Amidst Hand-wringing, the French Language Thrives In Surprising Places

For decades, France has been extremely concerned with preserving its language and culture and protecting it from excessive foreign influence. French conservative Éric Zemmour argued in his best-selling book French Melancholy that the French language is on the decline, and in an article published in the New York Times, he says:

“Now even the French elite have given up. They don’t care anymore. They all speak English.”

But is the French language really in trouble?

According to the New York Times, the answer is no. The language, with 200 million speakers, is fine-it’s the demographics of the world’s French-speaking population that has changed. For example, of those 200 million French speakers, only about 65 million of them are French. The rest are either immigrants to France or were born in one of her former colonies.

According to  Abdou Diouf, former president of Senegal and  secretary general of the francophone organization, French is “thriving as never before.” Mr. Diouf told the New York Times:

“The truth is that the future of the French language is now in Africa.”

People from former French colonies, in Africa and elsewhere, are producing excellent, worthwhile literature in French, but France often appears reluctant to call it “French literature.”  Here’s what Canadian-born writer Nancy Huston said to the New York Times about the subject:

“The French literary establishment, which still thinks of itself as more important than it is, complains about the decline of its prestige but treats francophone literature as second class, while laying claim to the likes of Kundera, Beckett and Ionesco, who were all born outside France. That is because, like Makine, they made the necessary declaration of love for France. But if the French bothered actually to read what came out of Martinique or North Africa, they would see that their language is in fact not suffering.”

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