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Deconstructing anglicisation and anglicisms (I)

Last Updated: 14 Jul 2021

Deconstructing anglicisation and anglicisms (I) 1 (Translation using DeepL)

The term "deconstruction" triggers emotions and passions pitting the demolitionists' clan against the conservatives'.

Critical activity is as old as philosophy. If we want to act, we must first understand. To trace the critical approach back to the origins of philosophy is in fact to mobilise the most recent layer of the human mind, which is still very little rooted in consciousness.

To understand the world, to discover the other side of the coin, to reveal what is hidden behind appearances, to show the invisible and the unseen, to reveal what upsets common sense, this is the ABC of thinking, it is to some extent deconstructing. We must therefore deconstruct in order to build, but nothing prohibits deconstructing deconstruction, it is even recommended. Any work of deconstruction deserves to be examined, criticised and therefore deconstructed.

There is nothing more misleading than to imagine that knowledge progresses in a linear fashion.

Our ambition here is very modest. We want to initiate a deconstruction of anglicisms and anglicisation or rather Americanisation.

Is Americanisation the source of Anglicisms?

Bringing together "Anglicisms" and "Americanisation" is not innocent, as they are not exactly the same phenomena.

Baudelaire was one of the first to castigate the 'Americanisation' of our ways of life, but the equation of Americanisation with technical progress is neither clear nor legitimate. Tocqueville before him in Democracy in America collected observations on a model of society detachable from the actual American soil and its inhabitants. The march towards democracy, a political regime that remains a minority in the world today, cannot be interpreted and has not been interpreted as Americanisation. In fact, there is no march towards but rather a moment in history when, reversibly.

Anglicisms' are a very different approach, since they are conceptually a particular modality of linguistic borrowing and historically their origin is closely intertwined with the histories of the French and English languages.

However, it is impossible today to separate Anglicisms from a historical context marked by the multiform manifestation of a global domination exercised over our societies by an overpowering state and by the resulting 'cultural grip'. 2

One can be offended by this or find it wonderful. That is not our purpose. It is to unravel the substrates of behaviour and to bring to light the real power relations at work. In short, we are going to put aside emotion, whether it is on the side of identity convulsion or ethereal submission, in favour of a lucid analysis accompanied by an existential combativeness.

Let us say straight away that linguistics is not of much help to us.

The material is overabundant, but the sanitised interpretation that emerges is that Anglicisms are the manifestation of a natural and universal phenomenon which is borrowing between languages in contact. This is generally welcomed, because borrowing is seen historically as enrichment, which is true most of the time.

Our aim will be to show what in the anglicisation as we experience it today does not confirm this ideal, even idyllic vision of interlinguistic exchanges. Is what we call borrowing enrichment, or is linguistic evolution always simply an adaptation to the world as it is?

The liberal doctrine postulates that all economic agents, employers and employees, sellers and buyers, etc., are a priori equal, and that in the exchange everyone wins. The reality is obviously the opposite. It is when there is relative equality between the actors that the law can be the same, otherwise it is up to the law to compensate for the inequality of the economic relationship. Of course, each field of activity has its own specificity and the cultural field is not managed in the same way as fruit and vegetables.

French legislation on cinema and the audiovisual sector, all the European or Asian legislation that has been inspired by it and the European policies based on the international convention on the diversity of cultural expressions, adopted in 2005 under the aegis of UNESCO, have had no other purpose than to compensate for an unequal relationship between the American cultural industries and the others. Intervention here is the condition for fair competition and creativity.

The linguistic field is no exception to the general situation where effective inequality is the general rule and effective equality the exception.

It is essential to agree on the terms, on those that are indispensable to us.

First, there is the notion of power.

It's a scary word. Yet life would not exist without power.

In verses 6-8 of Acts chapter 2 of the New Testament, we read:

6 "When the Apostles were gathered together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?

7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or the moments that the Father has set by his own authority.

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Nietzsche will use the term 'power' in a different philosophical context, but the meaning is not fundamentally different.

To designate the source of thought and feeling, Vico spoke of animus, which he distinguished from anima, the source of life. For Bergson, it will be a question of vital impulse.

Let us acknowledge that at our level, these differences are of little importance, the term power having the great advantage of its ubiquity and ambivalence.

Thus, a political and military power can be opposed to a cultural or religious power.

Let's take the example of the Roman Empire. It defeated Greece, but all the Roman elites spoke two languages, Latin and Greek, and the Greek culture of antiquity survived to reach us through the Arab East.

We have already observed that deriving the influence of languages solely from political power relations could lead to serious misunderstandings. Thus the development of the French language never really corresponded territorially to the political development of the French monarchy and then the French Republic. When William the Conqueror seized the British crown in the 11th century, he was not the king of France, but a Norman vassal acting on his own behalf. And the crusades were essentially in French without the king of France being the sole standard bearer. The territory of French was not that of the king of France, in the same way that today the French-speaking area does not correspond, because it has never corresponded exactly with the territory of the French nation. French in Africa developed after the end of colonisation, but its initial impact is due to colonisation. This obvious observation is also true for English, Spanish, Portuguese or Arabic, etc.

