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English becomes dirty word in Neuchâtel

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Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
10:32 CET+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”.

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