The “All Good” Law

Languages are always evolving, and the speed at which they’re doing it has only increased in recent years. Broader international travel, continued waves of migration, and the dawn of the Information Age have made cultural exchange, including the importation of words from other languages, quicker and easier than ever before. There’s a clear trade imbalance, though, and it’s English that’s the chief exporter these days. And the French are very sensitive to that.

France has a long tradition of protecting its culture from outside influence. Efforts have ranged from the Académie Française‘s centuries-old attempt to stem the influx of foreign words into the official French lexicon, to legal restrictions on what you could name your children, to the famous exception culturelle (the policy of subsidizing and protecting cultural products like film and literature in the international marketplace). And then, there’s the subject of this post:

La loi Toubon
The Toubon Law

So … what’s this Toubon Law exactly? Well, named after the French Minister of Culture who proposed it, it’s the 1994 law that mandates the use of the French language in all official government publications, all government-funded schools, all workplaces, and all advertising. It’s not as draconian as it might sound at first (and it’s definitely not as far-reaching as the original version before the Constitutional Council got its hands on it). You can still use other languages in private, non-commercial settings, as well as in books, films, the broadcast media (subject to quota restrictions) and …. apparently … newspapers:

The cover of the French newspaper Libération last Tuesday. The editor published this edition with an English-language cover to draw attention to a hotly-debated proposal to require that some courses in French universities be taught exclusively in English.

While the law applies to every language other than French, it really responded to one language in particular: the one you’re reading right now. In fact, the law’s nickname — “la loi Allgood” — is a joke based on the morpheme-for-morpheme translation of the law’s French name into English: Toubon sounds like “tout bon,” which means “all good.” The principal impetus for the law was the increased use of English in French advertising. (Michel and I have often discussed how English is used in French marketing to evoke “cool,” in much the same way that French is used in American marketing to evoke “chic.”) At the end of the day, the final version of the Toubon Law  allowed the use of English in advertising — which is why you still see lots of English here on those Métro billboards, in print media, and on  television — BUT … with a French translation to protect the consumer.

So, the next time you’re in the Métro and feel a little closer to home because of that big ad in English posted on the wall, look for the asterisk and the translation … or, should I say “interpretation“? Take a look at a few I’ve collected to see what I mean by that. Unfortunately, I started collecting them before I knew I’d write something about the Toubon Law, so some don’t include the translation. In any case, I’m sure my collection will continue to grow, so I’ll let you know when I add more. In the meantime, feel free to share yours in the comments!

Oh, and check out my favorite Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial
after the gallery.

And here’s that television commercial I just love.
Wait for the translation of “Oh my gosh!”

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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