Since last Saturday (March the 20th) was the Journée internationale de la Francophonie, let’s take a look at the extent and influence of the French language throughout the world. But first, watch out: do not confuse the term Francophonie (which refers to governments having French in common) and francophonie (French-speaking people)!
If I say “French” the first thing you have in mind is of course the country of its origin – France. However, French is not only present in the country of wine and cheese; it is undoubtedly present on a global scale. So how much has French spread?
French is the official language of France and its overseas territories and departments, but not only these places. It is the official language of many other countries and regions as well. In Europe, French is the official language of Belgium in Brussels and in the region of Wallonia, along with Flemish which is spoken in the other parts. In Switzerland it is an official language alongside German, Italian and Romansh and is also an official language in Luxembourg and Monaco. Moreover, it is the official language, along with Italian, of the Valley of Aosta in Italy, and one of the official languages of the Vatican.
In Africa, the number of French-speaking countries is quite high since they used to be French or Belgian colonies. About twenty African countries have French as an official language including Niger, Senegal, Chad, Togo, Cameroon and The Côte d’Ivoir. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the most populated French-speaking country where French has an official status and is mixed with many regional dialects.
On the American continent, French is an official language of Canada, along with English, and is the only official language in Quebec. It is official in the United States in the State of Louisiana, whose history is deeply linked to France. It also shares an official language status with Creole in Haiti. We can also find French in Asia, where it is an official in the Pondicherry region in India, and in Oceania, in Vanuatu.
Thus French is linguistically present on all five continents, and the number of French-speaking people is estimated to be 200 million. Furthermore, some countries have not stated French as an official language, however the language has a very important position there, as is the case of the countries of Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), Romania, where there are many French-speaking people (French is the first language taught in schools), or Lebanon. And let’s not forget that the Secretariat of the United Nations work in two languages: English AND French.
The institution called Organisation international de la Francophonie was created to promote, preserve and spread French throughout the world. Its members share their attachment to the French language and to some values such as cultural diversity and peace. The O.I.F. gathers about fifty countries if you take into account its actual members, associated States and observers.
To conclude, French has been threatened by the dominance of English, but has also been mistreated by its own speakers, who now butcher the language more than ever. We need to preserve our beautiful language and its prestige throughout the world and are able to, thanks to institutions like the O.I.F.
So… are you willing to learn French to be part of the francophonie?