France wins battle in war on English language

In France’s efforts to resist the creep of the English language, score a small win for French.

In France’s efforts to resist the creep of the English language, score a small win for French.

A Versailles court ruled today that a local subsidiary of US company General Electric must by law provide staff with French translations of essential work documents.

GE Healthcare staff, tired of struggling with English at work, filed a complaint in June requesting that documents and software be made available in French. The case went to court in November, and the court in Versailles west of Paris ruled in their favour.

“We are very happy,” said Jocelyne Chabert, a trilingual secretary at GE who also represents the CGT union. “We were expecting a victory but maybe not quite as complete as this, so it really is a great success.”

The court ordered that French versions must be made immediately available of all software, as well as French translations of all documents relating to hygiene, safety training of personnel and the medical products the company makes, said David Metin, the attorney for the CGT.

Other technical documents must be made available in French by June, he added.

GE Healthcare said it has appealed. In a statement, it said it already provides employees with translations of business communications and the language tools necessary to work. The firm employs more than 1,500 people from 45 countries at its site in Buc, near Versailles, and from there exports to more than 100 countries.

The CGT union based its complaint on a French law aimed at fending off English usage in business and on airwaves. The Toubon Law, introduced in 1994, makes French mandatory in a variety of situations, ranging from advertising to workplace documents employees need to do their jobs. The latter must be written in French but can be accompanied by translations.

The court cited the law as the reason it sided with the employees, said their lawyer.

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