We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). Now the French parliament is considering the making of jokes or mockery over accents a form of prohibited discrimination. It is a ban on “Glottophobia”, the French term for discrimination based on pronunciation and tone.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the opposition France Insoumise (France Unbowed) political party, has proposed outlawing mockery of accents after a controversial statement by former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon when asked by a reporter about an anti-corruption investigation of his political party. Melenchon mimicked the journalist’s accent and told her she was “talking nonsense” before turning away and saying: “Has anyone got a question in more or less comprehensible French?” The reporter was from the southwestern areas of France.
The term “glottophobia” was coined by sociolinguist Philippe Blanchet as “linguistic discrimination of all kinds” which he defines as “contempt, hate, aggression, rejection. exclusion, of people, negative discrimination actually or allegedly based on the fact of considering incorrect, inferior, bad certain linguistic forms (perceived as languages, dialects or uses of language) used by these people, generally by focusing language forms (and without always being fully aware of the magnitude of the effects on people).” The term appears to be based on the Greek glossa for tongue.
The proposal reflects the fear of many of us in the free speech community about the slippery slope of speech criminalization. Once politicians are allowed to ban or regulate speech, new limitations become impulsive and the desire for greater regulation insatiable.
Melenchon tweeted “Do people have to endure humiliation if their pronunciation is not of the standardized kind?” The answer appears to ban jokes or mockery. Presumably, the next step will be jokes or mocks over cultural or regional habits or dishes or appearances. The point is not that such mockery is appropriate but that the criminalization or regulation of speech comes at a much higher cost for society.