La francophonie triomphe

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…by virtue of the global spread of English. At least, that's what we can conclude from the click-bait title of a book recently published in France, "La langue anglaise n'existe pas". C'est du français mal prononcé (= "The English language doesn't exist". It's badly-pronounced French).

The author, Bernard Cerquiglini, has some serious credentials, to which he's now added a verified sense of humor. The book opens with a (slightly modified) quote from Montaigne:

« C'est icy un Livre de mauvaise foy, Lecteur.» Il faut de l'audace pour citer Montaigne à rebours; nous aurons cet aplomb: la mauvaise foi est ici proclamée, assumée, réflechie.

"Here is a book in bad faith, reader." It requires boldness to cite Montaigne backwards; we will have this confidence: bad faith is here proclaimed, assumed, and considered.

The initial quote (with mauvaise swapped for bonne) comes from the note "Au Lecteur" at the start of Montaigne's Essais. Montaigne goes on to explain

C’est icy vn Liure de bonne foy, Lecteur.

Il t’aduertit dés l’entrée, que ie ne m’y suis proposé aucune fin, que domestique et priuee : ie n’y ay eu nulle considération de ton seruice, ny de ma gloire : mes forces ne sont pas capables d’vn tel dessein.

Here is a book in good faith, Reader.

It warns you, from the start, that my only goals are domestic and private: I have no consideration for your benefit, nor for my fame: my abilities are not adequate for such a plan.

So perhaps the "mauvaise foy" switch means that Cerquiglini aims his book at our benefit and his fame?

For more information about its contents, see this brief (French language) review in Fabula, or Tom Barfield's (English language) review in Barron's.

Cerquiglini's book has no English translation yet, as far as I know — though we just need to pronounce the French version badly, n'est-ce pas?

Update — D.O. in the comments notes that Alexandre Dumas originated the book's title in his 1845 work Vingt Ans Après [emphasis added]:

D'Artagnan était près de lui. Aramis consultait une carte, Porthos était absorbé dans les dernières délices d'un succulent déjeuner.

— Le parlement! s'écria Athos, il n'est pas possible que le parlement ait rendu un pareil bill.

— Écoutez, dit d'Artagnan, je comprends peu l'anglais; mais, comme l'anglais n'est que du français mal prononcé, voici ce que j'entends: _Parliament's bill;_ ce qui veut dire bill du parlement, ou Dieu me damne, comme ils disent ici.

En ce moment l'hôte entrait; Athos lui fit signe de venir.

— Le parlement a rendu ce bill? lui demanda Athos en anglais.

— Oui milord, le parlement pur.

— Comment, le parlement pur! il y a donc deux parlements?

— Mon ami, interrompit d'Artagnan, comme je n'entends pas l'anglais, mais que nous entendons tous l'espagnol, faites-nous le plaisir de nous entretenir dans cette langue, qui est la vôtre, et que, par conséquent, vous devez parler avec plaisir quand vous en retrouvez l'occasion.


  1. John from Cincinnati said,

    March 10, 2024 @ 2:20 pm

    To give credit where credit is due, the drawing of the gentleman saying “No” is by the Romanian-born American artist Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), and was published in The New Yorker magazine on November 25, 1961. Images of the drawing are all over the internet, for example at the magazine’s publisher's site here.

  2. John from Cincinnati said,

    March 10, 2024 @ 2:39 pm

    Oops, now I have noticed that the book cover image is a modification of the Saul Steinberg drawing, with many different details. I honestly don't know what to make of that.

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    March 10, 2024 @ 2:53 pm

    @John from Cincinnati: "Oops, now I have noticed that the book cover image is a modification of the Saul Steinberg drawing, with many different details. I honestly don't know what to make of that."

    Actually, it seems that every detail is different, even though the overall impression is the same. And on a quick scan, I don't see any content-related reasons for the changes. Maybe it's just an attempt to avoid copyright infringement? I'm not an expert in the relevant areas of copyright law. So maybe it counts as parody? Certainly mauvaise foi, anyhow…

    [Update — Or it would be, except that the book's copyright page cites Steinberg, who apparently must have also created the version on the cover. At least, his estate/foundation licenses it — see the comment below by S. C.-Thomas…]

    I've created a page comparing the two cartoons — look for yourself.

