passports have been presented in dozens of countries and had additions made in at least five of them without objection, I don’t know how this would work if every country made the same objection about such documents, especially since the EU already has 23 official/working languages.  While some nations require passport translation for entry, the format for the Pet Passport is the same across the EU, so if you wanted to know what the text at the top of page 7 says, then you can just open your local pet passport for a translation. The rest is mostly dates and the scientific/Latin names of various diseases or parasites.

It does seem to me sometimes that the oft-used expression “French is the language of diplomacy” might be read somewhat differently as meaning “No French (from you), no diplomacy (from us)”. Historically, French was an upper-class tongue used throughout Europe but it took centuries longer to be accepted widely within France’s own borders. It wasn’t till the process of “self-colonisation” post –Bonaparte that the other languages and dialects of France were more or less purged, and even then it didn’t become the official language until 1992! Given that France often argues that losing the diversity and culture behind other tongues is the reason that it shouldn’t give way to English, it’s ironic that it hasn’t ratified the European Charter for Regional Languages which would protect the 75 languages used in French territories (8 in Metropolitan France alone) that would qualify. The language and culture wars continue to make linguicide as much as feature of the 21st century as the decline in natural diversity.

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