In the Italian class yesterday we talked about Italian dialects. Like other countries we know, Italy has almost as many dialects as it has regions. Unlike other countries that we know, they seem prepared to call these dialects and not insist on their being called languages. This despite the fact that a fair number of them have well established literature in that dialect/language, a feature that qualifies dialect to be called a language according to some people.
They don't seem too worked up about foreign words creeping into the language either. An Italian friend posted something on Facebook (some joke about being single being a sign of intelligence) which included the question, "Are you single?" which in Italian was "Sei single?"
The French, on the other hand, get very agitated about it. On the bus today I leafed through the free paper. As usual it was full of all sorts of sentimental nonsense. On one page, however, I came across a little item about the French trying to make social media use French terminology. Here are a few examples of what they want to change:
What people say:- What the cultural ministry
wants them to say:
Pop-up. Fenêtre intruse.
Email. Courriel (Courrier électronique).
Webchat. Dialogue en ligne.
Hashtag. Mot dièse.
I wonder what they want instead of "selfie", a word which all the French/Spanish/Italian/German speakers I know use all the time.
Of course what really worries them is that their language is used less and less around the world. A French government adviser has been saying for a while that "the idea of a French speaking world is becoming obsolete". He has also said, "France is failing to promote its own language, and there seems to be very little interest in doing so."
You can't legislate for words though. Years and years ago I did some marking for one of the exam boards. At a standardising meeting about marking spoken examinations, someone protested that you could not give marks to a student who said, in answer to a question about what he/she liked to do in their spare time, "J'aime le roller-skating." After all, there was a perfectly good French expression: le patinage à roulettes. Lots of people nodded wisely and harrumphed about lazy students not learning vocabulary. Then a Frenchwoman stood up pointed out that her children's Parisian cousins and friends used the Anglicism all the time and all the examiners getting worked up about were just being snobbish.
Languages are living things and change and fade as they like. And yet, you can't blame anyone for trying to preserve their heritage.
On the subject of heritage, and preserving stuff, it is interesting to see that the Victoria and Albert Museum has turned down the opportunity to receive the clothes and handbags and such of Margaret Thatcher! Now, I wonder why!