In Brief

What is glottophobia and should it be illegal?

French lawmaker tables motion to outlaw accent discrimination following pronunciation row

A French politician has brought forward a new law to make “glottophobia” - prejudice against regional accents - a criminal offence, after a former presidential candidate mocked a reporter for her pronunciation.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the term was popularised by sociologist Philippe Blanchet of Rennes University to describe discrimination based on pronunciation and tone.

The New Stateman says “the recently-coined term has been thrust back into the limelight after leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon went viral after he mocked a journalist from Toulouse for their southwestern accent”.

The firebrand leader, whose party headquarters were raided last week over suspected campaign finance violations, was answering questions outside parliament when he was asked for a comment by a journalist from southwestern France, which has a distinctive twang.

The clearly irked Mélenchon mimicked the woman’s accent, before turning to the assembled crowd and asking: “Has anyone got a question in more or less comprehensible French?”

The reaction which quickly went viral and has provoked fierce debate in France prompted an angry response from Parisian MP Laetitia Avia, who tweeted:

“Do we speak French any the less with an accent. Must one suffer humiliation if one doesn’t speak standard French? Because our accents are our identity, I am tabling a bill to recognise glottophobia as a source of discrimination.”

“French law against discrimination...doesn’t mention linguistic discrimination” and “unlike in the UK, French media, notably news media, has few high-profile figures with strong regional accents” says the Telegraph.

The row is even more striking because Mélenchon, described by France24 as “a talented if tempestuous orator”, is an MP in Marseille, the southern port city whose inhabitants have a particularly thick drawl.

However, linguistics researcher Philippe Boula de Mareüil told the Telegraph “glottophobia is even worse for northerners”, whose style of speech “you find neither among star journalists, nor big bosses, nor politicians” meaning “people from around there try even harder to mask their accent”.

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