French Not Really a Language, Say Experts

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by Dana Lancer
Freelance Writer

"It makes much more sense to call French a pidgin," said de Grange. "And not a very good one at that.”

A panel of linguists that has spent years studying the languages spoken in contemporary France has concluded that French does not qualify as a legitimate language. Its members urge the reclassification of French as a simplistic, unstable variant of another, older Romance language, probably Catalan or Provençal.

“A few of our really conservative researchers want to call French a creole dialect,” says Gérard de Grange, Professor of Romance Linguistics at Perdue University and director of the research group. “But they’re just being revisionist. Realistically, it makes much more sense to call French a pidgin, and not a very good one at that.”

The panel cites numerous linguistic features that characterize French as a “naïve linguistic variant,” or pidgin. One is its extreme literalness and lack of sophistication. “Take the term used for their bullet trains,” explains de Grange. “They call them TGV, which stands for Train à la Grande Vitesse. Sure it sounds sexy, but all it means is ‘high speed train.’ That kind of lack of imagination is a dead giveaway for it being a dumbed-down version of a real language.” A further indication is the highly simplified numbering system. The French term for ninety-eight, for example, is “four-twenty-ten-eight.” “Its speakers have a very limited capacity for designators such as numbers. Typical pidgin,” says de Grange.

Other panel members point out French’s random and illogical structure, arguing that it does not come close to meeting the definition of a grammar. “When you think about it, it’s fairly obvious,” comments Jeanne Férigord,” a researcher from the Université de Montréal. “Other Romance languages make meaningful distinctions between the present perfect tense and other past tenses, and between between verbs that use ‘to be’ versus ‘to have’ as an auxiliary. But careful research shows that French speakers pretty much use the present perfect whenever they feel like it, and just automatically slap on the auxiliary “to be” whenever the verb is reflexive. What the hell sense does that make? And then there’s gender agreement with the past participle…don’t even get me started.”

The research group also points to French pronunciation as indicative of its primitive character. “Twenty-odd different vowel phonemes, and they all sound more or less the same,” says de Grange, “There’s no trace of systemization…it’s just a total mess. No wonder everyone jokes about the French making incomprehensible utterances through their noses. And let’s face it, that’s basically what this so-called language boils down to.”

The panel has entertained several theories about how French arose and why it has remained so unstable and underdeveloped over so many centuries. “The most credible explanation is that Flemish speakers from the North were trying to communicate with Catalans in the South and made a complete hash of it. Why such a perversion continues to this day, however, is a bit of mystery,” says de Grange.