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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

25. Linguistic Diversity in Europe

Texte intégral

1In Paris, the Model of Foreign Nations, or French Europe, Louis-Antoine Caraccioli notes the supremacy of the French language over the other European languages. He thus enters into a debate that engaged many other contemporary thinkers, including Rivarol.

On Languages

2The peoples of every nation express their character through their speech. Polish ease, German sincerity, Italian flexibility, Spanish vigour and French light-heartedness can be felt in their respective languages, and in the manner in which they are pronounced. Some people drag out their sentences, whilst others rush through them; where one man mumbles his words another pronounces each with a ringing clarity.

3If I were to order each language according to its value, I would say that after Greek and Latin, both Italian, so evocative and sonorous, and French, so elegant and precise, deserve to be held in the greatest esteem. If the latter is now victorious, this is due to its concise and natural phrasing, which makes it the language of society; the Italian language, thanks to its harmonious features, seems far less suited to conversation than to music and poetry.

4[…] When one seeks to converse, one must return to French; for, less wordy than any other language, and less difficult to pronounce, it neither requires verbosity nor any sustained vocal efforts to bring thoughts to life. In other words, it adorns them in such a manner as to render them most pleasant to hear, without vexing or inflating them.

5If certain writers made the claim that it was imperfect, this was because they lacked the flair to do it justice, but it has defiantly avenged itself for these false accusations through the pleasure taken by Europeans when they speak it.

6Let us all, then, write like Pascal, like Malebranche, Bossuet and Rousseau; and the public will soon be persuaded that the French language is truly rich, and that even if it does not provide an infinite number of different expressions, it nonetheless lends to thought a certain elegance and energy that mediocre authors do not believe possible.

7Foreigners have felt this alluring charm, and have been led, in spite of themselves, to forget their own language in order to speak that of the French. It is astonishing to hear French conversation at the courts of Vienna, St Petersburg, or Warsaw, just as at that of Versailles. This is the very same language, spoken with the very same accent.

8Frenchmen, reap the rewards of such an honour, and try more than ever to enrich this language, which has become almost universal.

9The Parisian who travels across Europe may scarcely realise that he is away from Paris, since there is no city he visits in which people are unable to answer him.

10This language has the advantage of having provided the English with almost all their scientific and artistic terminology. Those proud islanders, who do not want to owe anything to anyone, had no choice but to borrow a plethora of energetic words from the French; every season they swarm to France to learn the language of Corneille and Racine. For that is yet another advantage of the French language: to be able to rise to the most sublime heights of poetry, and to bring freshness to the most brilliant thoughts.

11Louis-Antoine Caraccioli,
Paris, the Model of Foreign Nations, or French Europe (1777).

Read the free text in the original language (1777 edition):​ark:/12148/​bpt6k1156961
Listen to the free audio book in the original language :​ark:/12148/​bpt6k1156961/​f3.vocal


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