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.”

7 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About African Languages

Marvel’s long-awaited Black Panther movie came out in theaters last month. As a result, African languages and culture are getting some well-deserved attention from the rest of the world.  With that in mind, here are seven cool things about African languages you might not have known, in Black Panther and beyond.

Africa is home to approximately 1/3 of the world’s languages.

Estimates of the number of languages people speak on the African content vary from 1,500 to over 3,000. Around 100 of these are used widely, for communication between people from different tribes and groups. Meanwhile, there are at least 75 languages in Africa with over 1 million speakers.

Why does Africa have so many languages, anyway? First of all, let’s state the obvious: it’s an enormous continent, not a country. There’s long been a tendency for Europeans and Americans to treat Africa as a monolith, but it’s not.

Second, Africa is the cradle of humanity. Humankind evolved there first and then spread across the globe. That means there’s simply been more time for languages to change and for new languages to form.

African languages may also illustrate how translation and interpretation can preserve linguistic diversity.

For example, University of Chicago evolutionary linguist Salikoko Mufwene told the Christian Science Monitor, 

[I]n the case of Europe, you have to factor in the emergence of various empires, and these various empires were assimilationist and they may have driven a number of languages already to extinction . . . Traditional African kingdoms were not as assimilationist as the European empires…say the kings relied on interpreters to translate to them what was coming from territories that they ruled but where people spoke different languages, there is no particular reason why we should be surprised that there are so many languages spoken in Africa.”

Whatever the reason, this means that Africa presents a challenging linguistic landscape for businesses that wish to be understood by the local population. Read more