The French Get Lost in the Clouds Over a New Term in the Internet Age





PARIS -- The word on the table that morning was "cloud computing."

To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with "informatique en nuage," which literally means "computing in cloud."

France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology -- a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador -- was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term...

... Keeping the French language relevant isn't easy in the Internet age. For years, French bureaucrats have worked hard to keep French up to date by diligently coming up with equivalents for English terms. Though most French people say "le week-end" and "un surfer," the correct translations of the terms are "fin de semaine" ("end of the week") and "aquaplanchiste" ("water boarder"). A "start-up" company is referred to as "jeune pousse," or "young shoot" (the term pousse is used for vegetable sprouts), while the World Wide Web is translated as "toile d'araignée mondiale" (literally, global spider web)...

... Article Two of France's Constitution states that, "The language of the Republic shall be French." The French government, therefore, has a duty to offer citizens French alternatives to English words, he says. "Our citizens have a right to communicate without speaking English."

French linguistic legislation started in 1593. That year, King François I ousted Latin as his country's administrative language and replaced it with French. Until the 20th century, things went well: Local dialects were supplanted, and French became the language of diplomacy and love. But after World War II and the rise of the U.S. as a superpower, French was pushed onto the back burner.

In 1994, the French government passed laws to ensure that all advertisements, work-contracts and government documentation were in French. The General Delegation was charged with overseeing the creation of new French terms.

Every year, about 300 new terms are officially introduced into the French language. Some -- like cloud computing -- get accidental priority...


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