This is not a joke…. Macron bans “how you speak”

France bans discrimination against regional accents

Assemblée Nationale makes glottophobiean offence along with racism, sexism and other outlawed bigotry

Jean Castex

Jean Castex, the French prime minister, is often accused of sounding ‘a bit rugby’. Photograph: ReutersKim Willsher in ParisFri 27 Nov 2020 17.55 GMT

In France, it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. When the prime minister, Jean Castex, opens his mouth, he is often accused of being “a bit rugby” – he comes from the south-west, where the sport is popular. Others with regional accents sound like “they should be reading the weather”.

Now the French have not only come up with a word for this kind of prejudice – glottophobie – but a new law banning it. The Assemblée Nationale has adopted legislation making linguistic discrimination an offence along with racism, sexism and other outlawed bigotry.

The legislation, approved by 98 votes to three, was the subject of acute debate in the house. Among those who voted against was Jean Lassalle, a former presidential candidate, the head of the Libertés et Territoires (Freedom and Land) party and a well-known orator.

“I’m not asking for charity. I’m not asking to be protected. I am who I am,” he said in a south-west accent with knife-blunting properties.

The justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, whose booming voice is familiar to courtrooms across the land, said he was “super-convinced” of the necessity of the law.

Christophe Euzet, who proposed the law, said accents were a grave matter. “At a time when visible minorities benefit from the legitimate concern of public powers, the audible minorities are the poor cousins of the social contract based on equality,” he said.

Several MPs, including one from French Polynesia and another the daughter of parents repatriated to France around Algerian independence in the 1960s, aired their accents. Other parliamentarians complained that many broadcasters with strong regional accents were pigeonholed into reporting on rugby matches or delivering the weather.

It is not recorded whether the Moroccan-born, Paris-adopted, hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon contributed to the debate, but he can count himself lucky having narrowly escaped potentially facing a €45,000 fine and three years in jail for blatant glottophobie. When a journalist with a strong southern accent addressed him recently, he replied: “Can someone ask me a question in French? And make it a bit more understandable.”