From Bushisms to la langue François

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Remember the Bushisms industry? Something similar, mutatis mutandis, seems to be springing up in France.

Stéphane Ratti, "De la langue française à la langue François", Le Figaro 2/14/2015:

Pourquoi François Hollande s'acharne-t-il à massacrer ainsi la langue française dans toutes ses interventions? Plusieurs analystes se sont à juste titre posé la question après avoir, avec précision, analysé quelques-unes des monstruosités syntaxiques présidentielles à l'occasion de sa dernière conférence de presse.

Why does François Hollande insist on butchering the French language in all of his comments? Several analysts have understandably asked the question, after having analyzed carefully several of the president's syntactic monstrosities on the occasion of his last press conference.

M. Rati puts a lot of effort into diagnosing the cause of those monstruosités syntaxiques présidentielles. He assigns the main responsibility to a left-wing revolt against order, reason, and God, with a sort of theo-Lacanian twist at the end:

Enfin, chercher à esquiver par l'emploi d'une langue inadéquate le sens des choses, c'est comme tenter de tuer le Père.

In the end, trying to evade the meaning of things by using inadequate language is like attempting to kill the Father.

But he is remarkably vague about exactly what the president's syntactic monstrosities are — in fact, as far as I can see, he gives no specific examples at all, but just theoretical categories:

Dans le discours du président, on a ainsi repéré […] des ruptures de constructions (anacoluthes), des interruptions subites ou des réticences diverses (aposiopères), des accourcis enfin qui confinent à l'obscurité (brachylogie)…

I guess this example-free rhetorical approach makes sense in the cultural context — see "Facts, theories, fetishes", 9/22/2004.

Elsewhere in Le Figaro, Christian Combaz expresses a particular aversion to left (!) dislocation in presidential discourse: "«L'Europe, elle est…» : Hollande ou le salon du Bourget linguistique", Le Figaro 2/5/2015; "«La France, elle est ….» : Parlez-vous le François Hollande ?", Le Figaro  9/19/2014.

I always thought that left dislocation was a standard French thing ("l'Etat, c'est moi"), but apparently there are proper dislocations and then there are monstrous ones…

Another accusation come up in Jacques Martinez, "Hollande victime du syndrome « Es-Ke »", Boulevard Voltaire 2/11/2015:

Le syndrome « Es-Ke » affecte la zone du cerveau de l'acquis syntaxique : il contraint les sujets atteints – même spécialistes de la langue française – à poser leurs questions en usant de la formule « Est-ce que… ? » Ainsi, « Est-ce qu'il fait beau ? » a-t-il supplanté « Fait-il beau ? »

The "es-ke" syndorme affects the brain region involved in syntactic acquisition: it forces its victims — even French language specialists — to ask their questions by using the formula "Est-ce que…?" (= "Is it that…"), for example "Est-ce qu'il fait beau?" has replaced "Fait-il beau?"

Jeudi, lors de sa conférence de presse – était-ce l'Esprit qui y planait ? -, M. Hollande en a été victime : « Est-ce que nous avons la capacité de vivre ensemble ? » Au lieu de la forme basique : « Avons-nous la capacité de vivre ensemble ? » Tout comme, le 9 janvier, lors de ses vœux aux armées, à cause d'une variante tumorale, la « K'Es-Ke-Sa », il s'est laissé aller à « Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, être un équipage ? » à la place de « Que veut dire être un équipage ? »

Mais, malheureusement, cette affection sévit même au sein de l'Académie française, zone pourtant réputée stérilisée en la matière : Jean d'Ormesson, le 9 janvier, a succombé à la variante « Komen-Es-Ke » : « Comment est-ce qu'ils ont appris cet islam ? » Alors qu'il aurait pu se contenter d'un « Comment ont-ils appris cet islam ? »

Again, I always thought that le syndrome « Es-Ke » was, well, French. But either there are stylistic subtleties that have escaped me (surely true in any case), or M. Martinez is being facetious.

In any event, French journalists — or at least the editors of Le Figaro — seem to have taken up more widely the idea that François Hollande is committing crimes against the French language. Thus Franck Ferrand, "Par pitié M. Hollande, épargnez la langue française", Le Figaro 2/9/2015.

