Sunday, August 01, 2004

The balance between "linguistic heritage" and "intelligent creativity"

I had a chat with Jean-Marie Borzeix, the literary director at Editions du Seuil ( a noted French publishing house), and he some interesting points to mention about languages:

The noted Algerian writer, Kateb Yassin, was right when he said that the French language was a “war booty” that his countrymen would inherit from France once it became independent. Not surprisingly, over the years it these Francophone countries around the world that have enriched and embellished the language incessantly.

Paying tribute to them, Jean-Marie Borzeix, a linguistic expert and the literary director at Editions du Seuil, a noted publishing house in France, said that speakers from these countries play around with the language much more than the native speakers. “For them it is not an academic language. They invigorate it, invent new words and create something fresh,” he added. Borzeix was speaking on Friday at the Alliance Francaise in Jaipur on the occasion of the ongoing international Francophone festival.

Even the vibrant body of literature that they produce is now increasingly becoming de rigueur. “In some British and American universities, Francophone literature is taught more than French literature,” said Borzeix. The Francophone movement is essentially one that links culturally, now increasingly also politically and economically, the various French speaking countries worldwide. It was conceptualised during the period of decolonisation in Africa by Leopold Sedar Senghor, a noted French litterateur and the former president of Senegal.

“The language became not just a medium of exchange of words but also of ideas like democracy and human rights,” said Borzeix. “Today, France has changed its centralist policy and is encouraging it actively. It even is promoting the native languages,” he added. In a highly fluid and dynamic world of languages, attempts are being made to forge movements, similar to this, amongst the Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking and even Turkish-speaking nations.

Taking a stand against “linguistic hegemony” of American English, Borzeix said that he was all for cultural and linguistic diversity. “English is a beautiful and powerful language but it cannot be imposed as the sole one,” he added. Borzeix, who has been travelling around India, was happy to note the ongoing work of translating French works to Bengali and vice-versa. “And the Tamils are producing a three-volume book on the history of French literature,” he informed.

But asked if the hegemony of the Academie Francaise, a conservative and traditional guardian of the French language, was a right thing, Borzeix replied that a balance was required between “linguistic heritage” and “intelligent creativity”. “At times, I cannot understand the French spoken by teenagers back home, and that is dangerous,” he said.


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