France is a country of extremes where the street mob calls the shots when they feel aroused. The French Revolution is an example of how the urge for reform can turn into a bloody conflict and how brutality is inherent in the French psychological make-up, all expressed in pursuit of equality, fraternity and mainly the liberty of the individual as opposed to the bureaucratic machinery of the State.
Yet French is perhaps the most lyrical of all languages, rich in its vocabulary and in its output of literary gems that substantially add to the academic prestige of the nation.
A new twist to all this is the latest discovery by a leading doctor who has stumbled across an unlikely treatment for a debilitating blinking disease – speaking French. Daniel Ezra a consultant ophthalmic surgeon made the discovering when treating a patient suffering from benign blepharospasm (BEB)a condition of involuntary blinking and contractions of the upper face. The seventy-year-old woman had undergone a series of treatments but with only minor beneficial effects. Yet the moment she began explaining her weekend plans in French, which she had learned at school, the symptoms disappeared.
Mr Ezra carried out a trial on another patient who spoke French as a second language; this man also became symptom-free while he counted to thirty in the language.
The doctor believes that speaking a second language disrupts the mechanism that causes the condition. Since publishing his findings in the journal Movement Disorders, Mr Ezra has been contacted by specialists in fields as diverse as psychiatry, psychology, medicine and linguistics, who all believe that the discovery could lead to new insights into the relationship between the mind and the body.
‘This may open a door,’ he said. ‘It has never been reported before and it’s absolutely fascinating.
‘We don’t know why speaking French relieved the symptoms, but it may be something to do with the effort of operating on a higher plain of consciousness that disrupts the BEB.’
Around eight thousand people in the UK are known to suffer from the condition, although with undiagnosed cases the true number is probably far higher according to Mr Ezra who is based at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
He said ‘second language’ therapy could also relieve involuntary muscle spasms such as neck twitches. He added that better understanding could lead to cognitive behavioural therapy offering longer lasting relief.
So there you have it. Who can say that the French language has seen better days when discoveries such as this prove that the language has its hidden benefits, not least in the important field of medicine?