 



33 Comments

  1. Yoandri said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 11:35 pm

    Isn't it interesting that such dislocations happen in colloquial Portuguese French and English and though avoided when writing that they either make the topic prominent a common East Asian thing and with other analytic languages or create greater agreement which truly destroys as it seems to me ambiguity? Yet it seems to me also that such dislocations happen in the small niche of Fench and Gallo-Italian and Germanic since for most European languages such agreement comes up as suffixes and the topic prominent mechanism doesn't happen. And it is hard to understand how the morphologically complex Portuguese fell victim to it in Brazil.

  2. FM said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 1:23 am

    Le Figaro being the mouthpiece of the centre-right opposition party UMP, it is not surprising that its journalists should attack François Hollande in every way possible.
    Left dislocation is indeed extremely frequent in casual spoken French, as well as the interrogative "est-ce que" construction, and I would very much like to hear those commentators themselves in daily speech.This reminds me of the many Language Log posts about criticisms of Barack Obama's alleged overuse of the first-person pronoun.
    Rather than a syndrome, it is probably a way for Hollande to narrow the gap between the office of president and the general population. Perhaps those commentators think that such casual speech is incompatible with the function, but he certainly is not the first to use similar devices with similar goals.
    That being said, I too have found Hollande's use of the structures mentioned in those articles to be particularly noticeable. Probably not because they are more frequent than in other people's speech, or because they do not belong in a president's grammar, but more plausibly because 1. they are features of spontaneous oral French, and thus sound out of place in the delivery of pre-written speeches, and 2. as such, they contrast with Hollande's markedly slow, deliberate, artificial prosody and intonation (also shared by his top ministers). In other words, I believe that what sounds jarring with François Hollande's use of left dislocation and the est-ce que construction is that they are part of an all-too-visibly deliberate effort to sound natural.

  3. RP said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 4:12 am

    "De la langue française à la langue François" is quite clever in that "François" is etymologically an earlier form of "français" (although of course "François" doesn't agree with "langue" in gender, and can't do so without destroying the reference to President Hollande).

    (In English, the word "connoisseur" preserves an earlier form of Fr. "connaisseur".)

    "Langlois" (=l'Anglais) is quite a common surname in the Channel Islands (les Îles anglo-normandes), although in Guernsey it is nevertheless pronounced "longlay", more in line with the modern form.

  4. maidhc said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 4:27 am

    Before the Bushisms industry, there was a Goldwynism industry attributing various confused statements to the linguistically challenged film producer Samuel Goldwyn. At one point there was apparently a competition to see which faux-Goldwynism would first appear in print. The winner?–"It rolls off my back like a duck."

    There is a long list of actual Goldwynisms, which can be found online, I'm sure. But despite his mangling of the English language, Samuel Goldwyn managed to have a very successful career in the film industry.

  5. chromé said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 4:55 am

    It's hard to take Ratti seriously when he complains about the impurity of Hollande's French, when his own French is far from spotless. In the first paragraph 'posé' and 'analysé' should both be plural. And in the passage quoted by Mark (which I can't find in the article for some reason), he talks about "une langage inadéquate", when langage is masculine and not feminine. Une langage inadéquate, indeed.

    [(myl) The article in the printed paper (from which I copied the quotes) is considerably longer than the article that I found and linked to online, after I had mostly written the post. So this raises the concern that I introduced errors in copying.

    The opening is the same in print and in the online version; but the ending in the print version has "langue inadéquate", mistranscribed by me as "langage inadéquate".

    And the (strange to me) rules about agreement in the first case seem to say that Ratti is right there as well: this discussion of "L'accord du participe passé des verbes pronominaux" says that the participle doesn't agree when the direct object follows the verb, contrasting "Ils se sont lavés" with "Ils se sont lavé les mains".]

    I would like to know more about the divide between literary french and everyday french. It seems wider that the same divide in English or Dutch. I have the feeling Ratti deliberately wrote his article in a French that's very far removed from everyday speech. It's bloated with heavy-handed tournures de phrase, riddled with archaisms, and generally unpleasant to read (at least for me, but I haven't lived in France for a long time).

    I agree with FM that this seems an journalistic jab against an easy target with no real feeling behind it. I doubt Ratti is as fanatic about French purism as he wants to come over.

  6. LMorland said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 5:19 am

    I also take note of the source: Le Figaro, which is, as noted below, naturally opposed to anything President Hollande might produce, either in politics or in speech.

    And any case, I found the article a frustrating read, because the author does not trouble to present even one example of the figures of speech she adambrates. I suppose I should just listen to the man give a speech sometime….

