The French Language: L’Éloquence, Par Excellence! Posted by Hichem on Apr 6, 2010 in Culture, History, Vocabulary
If the Italians are notoriously known for their obssession with l’Opéra, the English for their penchant towards the performing arts, the Germans for their grand amour of la musique classique, then what about the French? Eh bien the French are tout simplement fond of their own language!
What they cherish par-dessus tout (above all) is its singular feature of combining éloquence and clarté (clarity.) Rivarol, a famous homme de lettres, had once declared tout de go (without hesitation) that “Tout ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français” (All that is not clear is not French.) As for eloquence, the French view it essentially as a dual art, assimilating oration with persuasion. Oration to stir up le côté esthétique de la langue, but also pour convaincre les esprits (to convince the minds.) Ever since the first years of school in France, les écoliers discover in their manuels scolaires the process of la dialectique: They learn how to argue and present their ideas, starting with la thèse, then l’antithèse, and finally la synthèse. This logical model is definitely de rigueur (both in the French and the English sense) whenever you must write une rédaction (an essay), and students follow it even until the university stage!
The French are also très fiers (very proud) of their esprit cartésien (Cartesian mind), named after the distinguished philosopher René Descartes, who is known for his “Je Pense, Donc Je suis” (I think, therefore I am.) You may also remember him from your early Calculus class days, when your teacher introduced you to the “Cartesian coordinates”, with the X- and Y-axis! Yes, those coordinates (just like the “Cartesian Product”, or “set product”) are named after him, and his last name alone has turned, au fil des siècles, into a household name in France, synonymous with logique, rationalisme, and no-nonsense précision.
In fact, Descartes’ influence has been so enormous on people’s mind that he is regarded as one of the précurseurs or pionniers (pioneers) of the Siècle des Lumières (The Enlightenment), the same century that has known La Révolution française, a milestone historical event which should in many ways be considered as a “Cartesian Product” itself: Soit dit sans jeu de mot (no pun intended)… or, d’accord, maybe juste un petit peu.
When we mention Les Lumières, we also tend to think of the city of Paris, which is known as La Ville des Lumières… But is it really because of all those high-voltage bulbs adorning La Tour Eiffel and L’Arc de Triomphe? Non, pas vraiment ! The French would certainly point out to you that, after all, Paris n’est pas Las Vegas ! The Lumières are en fait mostly to be understood as the intellectual Lights: Philosophers, artists, and hommes de lettres, who have for centuries élu domicile (resided, that is) in the French Capital, enlightening and delighting their seduced readers and mesmerized audiences with their éloquence of haute voltige, often during des lectures publiques delivered under eye-dazzling lights of haut voltage !