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Google Government Businesses The Internet Politics

France National Library Attacks Google Book Effort 899

Posted by Zonk
from the french-say-no-to-american-bits dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The National Library of France is not happy with Google's effort to scan and integrate millions of books into its Web search. Jean-Noel Jeanneney, President of the library, wrote in an editorial that he is concerned Google's initiative to digitalize volumes at five leading libraries will reflect a unipolar worldview dominated by the English language and American culture. Jeanneney is pushing for European libraries to follow in Google's footsteps. Google said it was surprised by Jeanneney's remarks and noted, 'This is a first step for us; we can't do everything at once.'"
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France National Library Attacks Google Book Effort

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  • by shadowknot (853491) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @03:59PM (#11747884) Journal
    It seems to me that this is just a kneejerk response to the elemental truth that English has superseeded French as the international language, French was of course once considered the language of diplomacy :-)
  • In French? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cyocum (793488) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:02PM (#11747932) Homepage

    The link in the article is to the original French in Le Monde. Do I speak/read French? Yes. Do I want to read some French guy whine about French becoming a minority language on the Web (like it isn't in real life)? No, not really

  • by sulli (195030) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:02PM (#11747933) Journal
    This from the monument to Mitterrand pork [] that built its library stacks in glass towers, thus baking its books in the sun every day of the year?

    With that record in book preservation, I doubt that they would be a very effective judge of what Google has to offer.

  • Unipolar worldview? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dsplat (73054) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:12PM (#11748079)
    This is interesting on so many levels. First of all, non-French-speaking people are as unlikely to read any French books online as non-English-speakers are to read English books. Secondly, I can't believe that English and French literature come from entirely disparate worldviews that always disagree. Third, I strongly suspect that some of the books Google will be putting online will be translations of French literature. Presumably, many of those are as faithful as possible to the original.
  • by FidelCatsro (861135) <fidelcatsro AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:15PM (#11748125) Journal
    If google were to chronical only the american works and american literature , then label it as a world history or a total world collection of some sort, then i would agree he had a point .However google to my knowlidge are not doing this , they are just creating an international online library.We are all free to do this if we want (with non copyright material,well non copyright in our respective nations).
    It is the duty of the national librarys to preserve the literary history of the country , now what is stopping Them from doing this , im sure plenty of companys would be willing to sponsor such an initiative , not to mention state funding.
    If you want the history of your land and the history of its views of the world preserved for the world to enjoy , then stop moaning and start scanning
  • Re:Don't panic. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:16PM (#11748144)
    they instead called for European libraries to follow Google's lead.

    No doubt he's delighted to note that one European library, at Oxford University [], is way ahead of him on that.
  • by Skynyrd (25155) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:20PM (#11748194) Homepage
    Americans are already pissed at the French for not helping with Iraq, hence the "freedom fries" name-change-fad that happened a while ago.

    That isn't why I hate the French. I hate them because of how I was treated when I traveled in Europe. Every country I traveled in had easy to get along with people, and ass hats. The French had a far greater percentage of ass-hats than the rest of Europe.
  • by John3 (85454) <john3@ c o r n e l l> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:21PM (#11748196) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia [] has over 450,000 English entries, over 200,000 German articles, and over 100,000 Japanese articles. France is in fourth with over 83,000 articles.
  • Re:Great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TiggertheMad (556308) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:54PM (#11748670) Homepage Journal
    there is a point to be made here about the state of the internet in general. nearly half of the world's population are indian or chinese. they have cultures and histories longer and deeper than that of western europe and certainly north america. yet, on the web those cultures are all but invisible.

    And I'm sure if they want to fund scanning their entire culture into databases, that Google will be willing to index them. However, since the half of the world that is shelling out cash for internet services isn't Chinese or Indian, can you really blame Google?

