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Is it the corruption of French thought processes that purists fear? A response to Henriette Walter

By Jean-Marc Dewaele


The arguments put forward by purists in defence of the French language are based on the idea of the genius of French and of French clarity. Meschonnic (1997) notes that these concepts are akin to myths and originate from the history of several domains: language, grammar, linguistics, literature, culture, politics and philosophy (1997: 26). Perceived in the light of these myths, French can be presented as clear, perfect, immutable, rich, universal and pure. In her contribution, Henriette Walter does not give an explicit opinion about the attitude of purists, but does indicate her disagreement with this myth of the perfection, richness, purity and fixed state of the French language. She clearly supports a welcoming attitude since she presents French as a host language that is enriched by foreign words, but does introduce some distinctions. When it comes to recent anglicisms, she questions whether there are really as many borrowings as people suppose, and disapproves of borrowed words which parallel existing French words. What Henriette Walter does not do however, is to define the criteria which makes a borrowed word an acceptable part of the language. We also need to identify the moment when 'consensus' and 'purity' mesh into one

Topics: alc
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Year: 1999
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