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English becomes dirty word in Neuchâtel
Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

English becomes dirty word in Neuchâtel

Published: 18 Jan 2013 10:32 GMT+01:00
Updated: 18 Jan 2013 10:32 GMT+01:00

The government of the French-speaking canton of Neuchâtel wants merchants to stop using the English word “sale” for their annual price reduction campaigns.

The word is commonly used in Neuchâtel stores, instead of the French “soldes”, although in French sale literally means “dirty”.

The cantonal government has submitted legislation to the Neuchâtel parliament that would require merchants to use the French word "soldes" for its sales.

The English word is “an insult to the French language and deserves to be banned,” the government said in a statement.

“We are supposed to speak the best French in Neuchâtel,” Pierre Bonhôte, the head of commercial regulations for the canton, is quoting as saying by Le Matin.

Bonhôte told local media also that residents should not be left in doubt about the cleanliness of shops in the canton.

The proposal, part of an overhaul of commercial regulations proposed by the government, faces headwinds because the word “sale” is commonly used by retailers across Switzerland, particularly in German-speaking Switzerland.

National advertising campaigns for chain stores, often determined in Zurich, often favour English as a way to avoid translating words and phrases into Switzerland’s three official languages — German, French and Italian.

So Neuchâtel risks making an exception to the rule.

However, the cantonal government said forcing the use of the word soldes is only “modest hindrance” to business freedom.

It suggested that it is a small price to pay for defending the use of the French language.

“Let’s hope that other cantons will follow,” Neuchâtel senator Didier Berberat, who is also president of the “Défense du français” association, told Le Matin.

Berberat said many retailers are ill at ease with the “franglais” imposed by Zurich ad agencies.

“In Suisse romande (French-speaking Switzerland) we are more sensitive to the issue,” he said.

“While in Zurich when they bump into someone at the station they often say “sorry” (in English).”

But Hervé Devanthéry, of Publicité Suisse, which represents advertising professionals, told Le Matin it was “a bit excessive” of the government to legislate such details.

He said it was up to customers and stores to decide whether to make the word disappear.

Devanthéry said the debate over the omnipresence of “franglais” in advertising in French-speaking Switzerland was monopolized by “fundamentalists”.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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Your comments about this article

2013-01-22 12:58:44 by Rockstarbandit
After reading this article, this American girl living in Switzerland, married to a Swiss man and trying to learn German in a country that speaks several different dialects; will not be paying a visit to Neuchâtel or spending my money shopping in their stores. Pierre Bonhôte might as well pass a law banning English speaking people from setting foot in his town as he clearly can not see the value in diversity. A bit narrow minded in my opinion.
2013-01-23 09:59:39 by SwissBob
As a native English speaker I applaud this measure. American girl, you may have noticed that you live now in a multi-lingual country -- embrace it!

I cringe when I see so many shops here in Italian-speaking Ticino offering "salt" (sale in Italian) in large red letters. The French traditionally have been staunch defenders of their language and I'd expect no less from those who speak French in Switzerland. One word leads to another, then another. Where does it end?

I know that I'm being a purist; but how hard is it to remember the French word for sale -- it's an important one to learn, just as are those for thank you and good morning/day/evening! Those few words, especially "thank you" in French will take you a long way in many places but seem to be unlearnable by many of my English speaking comrades.
2013-02-24 11:12:36 by mrwhite
Could we correctly title the report in English please?

"English becomes a dirty word in Neuchâtel". not "English becomes dirty word in Neuchâtel".

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