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French Ministers Take Stands On French Language


ANYONE looking for the quintessential Renaissance man need go no farther these days than Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister.

The French official - according to the French press anyway - saved Sarajevo from the Bosnian Serbs by pressuring the United States and the rest of NATO to issue an ultimatum to the Serbs to remove their weapons from around the city or risk airstrikes. He also runs France's Gaullist party, the Rally for the Republic, and last week announced an updated listing of the preferred French spellings for the world's countries, their capitals, and the people who live there.

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The people of Lisbon are now ``Lisboetes,'' not ``Lisbonnins.'' Saudi Arabia is ``Arabie saoudite'' not ``Arabie-Seoudite,'' while ``Nouvelle-Delhi'' is now ``New Delhi.'' And the erstwhile keystone of French Arab policy is no longer ``Irak'' but ``Iraq,'' as it is spelled in English.

A joint commission of Mr. Jupps ministry and the Ministry of Education came up with the seven-page list of name revisions published recently in the Official Journal, France's equivalent of the US Congressional Record. But the literary Juppe took a personal interest in the revision, which updates an earlier listing published in 1985, according to the minister's deputy spokesman, Francois Gouyette.

But if Foreign Minister Juppe is a Renaissance man, his colleague in the Ministry of Culture, Jacques Toubon, is a veritable superman. In a single bound - that is, a single law - he is proposing to save the French language from the encroachment of English.

Mr. Toubon, remembered for labeling Steven Spielberg's dinosaurs a ``threat to French culture'' last year, wants to ban all foreign-language terms from television and radio and advertising and business contracts in addition to limiting the use of foreign languages in scientific seminars and other gatherings in France.

No more ``Just Do It'' for Nike. No more talk of ``le coach'' on sports programs, ``deadlines'' among politicians, or ``cash'' and ``marketing'' among business people. French scientists already are complaining the measure could take France off the science-seminar circuit, while some of Toubon's colleagues worry it may harm foreign investment in France.

Toubon's proposed law does not single out the English language, but in an article in the Paris daily Le Monde, the culture minister alluded to the tough position the US took on cultural issues in recent international trade negotiations, saying: ``Anglo-Saxon countries, far from contenting themselves with the beneficial position of the English language, especially in cultural industries, are deploying considerable efforts ... so that their language maintains its position and conquers new territory.''

The proposed legislation is similar to an unenforced law passed in 1975, but it proposes stiff fines, notably against advertisers. Whether Toubon will be more successful in his quest for truth, justice, and the French way, remains to be seen.

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But if he does nothing more than coerce other ministries into revising invitations that speak of a ``cocktail'' where the perfectly French reception would do, he will have made his mark.

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