The initial context is incredible: during the traditional presidential debate between the two rounds in France, one of the candidates expressed his distrust of the rise in immigration which he considered to be the source of all ailments. “Since, Madame, you insult human beings from elsewhere, we, immigrants, have, as a sign of solidarity, decided today to begin an indefinite strike. And to continue. “Don’t worry, you are left with words of pure Gallic origin, for example mud, clay, cervoise, barrel, path, beehive, fir tree…” It is therefore the words themselves that take the initiative to react and talk about their story. If Erik Orsenna recounts the language in all the magic of its semiotic meanderings, the linguist and member of the Oulipo Bernard Cerquiglini adds the scientific foundation to it, in its sometimes most unexpected aspects. The story takes up the different stages of the construction of the French language, its Gallic, Roman, Frankish, Arab, Italian, English etc. contributions, without forgetting the more specific enrichments through regional languages and other cultures.
Academician Erik Orsenna traces his passion for words back to childhood. “My mother used to tell me stories of monarchies, because she loved kings and queens; with my father, it was about stories about the sea, submarines, pirates, because he was a reserve sailor in the naval aviation. And my grandfather, of Cuban origin, told me South American stories. I wrote every day of my life from the age of eight. Words are my allies, they constitute my aviary. They are there, but I let them fly where they want, and they come back from time to time. I chose not to be a French teacher but rather an economics teacher because I didn’t want to teach my passion, and I wanted to understand the world”, enthuses the author of La Grammaire est un chanson douce with enthusiasm. This book, still very popular today, was written in the form of a tale, to revalorize a discipline that has become jargon to the author’s taste. “When my children were about ten years old, I had the feeling that we had forgotten at school the pleasure of writing and learning by heart. I had been advised not to use the word “grammar” in the title, result: one million copies and 100,000 copies in the classroom every year! ” continues this lover of words who regularly takes part in readings at the prison of Health with the association Reading to get out of it.
Erik Orsenna appreciates teamwork. “I’m a sailor and I work with a crew, with people more knowledgeable than me. With Bernard Cerquiglini, it was a real pleasure. He is a scholar, I am an enthusiast: he knows and I tell! »
“More French words of Arabic origin than of Gallic origin”
Les Mots immigrés can be read as a plea, with an assumed posture of linguistic counterpoint in the face of xenophobia. “You cannot imagine the violence of the attacks of some when I say everywhere that there are many more words of Arabic origin in the French language than of Gallic origin. They are the same people who say that Pétain saved the Jews: they have a false vision of France, and they cultivate hatred. Our book is very political, it talks about great enrichment rather than great replacement,” explains the winner of the 1988 Goncourt Prize, who claims the multidimensional aspects of linguistic enrichment. “Immigrant words open a window to a different civilization. So, England was very important for democracy, she invented it before us, and we inherited, with their words, democracy. Basically, words are living beings and there is nothing more false than Descartes’ phrase “I think therefore I am”: one can very well be without thinking”, suggests the writer. “We can clearly see with viruses that human beings do not have a monopoly on life, but I explore all forms of life, including words. They are concentrates of inventions and it amuses me to consider them a little like birds, which come to make sentences and which leave, to go and make other sentences elsewhere”, suggests Orsenna.
In the contemporary world, a dialectic seems to be emerging between globalization and regionalization. “The great wave which dominates the world is that of money which, according to Marx’s formula, is “the general equivalent”, it is anything and everything, like airport music or films of Walt Disney. This phenomenon is marked by fast food in gastronomy, which is spreading everywhere and is undifferentiated. »
“Linguistically, it is not English but Globish that is spreading, in the service of money. We are fighting – without success by the way – for biodiversity, but not for this diversity, but diversity is life”, asserts the writer. “I live in Brittany, and if I don’t speak Breton, I just have to hear it for it to speak to me more of the sea than French. A language that dies out is worse than an animal whose species disappears, because a whole universe is wiped out. As my grandfather told me, the rational does not exhaust the real, which can be both positive and very dangerous”, observes Orsenna, who knew how to transcribe the magic dimension of words in his text. “My moral is that of pleasure, so I encourage you to practice the language, to sing it, to recite it, why deprive yourself of free pleasure? Why make life less alive than it could be? I hate this laziness to live! My next book is about other living things, rivers. To preserve, you have to marvel, and for that, find characters: each river is a living being”, he concludes, recalling that the three verbs that sum up his approach are: to marvel, to alert, to propose.
In one of his tales, Orsenna had imagined the drama of Dom Juan waking up and finding that all women were the same. With Les Mots immigrés (Stock), it is the historical, cultural and semantic depth of French language migrants that is celebrated, in a text that is clear, erudite and joyful.
The initial context is incredible: during the traditional presidential debate between the two rounds in France, one of the candidates expressed his distrust of the rise in immigration which he considered to be the source of all ailments. “Since, madam, you insult human beings from elsewhere, we, immigrants, have, as a sign of solidarity,…
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