French people are so obsessed with their own language that they are convinced that if they can’t pronounce something properly they are a racist, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal Science, examined data from more than two million French speakers and found that they tend to believe that only the “right” people speak the language correctly.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that the French people have such a pronounced dislike for English,” says study co-author André Brouillette, a professor of linguistics at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
“They don’t like English because it’s so dominant.
If you look at a list of 100 words, only one will be spoken in the entire world, so the fact that only a few of them are actually in the dictionary tells us something about their perception of English.”
The study also found that people with a higher level of English proficiency tended to be more likely to associate English with racism, such as in the following examples: French speakers tend to think that if only certain people can speak English, it’s because of racism, or the country’s rich history of racial segregation.
In contrast, people who have no French or who speak a foreign language at home are more likely not to associate French with racism.
French speakers, by contrast, seem to be much more likely than non-English speakers to associate the word “white” with racism or the word for “people of colour” with white supremacy.
“The fact that these terms are linked with racism and white supremacy, it indicates that there’s something wrong in their perception, that there are aspects of the language which they perceive as racist,” Brouillelle says.
“But in the end, it doesn’t matter because English is a global language.
It’s not about the particular way you pronounce the words, but the fact they’re used in the context of a larger whole.”
The researchers say that while the study doesn’t prove that the language is racist, it does raise questions about how to translate English in the 21st century.
“The French are a very vocal minority in the world, but we still need to understand how to work together with them,” says Brouiliels co-director Jean-Luc Vasseur, a linguist at the University of Southern California.
“This study suggests that it’s possible to find a way of talking about racism and racism in a way that makes them understand it, rather than making it seem as if it’s their fault.”