The sayings "a language is a successful dialect" or "a language is a dialect plus an army" have little explanatory value, although they are repeated over and over again. If they had any argumentative value at all, it would be enough to provide a language with an armed force to guarantee its existence.

This being the case, the link between political power and linguistic influence is generally true, but this observation is not sufficient.

Some semantic elements must be added to the notion of power.

The notion of power is so general that it can be applied to the tree that grows, the storm that rumbles, the tennis champion who crushes his opponent, the warlord who protects the villagers, etc. Another characteristic is its ambivalence. Another characteristic is its ambivalence. Power is independent of good and evil.

With the idea of power, a social dimension is added to power. Power is the exercise of power in relation to the environment, starting with the power one exercises over oneself, over others and over nature.

After power comes domination, which, if we accept to follow Max Weber, is the exercise of a legitimate power, which supposes to know what we mean by the term "legitimate" or "legitimated". The question of legitimacy is so vast that we do not even want to address it. We simply cannot ignore the fact that it is a permanent issue and that it will be impossible to ignore it.

Hyper-concentration of power assets

Talking about the American hyperpower has become a commonplace. Everything is known, or almost, but the path from hyperpower to the feeling of a norm of behaviour internalised by a majority of European populations needs to be deciphered.

Let us look at some of the characteristics of this hyperpower whose monopoly is being challenged by its new rival, China.

If the quantitative data, such as the share in the world product, do not particularly plead for a hyperpower with a secure future, the dynamics of domination is carried by the hyperconcentration of assets.

Military power comes from American over-armament, which in turn comes from a defence effort in dollars per capita that is second to none.

Military power is coordinated with financial power linked to the hegemony of the dollar, which became total with the suppression of its convertibility with gold in 1971. The dollar has become a reserve currency representing 60% of the world's reserves and for the time being this reserve currency status, contested at the margin by China and Russia, exempts the United States from the obligation to meet its public and trade deficits. The entire financial system, IMF and World Bank, is controlled by the US and the New York Stock Exchange is dominant among financial markets.

Scientific domination is linked to the research effort that the United States maintains at a very high level. Since the scientific world is closely correlated with the business world, technology, largely supported by public funds and clearly perceived as a means of power, is raised to the highest level. This investment in research and technology is the best manifestation of Americans' confidence in the future.

Little attention is paid to institutional aspects. However, despite the separation of powers, presented by all the constitutional law courses as a particularity of the American system, when it comes to external action, the concentration or more precisely the collusion of powers is extreme. The intelligence services, the judiciary, defence and the large American multinationals act in concert to monitor, spy on, trap, prosecute, condemn, subdue and skin foreign companies, particularly European ones, that come into conflict with their interests. We are no longer in a liberal façade but in an underground economic war without mercy and without any respect for human rights where reality exceeds fiction3.

The ideological power, i.e. the vision of the world that the United States has wanted to impose for three-quarters of a century4 and especially since the fall of the Soviet empire, has lost its superbness. Only in Europe does it continue to enjoy a favourable prejudice, which can only be explained by the lack of creative inspiration in Europe itself.

This ideological power is based on an infallible nationalism carried by both the Republican and the Democratic parties, where the same cult of American power is expressed in different ways.

The cult of power, reinvigorated by Republican Donald Trump's America First, which is not denied by Democrat Joe Biden, has a cultural counterpart: the closure to all external winds expressed, for example, by a rate of foreign works translated into English of less than 1% of the titles available from American publishers, whereas this rate varies around 16 to 18% in Germany or France.

Media power is too well known to dwell on. However, even if this is known to anyone who makes an effort to document it, it must be stressed that media power cannot be improvised and that American media power has been built for decades on a very American science, namely public relations. Without going into detail, identifying a country's future elites, inviting them to host programmes such as the young leaders programme, or offering them university positions, means building and cultivating networks with a high chance of success. We should not be scandalised by this. It's good work, some would say. Most European leaders from the West and the East have gone through this process and most of them are very good students.

The last but not least link is linguistic. The development of English is an undeniable element of American soft power. As early as 1951, the development of English was a strategic axis of world conquest, in which Americans and English united their interests.

The exploitation of all these assets in a coordinated and unified manner, which could be summarised as asset hyperconcentration, is certainly the source of the current power and dominance of the United States. For taken in isolation, these assets are insufficient. Thus, while the US military budget is around 40% of total military budgets, GDP has fallen from 27% in 1950 to 13% of world GDP today, and native English speakers represent only 6% of the world population.

