Rouse Award: Bibi Elliott’s investigation into the impact of English on French
Bibi Elliott (Upper Sixth) earned the Rouse Award for her examination of the impact of types of borrowing from English on the French language.
As a keen linguist, with plans to study French and beginners’ Russian at university, Bibi was inspired to investigate the topic following a homework study exploring the prospect of there being just one global language at some point in the future.
She said: “I found it quite a disconcerting idea because I like languages, so I thought I’d look at what we can do to prevent it, and then take a step back to see how you can classify these things to work out what we would need to prevent first.”
Bibi considered the effects English borrowings could have on French, breaking them down into five types – phonemic (relating to sound), morphemic (spelling and shape), semantic (meaning), cultural and syntactical (grammar).
“After doing French for a certain amount of time, you can clearly see where words have an English influence,” she said.
“Examples of cultural borrowings would be ‘le hacking’ for hacking or ‘le start-up’ for start-up, so if a new word is created in English and the French have a lexical gap, which means there’s no equivalent for it, they just take the entire word.
“It’s typically beneficial to the language, but as more and more of these technical words are made, that results in a higher proportion of English words in French.”
Although cultural terms are obvious examples of the concept of ‘franglais’, Bibi concluded that syntactical would be the most threatening type of borrowing to the French language.
She said: “If you’ve got a grammatical change in one aspect, such as verb conjugation, that would greatly affect every sentence.
“That’s not happened yet in French, but it has in other languages, such as Quechua in Peru, so it has got a lot of potential even if it’s unlikely to be borrowed.”
Bibi added that she had found carrying out the study an extremely fulfilling experience.
She said: “I loved having the opportunity to look at linguistics and it was amazing to be able to explore the parts I found the most interesting.
“Among linguists there’s a perception that all borrowings are very bad because they threaten languages, but I think there are actually benefits to borrowings and they’re not these invasive things that are going to destroy the French language.”