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.

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Comments on “French Legislators Outlaw Discriminating Against People Because Of Their 'Regional Accents'”

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14 Comments
James H (profile) says:

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).

James H says:

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).

Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

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