Francophone World: Who Will Pay for the Promotion of the French Language?

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Francophone World: Who Will Pay for the Promotion of the French Language?

French people are deeply attached to their language. It is important for us to use the right word, to choose the appropriate expression that will describe a precise feeling. We love our jokes, our sayings and our play on words that are the essence of the French language. In the slightly irreverent words of British comedian Stephen Fry, “The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.” Nonetheless, in our globalized world, English has taken a major place on the international scene and “franglais” illustrates the fact that English words are finding their way into the French language. The phenomenon seems to counteract the will of France to keep a structured language as expressed by the creation of the French Academy[1] and its part in setting the language’s roles.

However, new French president Emmanuel Macron emphasizes the fact that French has to evolve with time and keep pace with an ever-changing globalized world in which people and languages are more and more connected. French is currently the fifth language used in the world, and President Macron’s goal is to move it to the third place. Nonetheless, this ambition is not about winning over other languages, but it is rather a matter of preserving the influence of French in the world while promoting a less rigid and more versatile image of French. Indeed, Amin Maalouf, author and member of the French Academy insists on the fact that « the goal is not to impose French as the second or third dominant language, but to be at the head of a global movement for the diversity of languages, cultures and thoughts. » Thus, there is a bigger aim than simply promoting French around the world: it is a matter of promoting the core humanist values of the francophone world, such as acceptance of others and the importance of putting in place a solid dialogue between different cultures.

Today, 80 states and governments use French as their official language. Additionally, it is an official language of international organizations such as the UN, the EU, NATO, the OIF and even the World Trade organization. Finally, French is the third most-used language in business after English and Chinese and the second most-used language for international news. The influence of French on a global scale is thus undeniable, and President Macron is right when he asserts that “French has become a global language” and goes beyond France’s borders. In that perspective, it shouldn’t be seen as the relic of a colonial past but rather as a lively and ever-changing language calling for unity between francophone countries. All that being said, what is his plan concerning a better promotion of French language?

We will here focus on a main point developed by President Macron: the importance of supporting the French educational system abroad. There are currently 350,000 students sent to 500 French schools abroad, and one of the government’s aims is to double that number. In order to do so, it will first of all encourage the creation of more French schools abroad. Secondly, it will put in place more regional training centers for teachers, especially in Africa. That choice can be easily explained through the continent’s demographics. In 2014, 54,7% of daily French speakers lived in Africa. Lastly, the focus on Africa is strategic, since French has proven to be useful to francophone Africans in their higher studies, their careers and better accessing global media.

Such a project is ambitious, but will France be the only one to invest in the promotion of the “global language” that is now French? Emmanuel Macron’s choice of words may be pointed in the sense that since French has become a global language that is used beyond French borders, why should France be the only one to carry the expenses of that project? Saying that French is a global language is an implicit call for unity to all members of the OIF. It might be the first step to reminding them that France is no longer the sole protector of the French language and francophone culture. Pierre Buhler, president of the Institut français[2] and overseer of France’s cultural diplomacy abroad goes further and asserts that French “is a language shared between many different countries and speakers; in fact, it belongs to everyone who uses it, who enriches it, who makes it alive.”

Who uses French on a daily basis? Francophone countries. Macron’s indirect claim that France is not the main guardian of the French language anymore is clear and it calls out to francophone countries to join France in its effort of promoting their mutual language. Being a part of the OIF is more than simply stating our affiliation to the francophone world. It is a testimonial to the humanist values on which the organization was founded. Its members are bound to promote and enrich the French language alongside francophone cultures, in the respect of others. It makes sense that all members of the OIF should join the effort of the French government in order to show that they are all responsible for the preservation of francophone values, cultures and traditions through the promotion of the French language.

Otherwise, letting France act alone on that matter would resonate with a colonial past the country wants to move away from. Indeed, France wishes to move collectively with its francophone neighbors instead of dictating them what rules to adopt. Through Emmanuel Macron’s discourse, it seems that the French president wishes to inspire francophone countries to move forward alongside France and not follow it.

[1] Académie française, or French Language Council

[2] The Institut français is in charge of implementing France’s cultural action abroad.

Featured image: gabonreview

Marion Valentin
Marion Valentin is a cum laude graduate from La Sorbonne, where she received her master’s degree in English. She also graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in political science from the Catholic Institute of Higher Studies. Her research interests include the role of culture in the Cold War and use of French culture to combat ideological extremism within the francophone world. A lifelong traveler, she has lived in nine countries and four continents. She currently works as a full time teacher at the French Cultural Center of Boston.

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