A policeman watches a protest march by. Image from freeimages.com

The Language Doth Protest Too Much? Learning from Conflict

We live in contested times. If one form of language best typifies that fact, it is the language of protest. 

It was a point driven home this week, with coverage of anti-Macron demonstrations in France all over the international news. La jeunesse emmerde le front vaccinal screamed the posters, turning on its head Macron’s own promise to (in more delicate terms) pee off the vaccine-hesitant.

Reading Between the Protest Lines

Regardless of whether we agree with the sentiment behind the cardboard, protest placards like these are valuable sources of target language in context. They have much in common with political campaign literature in this way. Both are equally handy authentic resources in miniature for the impartial language-learning observer. Namely, they’re short, snappy and contain very condensed vocabulary and grammar examples. As an added bonus, they provide very up-to-date and topical material for conversation.

Not to shy away from another side-benefit, though, their non-sanitised style is rather useful in another way. Popular protest slogans, like the above example shows, consist of highly colloquial, often profane, everyday language. As gritty as it is, it’s not a bad idea to be familiar with it. After all, learning only polite French is really learning half a language. Incidentally, If you feel the need to brush up on that first, take a look at the juvenilely tittersome Dirty French and Beyond Merde!

The Last Laugh?

After all is said and done, politics can be a dirty business, and one that all too easily sucks us into a void of despair. After de-politicising my social media streams, I try to keep a level-headed distance from adversarial politics now. Viewing it as a resource, rather than a constant rematch between tribes, makes it a lot more fun as a language learner.

That said, if you find your disagreement a heavy burden to bear, learning from protest placards is a way to have the last laugh. It’s the ultimate in turning a negative into a positive.

On that note, thank you, protesters: the word emmerder is now firmly in my Anki notes!

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