French-language watchdogs attack English-language Web site
January 24, 1997
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EST
From correspondent Brian Nelson
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The laws of cyberspace are undergoing another
French authorities are launching a lawsuit against an Atlanta
university that in the eyes of French language watchdogs, had the
temerity to publish a Web site for its campus in France -- in English
Among the many things that make the French unique, their
distinctive and often poetic language ranks high.
Today, "les autorities" are obsessed with preserving the language of
Molière from the infiltration, some would actually say tidal wave
From its outpost thousands of miles from home, the eastern French
campus of Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology is the newest
Georgia Tech Lorraine, as it's known, publishes a Web page almost
entirely in English outlining its curricula and registration
Two French-language watchdog groups have gone to court seeking
fines unless the school changes course and presents a French face to
"We object to the idea that a school established in France can offer
its services on the Internet solely in English, and regulate the use
of French describing the Alsace-Lorraine region or the availability
of housing," said Marc Jobert, attorney for the language watchdog
What makes the case so intriguing is that it is not just the Web
page, but the University courses themselves that are also conducted
solely in English, as they are at Georgia Tech's campus in Atlanta.
Knowing English is a pre-requisite for admission in both locations.
French law since 1994 has banned advertisements in any other
language unless also accompanied by a French translation. Georgia
Tech's attorneys, however, argue non-French schools are exempted
from the law. Moreover, says the school's director, applying French
law to the Internet in an effort to maintain language purity in
France, is futile.
"That would mean that all of the World Wide Web would have to be
translated into French, which is what we believe these associations
want, and which would be certainly impossible," said Hans Puttgen,
director of Georgia Tech Lorraine.
French already appears on the Internet. In fact, French authorities
failed last year to prevent publication on the Web of an unauthorized
French biography of former President Francois Mitterand.
And a Georgia Tech survey has found the Web is largely English based
with 80 percent of Web users as English-speaking.
"English is going to be the dominant language of the Web for the
foreseeable future. That doesn't mean other languages won't grow on
the Web as well. But if we want to have a global network -- which is
what the Web is part of -- we need a common language," said Colleen
Kehoe of Georgia Tech.
And right now, that common language seems to be English.
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