(asked by Arthur Goldhammer from Cambridge, Massachusetts)

In other words, why do French speakers say “Internet” (as if it was a proper noun) and not “L’Internet” as a direct translation of “The Internet”?

As mentioned in a previous answer, I’ll try to answer as few questions about language as possible but I find this one quite interesting (and by the way, it was not directly asked to me, but I “stole” it from a blog -after approval of the author).

So, why is it this way?

Truth is, I don’t know for sure, but I have a few guesses.

First, in English, “internet” sounds like a common noun. It’s a net or rather an interconnection of nets. As a consequence it seems very logical in English to say “the Internet” and not just “Internet”.

Thing is that in France, “internet” sounds like a proper noun, or even a brand name, as “net” doesn’t mean anything in French and very few French speakers know it’s the English term for “filet” or “réseau”.
Because of this, it wouldn’t be very logical to add an article to the word, as very few proper nouns (mostly geographical ones) take an article in French.

Now, if I think this is the reason why the Internet never became “L’Internet” when it became widely spread in France, this doesn’t explain why the very first people to use the Internet in the country didn’t say it.
Because when the Internet was still in its infancy in France, pretty much all of its users were computer-scientists and it’s safe to assume that most of them had a good understanding of English (at least a theoretical one), so why didn’t they say “L’Internet”.

Well, I think it’s because back in the days they used the Internet through TELNET and well, TELNET doesn’t take an article, so they logically started using the term Internet without an article.

I’m not sure if it’s the right reason, but I don’t know what it can be if it’s not that.

On a side note, you’ll notice that you hear more and more “le net” in France. Why? I guess because it comes from people that know English and it’s slowly spreading, because French people just love to shorten words and “Net” would just sound strange.

On another side not, back in the days, French people said “le Minitel” and not just “Minitel.” Why?
I’m not sure as I was quite young when it appeared, but I assume that because it was a national thing, it was officially introduced as “le Minitel”.
Also, in French people’s mind, the Minitel was more an object (the actual screen with fold-up keyboard) than a network or a more abstract thing, whereas the Internet was seen (and still is for certain people) as a quite abstract thing, partly because most people don’t know/understand how it works, partly because French people have sometimes hard time to understand that something so big can be totally decentralized.

And I’ll conclude with a third side note (which could deserve its own entry) which is about the use of “le” in English when people want to sound French and/or when they use French words.
Please, English speakers, unless you speak a really good French and master very well the use of articles, avoid using “le” in English.
This for many reasons:
The main one being that French nouns have a gender, and “le” is the masculine form, but there’s also a “la” and even a “les” for the plural form.
So, no “le” is not the equivalent of “the”, it is only when the thing you’re talking about is masculine and singular. And I won’t even get into the details of the fact that no, “the” and “le, la, les” are not exactly the same things.
The other one being that when the noun is an object, not a subject, there are many cases where one won’t use “le” but something else (I’m thinking of “du” for example).
There are others (if you give me specific examples, I’ll detail them).

And just remember that using “le” in an English text to sound French might appear “cool” or whatnot to a English speaking reader, but this will appear very lame and stupid to a French speaking reader.
Your pick.

pixel Why don’t French people use the definite article when they mention the Internet?

One Response to “Why don’t French people use the definite article when they mention the Internet?”

  1. Je pense plutôt que c’est parce que internet ne signifie pas le concept de brancher des ordinateurs en réseau, en réalité, c’est le nom de l’entreprise qui l’a inventé. C’est pourquoi en France nous ne l’avons pas classé dans la catégorie des noms communs. Dans les autres pays, comme internet est le logiciel le plus répandu (et de loin), ils l’ont tout simplement fait passer dans le langage courant.

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