A History of the French Language

By Urban T. Holmes Jr.; Alexander H. Schutz | Go to book overview
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THE PRESENT DAY

97.THE WORLD WAR

The major event of contemporary history is the World War. Because of the number of men involved and the fact that these were enrolled in civilian armies, there was an unprecedented social mixture. The university professor, the denizen of La Villette's stockyard settlements, the boulevardier and the peasant were in the closest of contact over a long period. An elaborate argot developed: It was no longer a question of souliers, pantalons, café, viande, confortable, but their corresponding slang equivalents:grôles, falzars, jus de chapeau, batack, pépère. Some of it, like jus, is today part of the military slang, but, with the exception of a decreasing number of soldier tales, one hears very little of the once rich array of terms embracing every field of the poilu's existence. There seems to be a reaction against it, as against all memories of the war.

It is safe to say that present linguistic evolution is being profoundly affected by the advent of new types of communication. The "talkies" and the radio are giving an importance to the oral aspects of language previously unknown and perhaps today unsuspected. The altogether astounding ease with which mechanical appliances are coming into the hands of even the bookish classes means a revolution in the daily life of the layman and tends to bring him into close contact with the life and thought of the chauffeur, the mechanic, the repair man, and others whose superior competence in matters mechanical the layman must often recognize and from whose language we find it difficult to escape. He will shorten Télégraphie sans Fils to T.S.F., méchanicien to mécano, perhaps. Advertising, a world-wide fetish apparently, falls in with the most radical tendencies, be it word-shortening or pseudo-scientific combinations in -ine or -ose attached to the names of the multiple cures that flood the market. The billboard-syntax and morphology are enough to send shudders down the back of the purist.

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