Tokyo Governor Sued for Insulting French

TOKYO - A group of teachers and translators in Japan on Wednesday sued Tokyo's outspoken nationalist governor for allegedly calling French a "failed international language," a news report said.

Twenty-one people filed the lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court, demanding that Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara pay a total of 10.5 million yen (US$94,600) compensation for insulting the French language in remarks last October, national broadcaster NHK said.

In their suit, the plaintiffs accused Ishihara of saying: "French is a failed international language because it cannot be used to count numbers."

"It's natural for different languages to have different names for numbers and different ways of counting them, so it's unacceptable for him to insult French in this way," Malik Berkane, who heads a French-language school in Tokyo, told reporters at a news conference.

The Tokyo metropolitan government refused to comment, saying it hadn't received word of the lawsuit.

French is the official language in about three dozen countries and territories worldwide and is one of the official working languages for international organizations such as the United Nations. In French, some numbers can be unwieldy to say, such as 90, which translates as "four-twenty-ten."

Japan's counting system can also be tricky. Adopted from Chinese, the Japanese numeric system ignores the western system of classifying large numbers every three digits. Though one thousand is the same, 30,000 would translate as "three-10,000," 4 million would be "400-10,000" and 4 billion would be "40-100 million."

Counting one pencil or one bottle of beer ("ippon") in Japanese differs from counting one sheet of paper ("ichimai") or one book ("issatsu").

Ishihara, one of Japan's most popular politicians, is known for his blunt nationalist talk, criticism of illegal immigrants and unapologetic view of the Japanese wartime military's atrocities in Asia. His remarks often rile Chinese and Korean residents in Japan.

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