Is French on the decline

Informer   Thu Mar 19, 2009 2:40 pm GMT
Writing Africa in French
VERONIQUE TADJO: COMMENT - Apr 03 2007 00:00

Recently, French studies at Wits University invited Aminata Sow Fall, a leading woman writer from Senegal, to talk about African literature, the issue of language and the state of French-speaking Africa.

When asked why she wrote in French rather than in Wolof, her mother tongue, she replied that when she began her literary career back in 1963, Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, had not yet been properly codified in the Roman alphabet. So she had no choice, she said. But she was quick to add that if she had not felt at ease in French, she would not have written a book.

Sow Fall's response prompted me to revisit this burning issue as it is my belief that, to some extent, this debate also applies to English in Africa.

When most of the former French colonies became independent in the 1960s, it was a time of euphoria and great hope for the future of Africa. Less than a decade later, things were not going that well in francophone Africa. Neo-colonialism took hold of the economy and the political elites proved too greedy to honour the promises they had made at independence. A period of disillusionment followed.

The saga of Les soleils des indépendances (The Suns of Independence), a novel by Ahmadou Kourouma from Côte d'Ivoire, best illustrates this post-independence disenchantment. When Kourouma submitted his manuscript, it was refused by publishers in France and in Africa on the grounds that it was written in "incorrect" French. The manuscript was passed around until it was finally published in Canada in 1968. It became an instant bestseller and was subsequently bought by a prestigious French publisher in 1970.

Cheaper editions were produced for the African market and the book was read by millions of school children and is still being taught today.

What was revolutionary in Kourouma's novel was the fact that for the first time a writer attempted to recreate the way common people in Africa really speak. Kourouma fused French with his Malinke mother tongue -- French syntax and grammar were twisted and some words took on a whole new meaning. His language ignored basic rules. The style was exuberant and full of a raw sensuality.

Kourouma's book showed that French wasn't just the language of the former oppressors, that it was also possible to use it to serve our purpose and render our African experience. He demonstrated that the language belonged to us, too, and that we were free to use it how we wanted in order to communicate our reality.

Roughly 10 years later, Sony Labou Tansi, a Congolese novelist, poet and dramatist, came onto the literary scene to continue this linguistic revolution. His writing dealt with the rampant corruption and entrenchment of a decadent leadership. His weapon was political satire and his irreverence was also directed at the French language, whose conventions he deliberately broke, inventing his own literary aesthetics.


Labou Tansi had learnt French in a Congolese school where using his mother tongue was forbidden. He used to say that French was the language in which he was "raped".

If it is true that the colonisers wanted to use French in the school system to make sure that they could impose a French linguistic and cultural model that would ultimately lead to assimilation, things did not go quite as planned. The French language has become a language in which Africans can express their own aspirations and fight for freedom. A language is at the service of whoever wants to use it, as long as it is seen not as an imposition but as something to be conquered.

Daniel Maximin, a writer and poet from Guadeloupe, says it is important not to confuse language and citizenship, to understand that the French language is not confined within the geographical borders of France. The French language is used to express many identities, from the Congolese to the Vietnamese, to the Canadian. There are more than 20 African countries in which French is the official language. Therefore, the question that remains is not why we write in French, but how we write in French.

Véronique Tadjo is a writer from Côte d'Ivoire and Head of French Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
pede   Thu Mar 19, 2009 2:43 pm GMT
French is the language of rapists.
verdad   Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:14 pm GMT
French is the nicest language in Europe
blank   Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:07 pm GMT
Dutch is more beautiful than French.
Leslie   Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:07 pm GMT
I agree that Dutch is nicer :-)
the truth is that   Fri Mar 20, 2009 10:54 am GMT
french is french and dutch is ducth

Visitor   Sun Mar 22, 2009 10:16 am GMT
Friday, March 13, 2009
The future of the French language passes through Africa / L’avenir du français passe par l’Afrique

There are quite a few articles out there about how Africa holds the key to whether French will retain its status as a major world language or not, so I thought I'd gather some info from a few of them here.

