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French-language watchdogs attack English-language Web site

tech January 24, 1997
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EST

From correspondent Brian Nelson

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The laws of cyberspace are undergoing another test.

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 only.

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 of English.

From its outpost thousands of miles from home, the eastern French campus of Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology is the newest bogeyman.


Georgia Tech Lorraine, as it's known, publishes a Web page almost entirely in English outlining its curricula and registration information.

Two French-language watchdog groups have gone to court seeking fines unless the school changes course and presents a French face to the Internet.

"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 group.


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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