    [(myl) Stéphane Ratti appears to be chromosomally male (or at least to present in the culturally approved manner for someone in this condition), and also adopts a political and cultural stance that makes choice of a feminine pronoun seem unlikely to me.

    And Stéphane is a name traditionally given to males in France, despite its apparently feminine morphology.]

  7. RP said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 6:47 am

    @chromé,
    ("I would like to know more about the divide between literary french and everyday french. It seems wider that the same divide in English or Dutch".)

    I agree with that.

    For this reason it's been suggested by Benjamin Massot "that contemporary metropolitan France is characterised by diglossia, that is, a community of speakers with two (in this case massively overlapping but not entirely identical) 'French' grammars which co-exist in their minds, one stylistically marked High, the other Low" ( Howley 2011 – http://usir.salford.ac.uk/17553/1/2011-09_Syntactic_variation_and_diglossia_in_French.pdf ).

    [(myl) I'm not sure how to quantify the differences between (varieties of) formal written language and (varieties of) informal spoken language — perhaps something like the edit-distance techniques used for MT evaluation would work.

    But by whatever metric, English conversational styles are pretty far away from English written styles — and the distance is of course much greater for non-standard varieties and for the speech of people without a lot of formal education. When I listen to French conversation among colleagues, or among passers-by in the street, the difference from written norms sounds similar to analogous differences in English, though my grasp of either style is based on long-ago secondary-school French and occasional visits since then.]

  8. CLS said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 9:33 am

    I have read a number of comments in the linguistic literature along the lines of what RP references, that spoken and written French have diverged drastically. As a native English speaker and fluent French speaker, it is my impression that the gap is wider in French. Both dislocations and 'est-ce que' are constructions that are pervasive in speech and almost non-existent in writing.
    A few months ago I recorded a number of highly educated French speakers reading sentences (for an experiment). I explained to them that a number of the sentences had occurred in a spoken corpus and might therefore seem odd when written, but even so, one speaker told me that a lot of my sentences were "impossible" – even though they had been produced by native French speakers, and contained constructions that have been the subject of numerous analyses by French linguists (such as, dislocating something other than the subject of a sentence, as in 'Mon père, je le vois demain' My father, I'll see him tomorrow.)

  9. ThM said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    If memory serves well, Lionel Jospin (former socialist PM), was also accused of "repeating the subject" ("la France, elle est…") by more or less the same persons, back in the early 00s.

  10. Roger Lustig said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 10:16 am

    The French, they are a curious race…

  11. chromé said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    @ Mark re: rules of agreement: interesting. I'm a native french speaker, but I don't often speak or write it anymore. I was uncertain whether there should be agreement or not – both options looked good. I asked another native speaker to cut the knot and she said with certainty that it should agree, which turns out to be wrong.

    If I make up an example where the dubious forms aren't homonyms, like
    – elles l'ont écrites / they wrote her
    – les lettres qu'elles l'ont écrites / the letters they wrote her
    – elles l'ont écrit des lettres / they wrote her letters
    I am certain I'd hear the last case said as 'écrites' in many situations. But then I haven't lived in France for a long time so I don't know if this intuition is valid or I'm just losing it. Can anyone comment on this?

  12. Matthew McIrvin said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 11:17 am

    The peeving about "est-ce que" just sounds like a fusty objection to any sort of informality in language, similar to the new round of handwringing we just got about the two-century decline in the Flesch reading level of State of the Union addresses, which apparently means that sophisticated thought has been on the decline all this time.

  13. KeithB said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 11:33 am

    We might be able to revive the Bushism industry:
    http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/failure-substance-and-style

    "As we grow our presence by growing our ability to produce oil and gas," Bush went on, "we also make it possible to lessen the dependency that Russia now has on top of Europe."

  14. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    Do you think what's happening here is that listeners who dislike a politician's politics find themselves feeling angry basically whenever they see or hear them? If the politican isn't saying anything particularly egregious, they then justify their emotion by objecting to completely normal linguistic features. I suppose the test would be if these kinds of peeve tended to appear more frequently after less ideological, more anodyne speeches. Perhaps a tough thing to measure, though.

    Certainly I like MYL thought the two structures mentioned here were completely standard in French. I was told by a Malagasi woman a few years ago that my use of 'dois-je', 'fait-il' etc. (among many, many other features) marked me out as foreign. She seemed to imply that "est-ce que" was pretty much obligatory.

