Francophonie in African Sports.. Preserving and Enriching the French Language

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Sport provides a remarkable arena for the evolution of the French language. In Africa, French is enriched by new expressions and terms derived from local languages. On the occasion of International Francophonie Day, this Wednesday, March 20th, let’s explore some expressions used in African football.

The song “Coup du marteau” by Ivorian artist Tam Sir became the unofficial anthem of the last Africa Cup of Nations. But “coup du marteau” is also an expression: for Ivorian football enthusiasts, it signifies the art of turning around a match that seems to be going awry. To celebrate their goals, Congolese players danced the “fimbu.” The term, which means “whip” in Lingala, is now synonymous with decisively beating an opponent.

Thierno Diallo is a football match commentator for Senegalese television. He uses both French and Wolof in his broadcasts. Translating literal expressions into Wolof allows him to enrich French. “We are now moving away from the classic framework of commentary, so they use expressions with humor, some tease inside. For example, to say a goal, some use a Wolof expression that translates to ‘He burned the nets’ or ‘He made the nets tremble’,” he explains to Kaourou Magassa.

Each country enriches French with its own words. In Mali, for instance, to resolve a dispute, people are asked to “put the ball on the ground.” And when they settle, it’s “zero-zero,” an expression stemming from Bambara.

Preserving the French Language
Karim Baldé is a sports journalist. During the last Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, he commented on several football matches. He strives to preserve the French language in his work, especially to facilitate understanding for his predominantly French-speaking audience.

“In radio, we are truly the eyes of the listeners who, by definition, cannot see the match. We have to make them understand what’s happening, and that’s where the choice of words becomes even more important. For me, if we want to protect the French language, in a general sense, we must avoid Anglicisms as much as possible.

It’s very difficult. The example of ‘corner’ is interesting because it’s an English term, but I remember Jean-Michel Larqué [French sports commentator] using the term ‘coup de pied de coin.’ So, it made people smile, but when there are alternatives, we should use them,” he emphasizes.

Soukaina Sghir

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