In recent years, the guardians of the French language have had trouble keeping up with the influx of English-language loanwords from the tech world. Buzzwords like “cloud computing” and services like Twitter and Facebook leave an unmistakable, and unmistakably English, impact on the language. Read more
March 18-26 is French Language Week (or more properly, Semaine de la Langue Française et de la Francophonie).
In that spirit, we’d like to offer our own salute to the French language. Over the past few years, it’s become somewhat fashionable to say that French is passé. For example, see this article in the New Republic, called “Let’s Stop Pretending That French Is an Important Language.”
So, why is French important in today’s world?
Here are 12 reasons why French is still an important language (and one that global businesses can’t afford to ignore.)
80 million people around the world speak French as a native language.
61 million of them live in France, naturally. But French-speaking communities exist around the world:
- Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada
- Wallonia, Belgium
- Parts of Switzerland
- 22 French-speaking countries in Africa
12% of EU citizens speak it. And while the number of French native speakers may pale in comparison to the number of native speakers of Mandarin, Spanish or English, that’s only half the story.
Because . . .
274 million people around the world speak French.
190 million people speak French as a second language, and experts estimate that a total of 274 million people around the world can speak French as either a first or a second language. Out of that number, 212 million use it daily.
Meanwhile, 1 out 5 Europeans speaks French as a second language. Read more
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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