    [(myl) I wonder whether the "fait-il" vs. "est-ce qu'il fait" business is something like contraction in English. In even highly standard spoken English, "I do not like that" (rather than "I don't like that") is oddly pedantic, though some style manuals for formal written English still consider contractions to be inappropriate.]

  15. Matthew McIrvin said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 2:02 pm

    I've actually seen people insist (online) that contractions are not English and should never be used. I suspect it was overinterpretation of some English teacher's warning about using them in formal writing.

  16. Nathan said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 3:00 pm

    Aint ain't a word, and ya ain't supposed to say it.

  17. Ron said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    @FM: re "Hollande's markedly slow, deliberate, artificial prosody and intonation (also shared by his top ministers)." I've noticed that, too. Can you say whether that style is common among French politicians or is only (or primarily) encountered with Hollande et al?

  18. Lazar said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

    @RP: I've been wondering, when French replaced various instances of oi with ai in the early 19th century, is it because those words had previously been using /wa/ (or /we/, or /wɛ/) but were at that time shifting to /ɛ/? Or was it simply the case that oi had two common phonemic values until that point? For example, was the adjective françois pronounced more like today's français, or more like today's François?

  19. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 7:03 pm

    If des réticences diverse is in the written article then it is a clear error in agreement.

    [(myl) No, that's another scribal error on my part, now fixed.]

    I agree with CLS that the gap between written (or formally spoken) and colloquial French is much wider than it is for English. There are forms in written French, such as the simple past (indicative and subjunctive), that are almost never used in speech, while interrogation without inversion (e.g. pourquoi tu fais ça?) or ne-dropping is quite common in everyday speech, even among educated people.

    chromé: none of the 3 sentences you wrote seem grammatical, whether in formal or familiar register. I think they should be

    elles lui ont écrit
    les lettres qu'elles lui ont écrites
    elles lui ont écrits des lettres

    myl: there's nothing specifically feminine about names ending in -e; think Antoine, Claude, Maurice… Stéphane happens to be the "learned" form of Stephanus, while the traditional form is Etienne.

  20. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 7:04 pm

    Oops: in the last French sentence écrits should be écrit.

  21. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 19, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

    Lazar: as Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables, "Louis-Philippe … écrivait les polonois et prononçait les hongrais."

  22. christoll said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    Very interested to read this post, and even more so the remarks by RP, CLS, and Coby Lubliner below it. I'm a native speaker of English, fluent speaker of German, and near-fluent speaker of French. Well, near-fluent in standard classroom French at least. I find that I can now read seventeenth-century plays fairly easily, for example, and can understand the news on the TV and radio more or less perfectly. But if I try to read children's comic books such as Titeuf, I have to look up words constantly and regularly encounter grammatical constructions which are wholly new to me. And I find it virtually impossible to understand groups of teenagers talking to each other.

    Yes, there is a gap between formal English or German and their everyday equivalents, and the German gap may be somewhat greater than the English gap (principally because of those impossibly long attributive adjectival phrases in written German), but I too have the impression that the corresponding gap in French is significantly greater, especially when one compares the formal written language with the everyday spoken language of children and teenagers. Written French has entire inflected verb tenses that are absent from the latter. It is hugely different in absolutely every aspect of language: syntax, vocab, morphology, phonetics, you name it.

    To me this fits in with what I know about written English being said to be a "reader-centered" language, and German and French both being more writer-centered. The ideal for written English is usually to communicate clearly to the reader. The ideal for written German seems to be to make yourself sound impressive and intelligent and to blow the reader away with the complexity of your grammar, while the ideal for written French appears to be something like the linguistic equivalent of rococo architecture: to maximize "elegance" with decorative verbage and antique syntax (omitting needless words is NOT a virtue, quite the reverse really).

    Another factor might be that French – the living, spoken language – has always struck me as one of the world's most innovative and fast changing languages, which may be a consequence of France having such a strong history of immigration over the past three centuries. But at the same time, there is this strain of tremendous literary snobbery and elitism, perhaps epitomised by the Academie. So literary French may have been held back more than literary English or German, while everyday spoken French has raced ahead.

    All this is obviously just idle speculation, but I would love to read more about this.

  23. Will said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 5:46 am

    I'm a native French speaker and christoll basically nailed it.

    To give but one example, I've been away from France for a long long time and now find written and formal French tedious to the point of being hard to understand (and almost impossible for me to write). This despite having been educated in a pretty elitist French steam where I would get top marks in French / literature / philosophy etc.
    Somebody sent me an article from vanity fair the other day and the sentences were so long I couldn't be bothered to finish reading it.

