TOKYO - French teachers and researchers in Japan sued outspoken Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on Wednesday for calling French a "failed language", demanding compensation and a public apology.
In a suit filed at the Tokyo District Court, the 21 plaintiffs, many of whom run language schools or teach French, said Ishihara's remarks had disgraced them.
According to the suit, Ishihara said last October: "I have to say it is no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because French is a language which cannot count numbers."
The governor made his remarks at a gathering in support of a new university in Tokyo, apparently to explain that there was no point to pursuing French, said plaintiff Brendan Marcus, who teaches at a private French school in Tokyo.
"For someone of his public stance, it's quite unacceptable," Marcus said.
"When you know how many French scientists and mathematicians throughout history have made important contributions, (his remarks are) not appropriate."
The plaintiffs are demanding a written apology in a newspaper and 500,000 yen ($6600) each in compensation.
Ishihara, a nationalist long known for making contentious remarks, has in the past drawn ire for his comments on China, Chinese and Korean residents of Japan, and older women.
An official at the Tokyo metropolitan government declined to comment, saying they had not received details of the lawsuit.
Numbers in French can be a mouthful at times, such as the word for 80, which translates into "four 20s", or 70, which is "60 plus 10".
Japanese, however, has an unusual and sometimes awkward system for counting large numbers in which 1 million is expressed as "100 ten-thousands". Different words are also used for counting depending on such factors as whether the object is an animal, a book, or something long and thin.
"If you try, you can find that every language has its difficulties," Marcus said. "But people should be encouraged to do what they can with any language."