Les Jeux Olympiques de Londres ?

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics held many surprises, not least the “Queen” parachuting in. But one surprise that had some Londoners scratching their heads was the official announcements being made first in French and only then in English.

At first sight this does seem odd, given this year’s Games are taking place in an English-speaking country. In fact, the International Olympic Committee uses both French and English as its official languages. So all Games feature these two languages as well as a third – the host country’s official language – if necessary.

The use of these two languages as the official languages of a competition will be familiar to anyone who has sat through the Eurovision Song Contest, willing their favourite entry to avoid the dreaded “nul points”.

But why is the French announcement made before the English in an Anglophone country?

Well, it seems because the IOC said so. The committee is, after all, based in Lausanne in Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

What’s more, the founder of the IOC and “father” of the modern Olympics was a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He saw the Games as an embodiment of noble ideals with a role in promoting peace and cross-cultural understanding. In addition, he believed the competition itself, the struggle to overcome opponents, was more important than winning:

L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.

Perhaps English speakers should bear this in mind, and this time be content with second place?

• Jon Wedderburn is an expert on multilingual content for print and online at WorldAccent Translation, London

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5 Comments

  1. Posted 5 August 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for explaining that. I must admit I was sat scratching my head during the opening ceremony ;)

    Barry

  2. Dianne brown
    Posted 5 August 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Sour grapes over Agincorte.

  3. Posted 5 August 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    William Penny Brooks was an English doctor who in 1865 founded the national Olympian association ,In 1890 Bron Pierrie de Coubertor visited. Brooks and was so impressed he took the idea back to Paris and started the IOC .

  4. Clay
    Posted 6 August 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    William Penny Brookes – an Englishman – is known as the founder of the modern Olympics – the Frenchman Coubertin simply continued Brookes’ dream after he died. And it is claimed that the first modern Olympics was held in 1866 at the English town of Much Wenlock.

    To have French translation (especially before English) in the London games merely out of some sort of misguided international courtesy is idiotic. And it not just the opening ceremony – we have French translation at most events. Yet is by no means consistent – for instance, there are no French translation announcements in the Olympic Boxing arena. The spectators in the various Olympic stadiums who have to put up with his tedium don’t require it, and TV viewers around the world obviously don’t need it as they have commentary in their own language.

  5. Edward MacMillan
    Posted 7 August 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    At first I thought I was hearing things and I then realised I wasn’t. Obviously the French are peeved at losing the games so this is their way of getting their own back :-)
    French translation, if at all necessary should have been LAST!

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