  24. Benjamin Massot said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 6:09 am

    May I add some remarks here about the gap between spoken and written, and why French might differ from English or German in this respect. (By the way, I'm a native speaker of French and a fluent speaker of English and German as foreign languages.)
    We should distinguish between two sorts of gaps. The first kind is about some natural gaps between spoken, improvised, language on the one hand side and written, planned, "proof-read", language on the other side. There you find all sorts of differences that can be seen in many languages, like the effects of Preferred Argument Structure (she met her sister at 10am, with only one of the 2 arguments of the verb expressed as a full noun phrase, is more probable in speech than Cathy met her sister at 10am), or the preference for verbs over nouns in speech, or avoiding long attributes or anything hard to compute on the fly. It's basically about one grammar in 2 different sets of conditions of use.
    The second kind of gaps between Speech and Writing is of a different sort. These differences are not due to any natural effects as claimed for the first kind of gaps. They are plain arbitrary, in the sense that it's hardly possible to predict which variant will most probably appear in Speech or in Writing, the other distribution would look no worse or unexpected.
    It's this second kind of differences that can make one assume that it's about 2 different grammars.
    In (1) to (3), about the same variation seems to be possible in English, German, and French. Only telling from English and German, one couldn't guess what variant is the more formal one and what variant the less formal one in French, because there is no such opposition in English or German.

    (1) I thought (that) you would ask me.
    (2) Ich dachte, dass du mich fragen würdest.
    (2') Ich dachte, du würdest mich fragen.
    (3) Je croyais (que) tu allais me demander.

    This case looks quite straightforward. (The answer, by the way, is that it's less formal, even pretty stigmatised, without the complementiser que in French.)
    The more you find such cases (est-ce que vs. inversion, negation with or without ne), the more you begin to think there's something going on here. Diglossia is only one possible hypothesis, other ones are possible and appear in the litterature, but clearly, at some point, telling it's about Speech vs. Writing as an explanation for the variation doesn't hold anymore.

    The left dislocation of the subject (or other contituants) is a difficult case because it's hard to classify: is it expected, as an effect of the tendancy of marking information structure (marking topics, topic shifting, etc.) in Speech more than in Writing, or has it been grammaticalised in informal French? I tend to find arguments for both. Dislocating (vs. not dislocating) is not typical for French (English and German, and many other languages, have it very naturally). But subject dislocations have become so widespread that it can be slowly compared to languages where it's grammaticalised (in some northern Italian dialects, in Picard, a dialect of French in northern France, and in a number of unrelated languages, like polysynthetic ones). It's then not clear anymore if it still serves Information Structure, so if it's still classifiable as an natural (stable) effect of Speech vs. Writing.

    By the way, I fully agree with Pflaumbaum. I think it's pretty comparable to bashing Bushisms and Obama's language just to find/make up any argument against them. I don't see any point in any of those commentators' pieces having any validity whatsoever.

  25. Matthew McIrvin said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 8:01 am

    @Benjamin Massot: In your example (1) above, the version without "that" actually does register to me as less formal in English.

    But, yes, it seems much less extreme than (3), where, going by my mostly schoolroom exposure to the French language, I wouldn't regard the variant without "que" as grammatically correct.

  26. Mark Dowson said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 8:38 am

    We've just finished watching the fifth series of Engrenages (Spiral), downloaded from the BBC, an excellent French police procedural which is a treasure trove of French slang. There is a long discussion of the linguistics of the slang used at http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2015/feb/20/pute-de-merde-de-con-the-linguistics-of-spiral-slang.
    You need to establish a UK URL to download from the BBC, but Spiral is likely to eventually turn up on PBS. If it does, don't miss it.

  27. Mark Dowson said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    Spiral Series 4 is currently available on Netflix. Apparently they used to have Series 1 – 3, but have removed them

  28. Rodger C said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

    I sometimes wonder how much the whole concept of postmodernism owes to the fact that vernacular French is now as different from "Modern (book) French" as Modern French is from Middle French, or so it seems to this foreigner.