It is the chain rather than the links that makes the strength here and if some links can break, the chain itself can break. The Americans are fully aware of this, for whom the confrontation with China is the major challenge.

In this game, Europeans are gentle amateurs.

Submissive behaviour

Let's try to review the motivations of the behaviours that lead some people to use this word rather than another and for our discussion to choose to use an English word in preference to a French, Italian, or German one.

No one disputes that language is constantly evolving. Language is used to express the world, and if we accept that the world is not immobile and circumscribed, then language evolves with our perception and view of what we hold to be reality. Language evolves with our view of the world and our experience of it.

He who does not know his own language will look for the words he hears.

We cannot ignore the simplistic idea, still widespread, that language is a simple tool, already too complicated, and that a language with a minimum of words should be able to replace all others. Since all languages say the same thing, we might as well keep only one, English of course.

Fortunately, not everyone thinks like this, but the development of linguistic awareness is largely hampered by an extremely frugal and deficient linguistic culture in the population, which stems from the lack of proper linguistic work in education.

There are also other forces at work where the question of American domination is not the main issue.

Distinction in Bourdieu's sense is obviously a very strong aspect of behaviour.

Since knowledge of English is desirable for a large part of the population, pretending to know English by peppering everything with English words, not always to good effect, is well worn, it is believed, often wrongly.

Among young people, the use of English is a way of joining the ranks of the initiated. It is to be considered intelligent and modern to forget one's own language, which is at the same time considered old-fashioned. The ecological concern is commendable, but the insensitivity to linguistic and cultural diversity, which is to be put on the same level as biological diversity, is a contradiction that only highlights the superficiality of ideas.

There is usually no political dimension to this kind of behaviour, other than an unconscious allegiance to the powerful that one otherwise denigrates.

If ignorance of one's own language, if the absence of linguistic awareness and the search for distinction are the primary explanations for the use of Anglicisms, which account for most of the linguistic borrowings from European languages, it is appropriate to assess the role of media pressure, which is particularly developed in our societies. It has to be said that in our mediatised societies, the media actors are the carriers or transmitters of knowledge. This observation raises the question of why the media prefer a particular word to another.

For example, we could try to understand why, on the occasion of the covid 19 pandemic, the French term 'confinement' was used in France, and why 'confinamiento' was used in the Hispanic world, but that, conversely, in the English-speaking world, 'confinment', which does exist in English, was discarded in favour of the American word 'lockdown', and that the same was true in Germany, which had Eindämmung, Eingrenzung, Einschließung, etc., and in Italy, where the Italians had the word "confinamento". The Accademia della Crusca5 published a long study on this subject, examining the many candidates and concluding that the best placed, as in French and Spanish, was in fact "confinamento", which was most in tune with the idea of confinement to prevent or limit contact with the outside world.

The term 'lockdown', born of an American port term, had its use extended to the prison field and was therefore a good contender. But where it did catch on, the only explanation is that it was American in origin and had the support of the American media, which journalists around the world peel back every day.

America is supposed to deliver the norm and no questions are asked. Any attempt otherwise is seen as an attack on the established order, which, without examination, is American.

From this quick overview, our provisional conclusion is that reducing anglicisms and anglicisation to a pro-American conspiracy is not very serious and devoid of any operative virtue. The American game is well known and its existence cannot be denied without a good dose of blindness. Moreover, certain circles are active supporters of American projects and companies throughout the world. But to reduce Americanisation and one of its most visible aspects, Anglicisms, to the weight and betrayal of an oligarchy is a bit short-sighted. Do we know the beginnings of a great linguistic replacement, as Pierre Frath describes it6 in Anthropologie de l'anglicisation?

In the next editorial, we will try to give some clues as to how to better evaluate the importance of the phenomenon, which cannot be summed up in the number of anglicisms that enter the dictionaries each year, and to better identify the penetration routes that we propose to call linguistic wells, by analogy with the notion of thermal wells through which the cold rushes into poorly protected flats. Perhaps we will be able to draw from this some possibilities for action that go beyond deploring.

1Around the project of a new dictionary of anglicisms (https://nda.observatoireplurilinguisme.eu) developed in cooperation with our Italian partner https://aaa.italofonia.info/ pending an extension of the project with a German and a Spanish partner.

2 The term comes from François Perroux in "Independence" of the nation - Independence in interdependence - For a strong modality of interdependence, Aubier, 1992.

3See on this subject Frédéric Pierucci and Matthieu Aron's moving testimony Le piège américain, L'otage de la plus grande guerre souterraine témoigne, prixlittéraire Nouveaux droits de l'homme, Jean-Claude Lattès, 2019

4Read the excellent editorial by Michel Feltin-Palas in the Express on 29 June 2021 (https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/les-anglomaniaques-idiots-utiles-de-l-imperialisme-americain_2153848.html)