  4. S. C.-Thomas said,

    March 10, 2024 @ 9:14 pm

    "Certainly mauvaise foi, anyhow…"

    Or bonne, in spite of Cerquiglini's best efforts? From the copyright page (Gallimard's online preview):

    "Couverture : Saul Steinberg, Untitled, 1961 © The Saul Steinberg Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2024"

  5. D.O. said,

    March 10, 2024 @ 10:09 pm

    D'Artagnan: "l'Anglais n'est que du français mal prononcé" (Vingt ans après)

  6. Rosemary Kuwahata said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 2:57 am

    "La langue anglaise n'existe pas. C'est du français mal prononcé"
    The first thought and words that came to my mind was an old, small book of poems I found in a second hand book shop in Canberra, Australia when I was studying linguistics a long time ago (1970s), before the age of all our current interconnectedness, and had to rely on paper tomes in university book shops and dusty libraries.
    Mots D'Heures Gousses Rames, by Luis Antin van Rooten
    As a young Uni student studying French, German, Japanese and Linguistics, finding and reading this book had me in stitches.
    D’Antin’s “translations” use supposedly real French words but are probably nonsensical in French. You don’t have to understand actual French to read d’Antin’s rhymes; you just need a fairly good grasp of French pronunciation rules and an ability to recall the Mother Goose poems.
    Probably the signature entry in the book is 'Humpty Dumpty.
    Un petit d'un petit
    S'étonne aux Halles
    Un petit d'un petit
    Ah! degrés te fallent
    Indolent qui ne sort cesse
    Indolent qui ne se mène
    Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
    Tout Gai de Reguennes.

    Again, “Jack and Jill” becomes “Chacun Gille”; and “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater” becomes “Pis-terre, Pis-terre / Pomme qui n’y terre.” and more.
    Sadly, this book has escaped from my clutches during my many house moves.

  7. Chips Mackinolty said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 2:59 am

    Whether intended as a defence against copyright breach or not, the more recent "No" image would almost certainly avoid such a breach on the basis of "satire or parody"–certainly under Australian copyright law (and likely more other places).

    For a good summary of where intellectual property law positions itself on this issue:

  8. Terry Hunt said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 3:45 am

    @ Rosemary Kuwahata — there is also a similar 1980 work, purportedly transcribed from a 16th-century manuscript, by Ormonde de Kay entitled
    N'Heures Souris Rames, The Coucy Castle Manuscript, and another of 1981,
    Mörder Guss Reims: The Gustav Leberwurst Manuscript similarly "transcribed" by John Hulme.

    I have been lucky enough to obtain copies of both these, but have not yet found one of Mots D'Heures Gousses Rames, though I've been on the lookout for many years. (Yes, Internet, but I regard that as cheating and only buy from physical bookshops or dealers I have met in person.)

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 4:37 am

    @Rosemary Kuwahata:

    For some more cross-language fun, see "Autour-du-Mondegreens: Bunkum unbound", 11/19/2007.

    Unfortunately, all (?) of the videos linked in that post have been taken down for copyright infringement, but there's some further discussion here, and Google search for Buffalax turns up some others, e.g. this one:

  10. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 5:17 am

    And there's the old schoolboy Latin joke — in old anglicised pronunciation —
    Caesar adsum jam forte — Brutus adept.

  11. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 5:19 am

    Damn predictive typing! I meant "Brutus aderat"

  12. Peter Taylor said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 5:22 am

    Then there's the distinctly non-PC alleged motto of the French navy: À l'eau, c'est l'heure!

  13. Philip Anderson said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 5:57 am

    @Tom Dawkes
    Caesar adsum jam forte, Brutus aderat.
    Caesar sic in omnibus, Brutus sic in at.

  14. Robert Coren said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 9:16 am

    @Peter Taylor: Vladimir Nabokov's <Ada takes place in a parallel universe where electricity is forbidden, and as a workaround the telephone system, for example, is hydraulic; at one point a character answers the phone by saying "À l'eau!" I sometimes think that Nabokov made up the power system for the sole purpose of perpetrating this pun.

  15. Not a naive speaker said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 3:08 pm

    From I saw Esau by Iona & Peter Opie, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

  16. Not a naive speaker said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 3:09 pm

  17. Chris Button said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:02 pm

    C'est icy un Livre de mauvaise foy

    Old French "y" for "i" aside, would "c'est ici un livre" still be used in this sense in modern French? It seems a little funny to me to phrase it like this (non-native speaker)

  18. stephen said,

    March 14, 2024 @ 8:15 pm

    If you hook up Chatgpt with Google Translate on your phone, it could do automatic translations; you call somebody, you speak English, the other person hears French…

    You would have a Franco-phone!

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