  29. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 12:32 pm

    As in the U.S., it seems like the best way to debunk the charges would be to demonstrate that leading public figures of different partisan alignment (Sarkozy or whoever) have done exactly the same thing now complained about. Now, it is *conceivable* that one could have partisan splits on language-use issues, with one side favoring informal/demotic uses as a factional signal of solidarity with the common man while the other regarded them as representing moral laxity, and/or certain individual politicians with a noticeable regional dialect playing that up rather than trying to assimilate to the unmarked prestige standard. (Note that it's hard to predict the left/right valence of that sort of split because regionalism/centralization and populist/elitist divisions do not line up with left/right divisions particularly stably across times and places.) But given what little I know of French politics that seems implausible here, and Hollande himself is an "enarque" rather than having followed some sort of outside-the-system rabble-rousing populist path to power. And wasn't it a prior Socialist minister of something-or-other who was snootier than average about the "debasement" of French by English loanwords and suchlike innovations?

  30. Will said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 7:04 pm

    J W BBrewer are you thinking of the infamous Loi Toubon?

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 20, 2015 @ 7:16 pm

    I believe I was thinking of Jack Lang, who wikipedia tells me was succeeded as minister of culture by M. Toubon. But either they're all much of a muchness or I get easily confused when it comes to French politics. Of course, worrying about the linguistic influence of les Anglo-Saxons is a slightly different issue (and might have slightly different politics) than worrying about insufficient formality of register. For all I know, verlan is comparatively impervious to English loanwords and might thus be defended on nationalistic grounds.

  32. RP said,

    February 21, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

    @Lazar,
    It seems "ai" was (at least in Paris) already the usual pronunciation (in the words where the "ai" spelling was eventually adopted) as long ago as the 17th century.

    "oi" was originally pronounced /oj/ as you'd expect. By the end of the Old French period it was widely pronounced wè, which some dialects simplified to è (ai), while in colloquial Middle French it was widely pronounced "wa" in those words where the "w" hadn't been dropped.

    16th century grammarians advocated retaining the "w" sound in "français", "avait" etc but were widely ignored even in court circles.

    Most of this info is found in G. Price, "The French Language: Present and Past", 1998.

    Price doesn't answer all the questions. If even at court the prescriptivists' preferred pronunciation of "français" was been ignored then I'm guessing the "wè" and "wa" forms of that word didn't have much currency in Paris. And I suspect that even if these spoken forms had some currency elsewhere in France they had considerably declined by the time the spelling was changed to "ais".

  33. FM said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

    @Ron This is pure intuition at this stage, but I don't think I have heard the same tendency in other politicians. I was discussing it with colleagues the other day, and we agreed that it does seem like the President, Prime Minister and other members of government got their communication training from the same (team of) spin doctor(s). However, I have noticed a similar (albeit less marked) pattern in the delivery of former President François Mitterrand (1981-1995), an avowed political model of Hollande's.

    Having read some of the articles that Mark Liberman links to in a bit more detail, I was interested to see a paragraph that would have deserved classification in G. K. Pullum's annals of bogus passive claims:

    Mais le principal sujet d'inquiétude est l'enchaînement redondant des formes passives, qui trahit une absence de vigueur, de volonté réelle dans le discours, comme si les choses se faisaient en dehors de lui, comme s'il attendait que soient réunies les conditions nécessaires pour qu'elles se fassent toutes seules. Quelques exemples: « permettre qu'il y ait un jour la communauté internationale qui soit en appui », « nous avons été capables de montrer qu'on était capables de se rassembler », « il faut que nous puissions avoir des parcours qui nous permettent », « il faut faire en sorte que la société civile puisse être en position de », « la question serait forcément posée du soutien que je pourrais lui apporter », « s'assurer que le programme qui était celui qui lui était présenté », etc

    My attempt at translation:

    But the main source of concern is the redundant string of passive forms, which betrays a lack of vigour, of true willpower in his speech, as if things were happening independently from him, as if he were waiting for the necessary conditions to be met so that they would happen of their own accord.

    The constructions incriminated are undoubtedly clumsy, especially due to unnecessary embedding of clauses as well as repetition, and may denote uneasiness on the part of the speaker. But of the 6 examples,

    – the second one's only "fault" is the awkward repetition of capables ("we were able to show that we were able to unite…"): no trace of a passive here;

    – the first, third and fourth feature the impersonal structures il y [avoir] ("there [be]") and il [falloir] ("one must"), not passives;
    – only the last two do have passives, but even without any context they look perfectly justifiable. It seems unlikely that an active voice would have had any added benefit, as the agents of the verbs poser and présenter are probably unidentified or irrelevant.

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