THE BLOG

Allez Les Hashtags! 'Hashtag' Enters the French Dictionary

04/06/2014 13:35 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

The humble hashtag has really taken centre stage as of late. It never ceases to amaze me how something so simple can cause such a stir, but over the last week or two in particular, the hashtag has really been making its mark in ways that only the hashtag knows how.

More poorly thought-through hashtags have caused much amusement - #WhyImVotingUKIP and Piers' Morgans' ill-fated #AskPiers being personal favourites - and the #YesAllWomen has sparked a fierce debate about the importance, or indeed futility, of hashtag activism.

However, having studied for my degree in French and Portuguese, there is one story as of late that has really caught my eye...

Ne touchez pas my language

Anyone who knows anything about the French will know how vehemently protective they are of their language. It is overseen by the prestigious Académie Française - the official authority on all things to do with their language and the body charged with publishing the French dictionary.

Established back in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII, the group is in fact the oldest of the five académies that make up the Institut de France and is arguably one of the most prestigious and greatly respected organisations in the entire country. Previous members include the likes of Voltaire and Victor Hugo, to put its significance in perspective.

It is no coincidence the French should place such a historically significant academy in charge of their dictionary. They take this stuff very seriously indeed and seem to be fighting a never-ending battle against Anglicisms threatening their hallowed tongue.

Cue le 'hashtag'...

With so many new words cropping up as society advances and evolves, it is a constant bone of contention whether or not a neologism should be included as an official part of their language. The world of technology contributes a disproportionate amount of these new contenders for the dictionary - walkie-talkie, email and so on.

And so came around the time to consider words for the 2015 edition of Le Petit Robert dictionary. Some 600 new words came under scrutiny, with just one quarter making the cut - and, you guessed it, 'hashtag' was one of them. Oh-la-la.

Unsurprisingly, it has not gone down well with everyone. Alain Rey, described by the Telegraph as "France's most famous and veteran lexicographer" who acts as an advisor for Le Petit Robert, was reported to have remarked on the adoption of new terms: "When there is a possible French translation, I admit that I find it completely ridiculous [to use an English version]."

Quite whether or not there is a French equivalent for 'hashtag' is up for debate, but given that the French do not use the 'h' sound in the same way as English speakers (ask a French speaker to say 'hungry' and 'angry' and my point is clear), many might argue that 'hashtag' should not be part of the French language.

The decision might be all the more painful for some as it was only at the start of last year that it was reported our cousins across the Channel were dismissing the term in favour of 'mot-dièse'. Clearly that didn't catch on, #EpicFail.

The move has sparked all the more outrage, perhaps, as such an addition has coincided with the first ever Briton, Sir Michael Edwards, being sworn in as a member of the Académie Française. The French and English poet, who has dual-nationality, has described his ascension to this linguistic throne as "a victory of sorts for the English", according to the Telegraph. Quite what many of the French will have to say about that remains to be seen.

But let's not place all of the blame on the hashtag, which is not the only word to have ruffled feathers. 'Selfie' and 'troll' will be making an appearance in the next edition too, alongside many other un-tech-related terms.

Alors, what next?

Who knows what new words will be cropping up over the next few years, but one thing's for sure; as digital technology continues to evolve, so too will language. So long as that is the case, the French will continue to fight their battle with these globally recognised terms that many believe are threatening to tarnish their beautiful language.

While I don't think Mark Zuckerberg is about to receive an invitation to join the Académie Française any time soon, it will be interesting to observe how - if at all - attitudes change.