Explained: Why France may soon pass a law banning discrimination on the basis of accents


Par: Explained Desk | Vasco |

November 28, 2020 2:30 p.m.:22

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has reportedly been discriminated against for his southwestern twang. (AP)The French National Assembly has taken the first steps to pass a law that would ban discrimination against people with regional accents across the country.

On Thursday, a new bill banning accent-based discrimination, or “glottophobia”, was approved by 98 votes to three and sparked heated debate in the lower house of the French parliament. If passed, the new law will make language discrimination a criminal offense along with sexism, racism and other forms of sectarianism banned.

Sharing their own personal experiences, several MEPs pointed out that discrimination against people with a strong regional accent was endemic in society, especially in the workplace, and described it as a “form of racism”.

Even Prime Minister Jean Castex has reportedly been discriminated against for his southwestern twang. At the time of his appointment, some sections of the local media began to call him “a little rugby” – referring to the fact that a majority of French rugby commentators are also from the South West region.

What led to the drafting of the bill?

In 2018, Laetitia Avia, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, announced that she was proposing a bill that would ban the derision of regional accents. She did so after a controversial exchange between far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon and a journalist from a French regional television station sparked widespread outrage.

When the journalist from Toulouse, in southwest France, asked Mélenchon about an anti-corruption investigation by her political party, the leader mimicked her accent and told her she was “talking nonsense”. In a video, which has been shared widely on social media and news networks since then, he is heard saying: “Does anyone have a question in French that is more or less understandable?”

The politician has been widely condemned both online and offline, and a group from Macron’s La République en Marche, led by Avia, has proposed the new legislation. It was also at this time that the term “glottophobia” or “glottophobia” was coined by a French linguist to describe a specific form of discrimination based on tone or intonation associated with an accent. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What were the arguments for and against the bill?

During a lively parliamentary session, several MPs spoke about why they thought the bill was a step in the right direction. While one MP recounted how she was mocked for her pronounced North African accent, another pointed out that journalists with accents were very often relegated to “rugby columns or weather reports”.

“At a time when” visible “minorities benefit from the legitimate concern of the public authorities,” audible “minorities are the great forgotten in the social contract based on equality”, supported the deputy Christophe Euzet, one of the main sponsors of the bill.

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Many leaders, including Euzet, deliberately spoke with their local accents. Euzet clarified that the purpose of the bill was to fight discrimination, and that did not include a ban on humor or jokes of any kind.

Among the three people who voted against the legislation was former presidential candidate and leader of the Libertés et Territoires party, Jean Lassalle. “I am not asking for charity. I am not asking to be protected. I am who I am, ”he says with his noticeable southwest accent.

What is the penalty for violating the proposed law?

A person found guilty of discrimination on the basis of regional accents could face a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to € 45,000 (INR 39.8 lakh).

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Is discrimination based on accent a real problem in France?

Accent discrimination is by no means a recent phenomenon in France. Media professionals and politicians who are not from the French metropolis often conform to the language spoken in Paris and Ile-de-France.

During the parliamentary session earlier this week, Euzet pointed out that of the 30 million French people who do not speak with a Parisian accent, 17 million said they were ridiculed for it, while 11 million more claim to have been victims of discrimination when interviewing for a job or seeking promotion, the Independent reported.

According to Ouest-France, a survey carried out in January 2020 showed that around 16% of the French population claim to have been the victim of discrimination when hiring because of their accent.

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