    History is written by those with a sensable businuess plan.
  • Re:Don't panic. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Karhgath (312043) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:12PM (#11748905)
    I'd say Quebecers are probably more 'french' in everyday life than the french. Just go to France, listen to people talk in the street. Then go to Quebec and do the same. You'll probably understand the French a lot more, in some place nearly every word is english. Ok, you probably won't understand because of the accent, but they still use lots english words, and mostly bastardize english words. The later is the worst. Parking, Footing, etc. It's not only the youth, just watch French TV, it's incredible how anglicized they are becoming. All the 'in' expression are bastardized english.

    Quebecers understand that english is the business language, but in everyday life, they speak better french than the French themselves, although with their own slangs and all.

    The 'american way' infiltrated France at the core, while in Quebec, people stood up to keep their own culture as the root, but adopted the rest. With the core(the youth) as it is today, France of tomorrow will probably be totally anglicized, while Quebec will fare better. By how much? I don't know, but there is a serious problem in France.
  • by abb3w (696381) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:25PM (#11749053) Journal
    SO whats stopping him from volunteering and starting to scan/digitize other works?

    Money-- and he has been. From an automatic translation (ironically via...) [] of the editorial:

    I will be, of course, the last to neglect the accomplished efforts: the virtual library developed by the national Library of France (BNF) under the name of Gallica - which proposes already 80 000 works on line and 70 000 images, and which will offer soon the reproduction of large French newspapers since the XIX E century - is installed with the gratitude of many researchers and citizens, and it serves our influence around the world; but it saw only State grants, inevitably limited, and our own resources, with difficulty and valiantly mobilized. Our annual expenditure amounts only to one thousandths of that announced by Google.
    Or, in other words: "Hey, morons! I've been working on this, but I can't match their efforts when I'm being outspent by this much!!!

  • by Thangodin (177516) <<ac.ocitapmys> <ta> <ratnele>> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:32PM (#11749137) Homepage
    ...that French is dying. A living language doesn't get prickly or defensive, and it does not try to impose linguistic purity the way the Acadamie Francais does. Culture grows synthetically, by combining influences from various sources. Purity is death. Look at the wonderful things that the Nazis did for Germany in the name of cultural purity--they killed the culture of Beethoven, Mozart, Goethe, and Kant. If you want to preserve something, you pickle it in formaldehyde--but first, you have to kill it.

    If French has a word that English doesn't have, English speakers will happily pick it up, and it will soon appear in the Oxford English dictionary. The same is not true for French. And if the French are bad in this regard, the Quebecois are 10 times worse. The dream of the separatists in Quebec is a country inhabited only by "pur laine", descendants of the original French settlers. In fact, Quebec's cultural influence peaked in the late 60's, when Montreal was New Orleans North, a mixture of races, religions, languages, and traditions. After that the separtists started driving out, in Jacques Parizeau's words, "money and the ethnic vote."

    If the French and the Quebecois get their wish, they may preserve their culture, but it will be dead, and no one will care.
  • by MikeCapone (693319) <[skelterhell] [at] []> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:40PM (#11749234) Homepage Journal
    What's so bad about creating a word in your language?

    The English language is full of englicized foreign word.

    I really don't get why the "email -> courriel" ("email" stands for "electronic mail" and "courriel" stands for "courrier electronique" -- same logic) example gets thrown around as if it was evidence of something really terrible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:11PM (#11749558)
    sure... not all Quebeckers are like that. That's why they never got their 50%+1. But it is true that rabid francaphones are a problem.

    You want more examples?

    Selling Nuclear reactors to oil rich countries that like to gas kurds. (Iraq)

    Open Air Nuclear testing after the rest of the world has pledged not to do such things. Apparent reason for test? To prove that Chirac has big stones.

    Invasions of African nations that piss them off. Which would be fine except for the small matter of criticizing Americans for unilateral invasions not supported by the "International Community". "International Community" apparently means "France".

