French candidates give their words

Feature written by Estelle Honnorat, Investigative Journalism Student at City, University of London.

The clock ticks down to the first round of the presidential elections on the 23nd of April. But what do the words say about their policies?

Words do lie

Marine Le Pen — known for her nationalist positions — uses the word “foreigner” only ten times in her manifesto, whereas François Fillon uses it three times much in his. The electorate already knows Le Pen’s views so she does not have to reemphasise them. However François Fillon needs to steal votes from Le Pen so uses language that will appeal to her supporters.

Marine Lepen’s words

The National Front candidate expresses her policies through other lexical fields. When she tackles her economic measures, Le Pen will likely say “national preference”, for example when she states her plans to tax employers up to 18% for hiring non- French workers. She also plans to suppress the law of the soil and only accept French pupils free-of-charge to public schools. Her nationalist tone is mainly focused around the word “France”, while her constant use of “against” illustrates her anti-establishment stance.

François Fillon’s Word

The winner’s speech

“When they are doing well in the polls, the candidates will use more imperatives and make plans for the future” says Pascal Marchand, a French linguist. Emmanuel Macron had led the polls for the last month, but Marine Le Pen sounds more like a planer by using words like “restore” and “create” several times in her manifesto.

Emmanuel Macron’s words

Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon address their speeches directly to entrepreneurs and to the world of finance. The Communist Party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon just overtook the left party candidate Benoît Hamon. Mélenchon used to be seen as unreliable and naïve by the French electorate. To counteract this reputation, his spin-doctors chose to use a more specialised vocabulary. Nevertheless, Mélenchon still uses emotive language that stresses social cohesion; putting “us”, “social” and “public” in the heart of his campaign.

“Speech is a campaign element but does not make the elections itself” Pascal Marchand, Linguist.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s word

All talk and no action

Unemployment, decommissioning nuclear power, general government deficit reduction…French citizens are used to broken promises. According to Pascal Marchand, “Speech is a campaign element but does not make the elections itself”. A recent IRAMUTEQ* study showed that, during the primary elections, the French public didn’t vote for the candidates with similar policies to their first choice candidate who lost a previous round.

“When they win, candidates tend to take credit for the success and when they lose they prefer to assign it to a context”, Marchand says. Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon competed for French presidential elections in 2012. They both completely altered their rhetoric to better fit the current situation. If the words candidates use shape their identity, context might for once really determine the outcome of the presidential elections considering 55% of the French population plan to opt for a blank ballot.

Benoît Hamon’s words