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French parliament set to ban discrimination on basis of accent

Prime Minister Jean Castex's south-west accent was mocked as "a bit rugby" by some French media when he was appointed head of government.
Prime Minister Jean Castex's south-west accent was mocked as "a bit rugby" by some French media when he was appointed head of government. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Discrimination against someone on the basis of their accent looks set to become illegal in France after MPs in the French lower house of parliament approved a new bill on Thursday.

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The law, proposing a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison and a 45,000 euro fine, was approved by a vote of 98 to 3.

Discrimination on the basis of accent was described in the Assemblée Nationale as “a form of racism” while a number of MPs told of their own personal experiences.

Maina Sage, an MP for French Polynesia, spoke of the difficulties that can be encountered by people like her, who come from outside the French mainland.

Difficulties and mockery

Patrician Miralles, the daughter of North African parents, told of the mockery she had endured because of her Algerian accent which she has now modified. She briefly resurrected it in the Assemblée yesterday for the benefit of fellow MPs.

Centre-right MP Christophe Euzet insisted that while there is rightly much emphasis on visible minorities, the problems of “audible minorities” are somewhat neglected.

At the time of his appointment, Prime Minister Jean Castex's south-west accent was described by some French media as "a bit rugby", referring to the sport's heartland in France.

However MP Jean Lassalle, also from south-western France with a famously pronounced accent, voted against the bill. “I am not asking for charity. I’m not demanding to be protected because I am who I am”, he argued.

Last week he tweeted that France had "sunk very low" and that he did not want a law "protecting us from small-minded people."

In 2018, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) movement, was caught on camera being rude to a journalist with a southern accent who asked him a question at the National Assembly.

Jean-Luc Melenchon was convicted Monday for shoving a police officer during a search of his party's offices last year.
Jean-Luc Melenchon was convicted Monday for shoving a police officer during a search of his party's offices last year. AFP/File

"Can someone ask me a question in French? And (make it) a bit more understandable...," Melenchon said addressing a group of reporters in a video clip which was then widely circulated on social media.

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