    Basically France is a country with an inferiority complex. Sort of like the Arab world although not as bad...
  • by drgonzo59 (747139) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:17PM (#11749612)
    Well that was my point, they don't have the resourses but they complain and complain. They tried legal action against Google before for not blocking certain websites in France. And now more complaining. They say that Google will index more English text and thus end up greatly influencing the public with their bias. Well that is what the news agencies, government and big companies have been doing forever because they are bigger and have more resources.

    I am sure Google will not stop any French company or thier goverment from creating their own search engine and index all the books they want. If they end up making a better product even I'll start using thier engine instead of Google. And the money can come from the department they have for preserving the purity of French culture and language by banning the use of words like 'e-mail'. The bottom line is if they really care about it, they'll do something, but it seems that they just want to complain some more.
  • No, I'm afraid so. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by billstewart (78916) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:43PM (#11749834) Journal
    It's not like stupid jingoism isn't common in other parts of the world too, but this particular display of it was done by some American politicians and I've seen at least one restaurant (in Hawaii, a society that's multicultural enough that you can get saimin at MacDonalds') that actually had Freedom Fries on their menu without a politician telling them to. There were a couple of years of anti-French propaganda going on; I'm not sure who was behind it, but the "France Surrenders At The Smallest Threat" meme metastasized for a while while they were doing it.

    And the current Bush Administration propagandists have always made sure to refer to the Iraqi resistence as "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "rebels" rather than "resistence", which would have invoked memories of the bravery of the French Resistence as well as implying that Americans (er, excuse me, the Coalition of the Willing) were the invading Bad Guys.

    On the other hand, "CheeseEating Surrender Monkeys" was quite definitely a joke.

  • by sxmjmae (809464) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:52PM (#11749943)
    The French where once the most powerful nation in the world (or aleast they thought or still think so). It went a little bit to their heads and they still feel like they are the center of the universe.

    The Egos of country does not decrease at the same rate as their world influence.

    The same will happen the United States. Right now the Americans have a Big Ego. Everything has to be their way because they think it is the most correct. In a 100 years when their economy is in the toilet and India or China is center stage the Americans will still have a big ego and will be bitching about same things the French are now. It happen to all nations and when they fall it can be particularly sad how they act.
    the French are complaining about now.

  • by Synn (6288) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:56PM (#11749982)
    The fact is that France, because of the Academie Francaise, is preventing language degeneration, unlike in the US, where any word you want you can put in a dictionary and people will start to use it.

    Actually, thank you for this explanation as I hadn't considered that this was what France was doing. I've been REALLY concerned about how the English language is going to look in 50 years.

    I mean, languages evolve and change and so on, you can't stop it, but if I were to pick up and read something written 500 years ago in English I could probably make out what it says fairly easily. Some of the words will have changed, there may be some words I don't know, but in general it'll still be the English I use today.

    But in the last 10 years alone the internet has made all sorts of abbreviations like "u, 2, thx, cya, teh, k, gtg" and so on so common that it scares me to think what the language will be like in the next decade, nevermind the next century.
  • by PsiPsiStar (95676) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:02PM (#11750043)
    English has evolved and degenerated so much that in fact there are now at least two english languages: American english and British english, with different spelling and grammar rules.

    Yeah, and I live in the Philippines, which seems to have its own dialect of English. They tend to treat mass nouns as count nouns, for example. They "take some medicines" or have "a bowl of fruits."

    But there's a simple solution to all of this. Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft.

    Most users of MS Word install the program with default US English, so they get corrected when using British English. A fair number don't know what's going on, and just think "Oh, so I was spelling it wrong all these years." Combine that with American movies and foreign call centers which service mostly Americans and standardize to American English, typically, and you'll see that this fragmentation problem is in the proces of reversing itself.

    I've never been a fan of cultural hegemony, especially with folks as nice and friendly as the Brits, but I have to admit, it feels good.

