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Word Mavens In France Declare War On `Franglais'

IN its endless guerrilla war against ``Franglais,'' the French government has armed itself with a new dictionary containing 3,500 translations aimed at ``user-friendliness.'' Oops, make that ``convivialite.''

From ``airbag'' (sac gonflable) to ``zoning'' (zonage), the glossy red handbook seeks to counter the ever-wider use of English in business, sports, and science by providing French alternatives.

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It remains to be seen whether the new terms, some of them long and clumsy, will catch on in a nation struggling over how to be modern, high-tech, and cool, yet preserve its rich linguistic tradition.

The ``Dictionnaire des Termes Officiels'' contains translations mandated by government ministries since France started fighting Franglais in the early 1970s. This year's edition adds about 100 new terms and has an English-to-French index. It also is available on Minitel, the telephone company's widely used screen-and-keyboard console.

``The idea is to be more accessible,'' says Anne Magnant, head of the French Language Delegation, which prepared the 462-page paperback.

``The dictionary must be used by public officials,'' she says, and ``we hope professionals, students, and teachers will use it.'' Words that do not catch on will be dropped from future editions, Ms. Magnant says.

Premier Edouard Balladur is trying to push a bill through Parliament that would toughen the language laws.

With annual revisions, the new dictionary can react more quickly to language changes than the multivolume lexicon published every few decades by the Academie Francaise.

New listings include ``navetteur'' for commuter, ``ravitaillement'' for catering, ``essaimage'' for spinoff, ``numero d'urgence'' for hotline and ``tmercatique'' for telemarketing.

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Other terms, such as ``disque compact'' (CD), ``furtivite'' (stealth), and ``remue-meninges'' (brainstorming) have yet to achieve general use.

While ``balladeur'' has replaced ``Walkman,'' French TV recently showed an electronics salesman who didn't know what ``presonorisation'' meant until the interviewer used the English equivalent, ``playback.''

One English word that remains is ``swap.'' It takes too long to say ``echange financier.''

``As much as possible they make us speak French,'' says a computer worker.

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