First from this one, an older article (2003) but still with a great deal of good information:

Avec plus de 170 millions de locuteurs sur les cinq continents, le français devrait sans ambiguïté être considéré comme une langue mondiale.

With more than 170 million users in the five continents, French should clearly be regarded as a world language.


La bataille de la science est désormais quasiment perdue. Durant les trois dernières années, sur les quelque deux millions d’articles publiés dans le domaine des sciences exactes, seuls 25 000 l’ont été en français.

The battle of science is now almost lost. During the last three years, out of some 2 million articles published in the domain of exact sciences, only 25,000 were in French.

On the geographic distribution of the language compared to others:

L’un des principaux atouts de la langue française réside dans son implantation géographique. Alors que le chinois n’est parlé qu’en Chine, l’hindi en Inde, l’arabe dans une zone géographique concentrée (Maghreb, Moyen-Orient), l’espagnol en Espagne et en Amérique latine, le français est plus «dispersé». Et de ce fait plus, il est plus «international».

One of the main strengths of the French language resides in its geographic implementation. While Chinese is only spoken in China, Hindi in India, Arabic in a concentrated geographic location (Maghreb, Middle East), Spanish in Spain and Latin America, French is more "dispersed", and thus it is more "international".

And finally, how paradoxically French is having a harder time in Europe than in a region like Africa:

L’un des signes de ce manque de combativité est perceptible au sein des institutions européennes où le français ne cesse de céder du terrain...Pour Bernard Cerquiglini : «Si nous perdons dans l’Union européenne, nous perdrons pour la terre entière». Pierre-André Wiltzer, le ministre français délégué à la Coopération et la Francophonie, partage ce point de vue et estime que «le plus difficile combat» de la francophonie est celui de l’Europe.

One of the signs of this lack of fighting spirit is evident in European institutions where French continues to lose ground...For Bernard Cerquiglini: "If we lose in the European Union, we lose over the entire world". Pierre-André Wiltzer, the French Minister Delegate for Cooperation and Francophonie, shares this view and believes that "the most difficult battle" of the Francophonie is that of Europe.

Par contre, c’est en Afrique que le français peut trouver le nouveau souffle qui lui permettra, dans les décennies à venir, de rester démographiquement concurrent. Pierre-André Wiltzer a ainsi déclaré que «le continent africain est une ressource considérable pour la francophonie» parce qu’il bénéficie d’une «vitalité démographique très importante». L’Afrique demeure en effet le plus grand bassin de locuteurs de français.

On the other hand, it's in Africa where French is able to find new life, which will enable it in the decades to come to remain demographically competitive. Pierre-Andre Wiltzer also said that "the African continent is a considerable resource for the Francophonie" because it benefits from a "very important demographic vitality". Africa remains indeed the largest pool of French speakers.

Next, from an article from 2008:

...le continent africain qui connaît une forte croissance de sa population, qui passerait ainsi d'environ un milliard de personnes en l'an 2000 à deux milliards en 2050...À l'évidence, le nombre de locuteurs francophones d'Afrique augmente également.

...the African continent which is experiencing a strong growth in its population, which would increase from about 1 billion people in 2000 to two billion in 2050...naturally, the number of French speakers in Africa is also increasing.


...ajoute-t-il, outre cinq pays européens -- principalement la France, la Belgique et la Suisse -- le Québec, le Canada et Haïti, «tous les autres pays sont situés en Afrique!». Mieux, si dans les années 1960 les locuteurs des pays francophones du Nord représentaient 80 % de l'ensemble des francophones de la planète, ce taux est passé à 50 % en 2000. Et selon des études expertes, ils ne représenteront plus que 15 % des francophones en 2050. Présentement, on estime à 200 millions le nombre de francophones dans le monde, alors qu'ils seront plus de 600 millions en 2050.