    Anyways, languages are natural. They're supposed to evolve and adapt. Degeneration is far too perjorative a word for the situation. It implies a lack of moral fiber which is simply irrelevant. Say what you will about the 'degeneration' of the English language, but I can understand Brits just fine. The problem that you present is a straw man with no real consequences.
  • Spelling rules (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flossie (135232) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:37PM (#11750429) Homepage
    I've never read Chaucer, but I do know for a fact that France is the only country to have such an institution.

    Standard German is also decided [] from on high, but not necessarily as efficiently as in France.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:44PM (#11752256)
    Frankly, you can't understand this issue if you are not close or part of a linguistic minority.

    Using english words so that the originals are lost, replacing verbs tenses and sentence structures with the ones from english so that the correct way of expresisng something is forgotten are real problems and are indeed a case of a language degenerating.

    It is degenerating because ma lot of the richness of a language is lost this way and the replacements form inspired from the english from the internet and such, not Shakespeare of even common newpaper and magazines english.

    So in the end, the expressive power of the language is diminished. That is why I would agree with calling it degenerating.

    There were times when my language was close to extinction, it is now getting much better but for a long time having a sloppy way of expressing yourself and using english terms were popular and seen as "cool". Hopefully no longer.
  • by Astolpho (861760) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @01:44PM (#11757030)
    Here we go, the debate is joined. I'm certainly willing to concede that the epithet used in Le Monde to deride American geopolitical influence is hyperpuissance, not hyper-pouvoir. You're aware that the word carries a negative connotation, correct?

    Moreover, you're absolutely correct that Jeanneney describes the Google initiative, praises it (as Messianic if I recall correctly -- there's your baroque expression), and encourages France, and all of Europe, to do the same.

    Where we differ is how we perceive the manner in which he presented that message. I don't think, sans rose-tinted glasses, you can read the editorial and not see that the author is threatening the French people with an American stranglehold on the world of ideas. Moreover, irote, since you appear to be aware that a school called the ENA (l'école national d'administration) has produced somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of French senior government ministers over the past 20 years, I assume that you are also aware that almost 5 years ago, a farmer named José Bové destroyed a McDonalds (which, by the way, is an American company!), and became a national hero. Moroever, that the USA is right now engaged in a war in Iraq that France opposes strongly. So when a relatively high-level public minister publishes an editorial in France's leading daily damning one of the most significant developments in the world of ideas with faint praise, and suggesting that a parallel system be established to act as a counterweight, I start looking for subtext among the artifacts of French literary style.

    The author is not merely saying that English is the lingua franca of academic and web discourse. As you point out, that's pretty obvious. He is saying that Google's initiative will warp French ideas to the American context. Reread this section:

    Il eût été délétère et détestable pour l'équilibre de la nation, pour l'image et la connaissance qu'elle avait d'elle-même, de son passé, des événements, lumineux ou sombres, qu'il nous revenait de commémorer, d'aller chercher dans les seules bases de données anglaises ou américaines un récit et une interprétation qui y étaient biaisés de multiples façons : Le Mouron rouge écrasant Quatre-vingt-treize, les vaillants aristocrates britanniques triomphant des jacobins sanguinaires, la guillotine occultant les droits de l'homme et les intuitions fulgurantes de la Convention. Cet exemple est instructif, et il nous met en garde.

    The author is alleging something stronger than an "Anglo-Saxon" discourse. He alleges a displacement of history and historical works from French culture by an American initiative to digitize American and English works. Presumably when Google gets to Madame Bovary (in the public domain, in the holdings of Harvard, etc.) they will translate the Baz Luhrmann version, and in Jean-Noël Jeanneney's mind, the French world of ideas will suffer a mortal blow.

    Can you not see the absurdity in this situation? Google is digitizing books, and instead of suggesting the merest facade of an attempt at a cooperative measure, Jeanneney hopped on the "American domination" bandwagon. That may be the quickest way to get results in French politics, but I continue to find it contemptible. No matter how hard I try, I can't construe Jeanneney's remarks in a positive light.



"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen