PARIS - French language lovers could celebrate International Francophonie Day on Saturday with a new online interactive dictionary. Rolled out by the French government, it reflects not only the language’s evolution but also the reality that most of today’s speakers are not French.
Did you receive a "pourriel" or "throw a camel" today? If you are wondering what these expressions mean, you will not find the answers here in France. In Canadian French, a pourriel — a version of courriel, French for email — means spam mail. When you “lance un chameau” or throw a camel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you have made a spelling mistake.
Both these expressions are included in a new online dictionary sponsored by the French government.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot says the dictionary is not just for France’s 67 million citizens, but for the 300 million French speakers worldwide. It aims to modernize and enrich the French language, she says, embracing its evolution.
President Emmanuel Macron proposed the idea of this Francophones’ Dictionary in 2018. The dictionary already contains about 600,000 terms.
It got a new word last week, when Louise Mushikiwabo, who heads the International Organization of la Francophonie, representing French-speaking countries, proposed “techniquer” — which in her native Rwanda means figuring out creative solutions with limited resources.
Unlike past dictionaries, which were products of elite French academics, this dictionary is interactive, democratic — and a work in progress. Anybody can propose a word. A group of experts will decide whether it should be added.
So, what do non-French francophones think about the new dictionary? A stroll through a multicultural Paris neighborhood provided some insight.
Mimi, from Senegal, immediately checked out the dictionary on her smartphone. She couldn’t think of any words to propose right away, but she found the idea interesting.
Longtime resident Nicole Sika offered up “go” — which means your female friend in her native Ivory Coast — or “zo” — which means you are smartly dressed.
Other French dictionaries have expanded their lexicon. The iconic Le Petit Larousse French dictionary has added words like “taxier” — an Algerian expression meaning, not surprisingly, taxi driver. But this new, interactive dictionary is the first sponsored by France’s government, ending three centuries in which only the elite French Academy determined which words to include.
“The French no longer have a monopoly on French,” French magazine L’Express wrote recently, “and that is good news.”