French lawmaker proposes bill to outlaw mockery of accents

PARIS (Reuters) - A French member of parliament has proposed that mockery of accents be outlawed, after an irate politician derided a journalist’s southwestern pronunciation before asking if anyone had a question in “understandable French”.

FILE PHOTO: Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of far-left opposition France Insoumise (France Unbowed) political party, arrives at a police headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris, France, October 18, 2018. Picture taken October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

Laetitia Avia of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party said she was proposing a bill that would classify such mockery with other forms of prohibited discrimination such as on grounds of sex or race.

She did so after a journalist from Toulouse in southwest France asked former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon about an anti-corruption investigation of his hard-left political party.

In an exchange widely relayed on media and social networks, 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 law Avia proposes would proscribe discrimination based on pronunciation, whether standardized or from a specific region of France, or from one of the countries of origin of the many people of African descent in France.

“Do you speak poorer French if you have an accent? Do people have to endure humiliation if their pronunciation is not of the standardized kind,” she said in a message on Twitter.

She said she was proposing the legislation along with other members of the ruling party, Macron’s La Republique en Marche.

“Glottophobia”, a word recently coined by a French linguist to describe discrimination based on pronunciation and tone, needed to discouraged by law, she said.

Melenchon, who has a reputation as a talented if tempestuous orator, was knocked out in the first round of the election that swept Macron to power in May 2017.

Justice officials are looking into allegations of irregular financing of his party and election campaign. This week they said he was also being investigated for intimidation of magistrates and police officers after an anti-corruption officer was jostled at his party headquarters.

Avia did not specifically say her bill was in reaction to Melenchon’s comments but she relayed TV footage of the accent-mocking exchange on her Twitter account shortly after it took place on Oct. 17.

Reporting by Myriam Rivet; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Roche