French Legislators Outlaw Discriminating Against People Because Of Their 'Regional Accents'

from the most-French-legislation-ever-passed dept

France's relationship with free speech is strange. On one hand, no one protests like the French protest. Given the nation's predilection for targeted vandalism and guillotine construction, it would seem the government would have taken notice of citizens' right to engage in speech that's right on the edge of targeted violence… all without losing sight of the importance of that speech.

But for every bit of slack cut to protesters, the government still targets the people's freedom to express themselves. This results in more protests and more backtracking, but the country's government is surprisingly resilient. It just shrugs off the latest protests and tries again.

The government has passed laws that allow the literal police to literally police the internet for speech the government doesn't like. This law was struck down by the courts but there can be little doubt a replacement is in the works. The government has also sided with extremists by engaging in speech-related prosecutions that target citizens who've criticized extremists. The firebombing of a French satirical newspaper by Islamic extremists hasn't nudged the dial towards freer speech, unfortunately. The government has also made insulting certain politicians a crime and has given itself broad powers to take down internet speech.

So, it's unsurprising the government has gotten itself into the business of regulating ridicule. A new law forbids citizens from denying services to other citizens who may be sporting the "wrong" accents, targeting a cornerstone of French culture: disparaging of people who "aren't from around here."

The Assemblée Nationale of France made discrimination based on regional accents an actionable offense Friday, adopting a bill proposed by deputy Chrisophe Euzet by a vote of 98 to 3. The new law punishes accent discrimination in the same manner as discrimination based on ethnicity, gender or disability. Those who violate the law may face up to three years in prison along with a 45,000 euro fine.

I can't even imagine how this will be enforced, other than "arbitrarily" and "badly." There's some basis for the law, I guess. A report by the Committee on Constitutional Laws claims 27% of respondents have been "mocked" for their accents and 16% have been discriminated against because their accent wasn't considered acceptable.

The Committee -- and the legislators approving this bill -- are hoping to create a cultural shift toward acceptance and tolerance. This shift will be encouraged with a legislative hammer, as the Committee's report insinuates.

The present bill aims to promote the diversity of pronunciation of the French language by prohibiting “discrimination by accent” that we see factually in functions involving, in particular, public expression: the test intends to change attitudes overtime by initiating the modification of the law in force.

"Cultural shifts over time" are possible. Not all of them require new laws and fines. I don't condone discrimination but a new law that hinges on characteristics that are far from immutable opens the door for the government to regulate any number of interactions between private companies and their customers based on little more than the sort of claims that surface in questionable Yelp reviews.

I'm of two minds about this. I don't care for baseless discrimination over something as insignificant as regional dialects. But I also recognize the regional dialect thing can go both ways, allowing those with "wrong" accents to be just as discriminatory against those they think are high-class assholes who deserve to be given a ride just because they happen to come from the "right" places. (See also: Deliverance, Southern small town speed traps, etc.) This is a uniquely French way of dealing with a deep-seated problem, even if evidence of the problem and/or its deep-seatedness doesn't necessarily appear to be on the record.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: accents, france, free speech


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • identicon
    Bobvious, 4 Dec 2020 @ 4:11am

    I don't have a clue so

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 4 Dec 2020 @ 5:09am

    Hmm

    "The firebombing of a French satirical newspaper by Islamic extremists hasn't nudged the dial towards freer speech..."

    Well, it was really likely to was it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    James H, 4 Dec 2020 @ 5:21am

    Is the law outlawing making fun of people for their accents? Or does it outlaw discrimination in services like housing, retail, etc. and in employment? If the latter, they're not targeting speech, but something that actually harms folks. I don't know anything about French politics or society, but it also strikes me that discriminating against people based on their accents may also serve as a proxy for other types of discrimination (i.e., racial or religious).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      To understand the issue, we have to go back some centuries. Historically speaking, there where a time when people from different regions in France couldn't really understand each other since they spoke wildly different dialects.

      Google Languages of d'Oïl or Languages of d'oc for some info.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 4 Dec 2020 @ 7:20am

      Re:

      My guess is that they want to ban refusing a job or a house when speaking the "wrong" accent. I agree with the principle, but doubt it will be very effective. If somebody doesn't like to rent out a house or provide a job to somebody because of the French equivalent of a Hill-Billy (or New York, or Texas) accent, and it is forbidden by law, they will think of some other reason to not rent it to them. In France, "wrong" accents most likely are those of North African immigrants, the equivalent of Ebonics in the US.

      Reminds me, France still has to do something to compensate for the historical suppression of minority languages, such as Basque, Breton and Flemish, which wasn't subtle at all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:05am

    Making laws that outlaw intolerance won’t make people less intolerant. It’ll only make people better at hiding their intolerance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2020 @ 4:41pm

      Re:

      And then some non-politician will run for office, espouse their intolerant views and all the chuckleheads who have suppressed those same views for decades will come out of the woodwork in fervent support.

      Of course there is nothing anyone can do to make people more tolerant so the answer seems to be to replace humans with a more civilized race.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Dec 2020 @ 11:06am

        there is nothing anyone can do to make people more tolerant

        Well, yeah. You can’t force people to be tolerant of one another — by law or by threat. All you can do is ask them to try and hope for the best. The rest is in their hands.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:38am

    No more Hee Haw or The Beverly Hillbillies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:53am

    Oh those French and their outrageous accents!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2020 @ 7:33am

    Not Unique

    This is a uniquely French way of dealing with a deep-seated problem, even if evidence of the problem and/or its deep-seatedness doesn't necessarily appear to be on the record.

    There is not a politician in the world that hasn't tried to solve a social behavior problem with the flick of a pen. As if their missing signature was the sole reason people were behaving that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 4 Dec 2020 @ 1:17pm

    At least.

    They protest.
    Isnt if interesting that the french know MORE about whats happening int he gov. then we do??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.