Hottest import of 2015? The hashtag.
Back in 2013, the French Ministry of Culture banned the use of the English word “hashtag” in French media and culture. The Académie Française, the French government’s institution charged with preserving the French language and classic culture, instead commissioned the word “mot-dièse” to represent the # symbol.
Words like “hashtag,” which are used in many cultures that don’t necessarily speak English, are called anglicisms. In other words, the literal English word is imported into the varying vernacular languages. In this case, “hashtag” is especially pervasive because of the widespread use of social media and the general progression of what The New York Times calls the “computer age.” France rejected this trend, and instead came up with its own, French-derived meaning for the symbol — because “hashtag” just sounds too crude for the Language of Love, right?
This is not a new phenomenon. Ever since the 17th century, France has upheld strict policies on maintaining the purity of their native language, mostly to keep from integrating English words into French phrases. Originally, this movement was intended to assemble all the variations of French within the territory after the chaos of the Middle Ages, and to officially codify what the French language was. Sure, language is an integral part of the preservation of a culture, but seriously. We’re dating back to King Louis XIII’s reign in the early 1600s, here.
Along with other institutions, the Minister of Culture has been a highly important office to the French government that strives for perfection and protection of French. The ministry has gone so far as to fine the French branch of General Electric Medical systems for failing to distribute their software manuals in French, ceaselessly striving to “keep French French.”
The French government deemed the Académie Française ineffective at “keeping out the filth” from the French language, and created an official commission on terminology to replace English-esque words such as “le jogging,” “le cheeseburger” and “le weekend” in 1970. This was followed by the Maintenance of the Purity of the French Language Act, as well as the Toubon Law, which mandated the use of the French language in all official government and commercial documents, as well as in advertisements, workplaces and public schools.
The Académie Française actually told schoolchildren not to use the popular “hashtag,” and instead advertised the shiny, new and purely French “mot-dièse.” Teachers push the French replacement, and the media has been asked to avoid using the “hashtag” in any kind of news story, press release or advertisment. Talk about “Big Brother.”
Tuesday, however, the Times reported that the same department, led by Minister Fleur Pellerin, has turned 180 degrees from their selective traditions dating back to the 1600s. Pellerin told the audience at the opening of French Language and Francophonie Week that by cutting out natural developments in language that are occurring worldwide, France’s resistance to certain English words is actually harming the language.
She stated, “French is not in danger, and my responsibility as minister is not to erect ineffective barriers against languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on.”
Alas, French-speakers can now tag their tweets in peace. Even though they literally used the same pound sign, now it has the name that is used by the rest of the world.