...he adds, besides five European countries -- mainly France, Belguim and Switzerland -- Quebec, Canada and Haiti, "all the other countries are located in Africa!" Moreover, if in 1960 the users of francophone countries represented 80% of the francophones on the planet, this figure has become 50% in 2000. And according to expert studies, they will only represent 15% of the francophones in 2050. Presently, there are an estimated 200 million francophones in the world, while they will be more than 600 million in 2050.

And finally, also from 2008:

«les Africains ne font plus beaucoup référence au français comme langue coloniale» et que «cette vision est largement dépassée».

(he says) "Africans do not refer to French all that much as a colonial language", and that "this vision is largely outdated."
Go away   Tue Mar 24, 2009 2:58 am GMT
blank Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:07 pm GMT
<< Dutch is more beautiful than French. >>

Leslie Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:07 pm GMT
<< I agree that Dutch is nicer :-) >>

Uit uit uuuuuuuuuuuuuit! Iedereen uit!
Informante   Tue Mar 24, 2009 4:51 am GMT
Número de hablantes de francés por países francófonos:

Organizado usando criterios geográficos (36)

ÁFRICA (24):
Argelia (4.000.000)
Benín (250.000)
Burkina Faso (1.500.000)
Burundi (100.000)
Camerún (2.500.000)
Chad (2.000.000)
Costa de Marfil (1.500.000)
Gabón (150.000)
Guinea (1.000.000)
Guinea Ecuatorial (120.000)
Islas Comoras (50.000)
Malí (3.500.000)
Madagascar (5.000.000)
Mauritania (550.000)
Mauricio (1.000.000)
Níger (2.000.000)
República Centroafricana (1.200.000)
República Democrática del Congo (8.500.000)
República del Congo (1.000.000)
Ruanda (1.000.000)
Senegal (2.000.000)
Seychelles (50.000)
Togo (800.000)
Yibuti (100.000) *

Haití (850.000)

Bélgica (4.200.000)
Francia (65.090.000)
Luxemburgo (430.000)
Mónaco (32.000)
Suiza (1.480.000)

ASIA (1)
Líbano (100.000)

Vanuatu (75.000)

Regulado por Academia francesa
Whatever   Sat Apr 18, 2009 4:45 pm GMT
Why don't you just learn French, Spanisch & English? Like I do :-)
Greetings from Germany!
Guest   Sat Apr 18, 2009 4:49 pm GMT
Haiti does not speak French, but creole, do you know how creole is? It does not even look an IE language.
Guest 2   Sun Apr 19, 2009 1:12 am GMT
<<Haiti does not speak French, but creole, do you know how creole is? It does not even look an IE language. >>

Actually French is one of the official languages of Haiti. It is co-official with Kreyol. However, you are correct that the majority of the populace does not speak French because of the lack of an adequate educational system there.
fraz   Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:22 pm GMT
International usage of French is on the wane. The Olympic results were traditionally announced in English and French, as well as the local language. French has now been scrubbed.

The Eurovision song contest used to be a bilingual broadcast but now contains just a token French content.

German-speaking Swiss pupils now learn English as their main foreign language, with French being relegated to second place.

What is the status of French in former colonial nations? I believe it is still strong in Africa but I doubt if there is much support for the language in former French Asian territories.
Julien   Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:39 pm GMT
Why people care about french language ? why not german or italian? why always us ?
Why are you all so obsessed by our language ? yes, we love it and we want it to be learn in others countries, why not? Is it a crime ? I didn't know it was forbidden.
So, now stop this stupid topic about french language!
Learn it if you want, but if you dislike french language, no need to create stupid topic like this one.
Guest   Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:43 pm GMT
The Eurovision song contest used to be a bilingual broadcast but now contains just a token French content.

Ya hay que tener valor para poner un concurso de frikis como ejemplo de evento donde se usa el francés.