March 3, 2024

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Between tattoos in French and English, a true love story

Between tattoos in French and English, a true love story

I have been tattooing in France since 2019 – one of the main themes of my PhD thesis in English Studies – and since English is my mother tongue, I spend my days observing the skin of the French people around me and searching for words. Their bodies were inked. According to reporter Aurélien Colly, on the Radio France podcast, in 2010, 10% of French people were tattooed; They were 18% in 2018Now it is 20%.

Tattoos can be considered a pattern Fashion, and just like fashion trends, some trends come and go. Trendy fonts have been dominant for a long time Asian characters, I put forward the idea that today they enthrone tattoos in English. There we could see the simple continuation of the story Historical and cultural romance Between the English-speaking world and France.

For the purposes of my thesis, I published a survey on social networks to which 1452 French people responded; 602 indicated that they chose a word, phrase or more for their tattoo; These tattoos were printed on bodies in more than 19 languages, including English (a total of 826 character tattoos were included in the study).

Tell about his life

Tattoos with letters can be considered “Life Characters” Describes the life, ideas and feelings of the wearer. For example, According to a study conducted in 2019, women suffering from breast cancer or endometriosis get tattoos for two reasons: to integrate themselves into the community of women suffering from one of these diseases and to represent their struggle against the disease or the suffering it causes. To establish the themes in this study, we followed methods Basic theory It involves collecting data to highlight the social processes underlying the subjective experience, trajectories and practices of the people studied. Thanks to the collected data, I was able to identify recurring themes.

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Songs as a source of inspiration

The most common theme refers to English popular culture and mainly English lyrics. It's not surprising: step Ministry of Culture83% of French people listen to music in a language other than French, despite trying Touban ActVoted in 1994, then modified in 2016, to encourage the French to listen to French music.

98 music-related tattoos represent a variety of inspirations and eras with the 1954 song. smile From Charlie Chaplin to the song And a light From Linkin Park since 2017. The woman with the “smiley” tattoo explains:

The word “smile” reminds me to smile even if it's not in my heart. In English, because it's the title of Charlie Chaplin's song, it's wonderful and reflects what I had in mind.

In A similar study, researchers established that in Mexico, lettered tattoos often contained rap lyrics and prayers. In my study, the phrase “only God can judge me” appeared on the bodies of four tattooed women, but none of them knew that the phrase came from the North American rapper's eponymous song. Tupac. One of the tattooed women explains the reasons for this choice as follows:

“The tattoo was really good in English. By the way, it's a phrase that a lot of people already have tattooed but I think it's a really cute phrase. »

He felt a connection to the phrase and its content, but he was one of 178 survey participants who did not speak English — less than 30% of respondents. A number that resonates with tattooists Asian writing Unable to read the message themselves: North American pop singer Ariana Grande is part of According to Ministry of CultureDespite school programs that introduce foreign languages ​​from kindergarten and allow them to continue their learning, only 31% of French people say they have mastered English. across the school.

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Lots of multilinguals

According to my research, despite the common prejudice of associating people with tattoos with uneducated rebels, people who speak only one language are a minority, or even marginalized population. Different personalities. In a study I conducted, 73% of tattooed people spoke two languages ​​and half spoke three languages. According to Ministry of Culture, 44% of French people say they have mastered a foreign language; 31%, so most of them, it's English.

Chart showing spoken languages ​​and watermarked languages.

A tattooed man with “Nevermore” and “Forevermore” tattoos says he knows 20 languages:

“I studied English, Italian, Mandarin, Russian, and other languages ​​I no longer spoke for fun: Norwegian, Arabic, Hebrew, Finnish, Icelandic, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, and after an eternity Danish began for fun. Latin, Greek, and Tolkien's imagination. Quenya and Sindarin – and I'm currently trying to learn Ojibwa. »

Some ideas and prejudices about tattooed people no longer correspond to reality – if they were ever founded. Today, there are many people who are fluent in the language they choose to get tattooed.

The dominant Anglo-Saxon culture

The group of survey participants was selected according to two criteria: having a tattoo in English and speaking French. So it is not surprising that the results show that English is the most tattooed or second most spoken language. On the other hand, the study reveals that less than a quarter of the participants had tattoos in their mother tongue. This shows that the French prefer to wear characters written in a language other than their own.

According to the results of this study, the choice of a tattoo in English is often connected to two elements: the aesthetics of the tattoo (255 tattoos) and the appearance of the tattoo phrase (193 tattoos).

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The tattooist explained to me that he chose “love” and “hate” for his knuckles because, unlike the French words “amour” and “hate,” which are tattooed on the thumb, the number of letters corresponds to the fingers. Visual impact. This tattoo may have been inspired by the movie Night of the Hunter.

A tattoo that can already be seen in Charles Lawton's 1955 film _The Night of the Hunter_ has been picked up by many without knowing the reference.
CC BY

According to Jean, one of the tattoo artists interviewed, the easy presence of English in the linguistic landscape in France influences the choice of tattoo:

“In fact, the French want an English that stands apart from the French. They want to be different from the French. As a result, they create texts in English… We cannot get rid of the graphic or cinematic culture that has planted in us the whole English environment. 20 years of immersion in it today, 30 years of immersion in English. Let's go.”

One of Louisa's tattoos.

This bath of English creates a familiarity that some French people grow up with and that resonates with the global culture they identify with. One of the participants, a tailor by profession, has five tattoos, three of which are in English: “Never forget your freedom”, “Cry baby” and “By hand” (“N'oubli Jamez ta liberté”, “Pleurnicheuse”, and “By hand” ). She explains that English is “always with her” through the songs she heard.

According to Louisa, “Never forget your freedom”, she chose to have a tattoo on her arm, which contains many messages that would take too long to express in French: so the artificial qualities of the English woman's language are visible. To seduce her.

And you, what an iconic phrase Would you choose For your tattoo in English?