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OIF/French language

Publié le October 25, 2010
Article by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, published on “lemonde.fr”
Paris, October 20, 2010

For an outward-reaching Francophone vision

From 20 October, Montreux will be welcoming the 70 countries of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie [international Francophone organization]. A third of the world’s States are meeting not only to discuss the future of the French language, but also to identify common positions on the major issues debated in the international fora: the reform of global political governance; financial regulation; human rights and democracy; food security; climate and biodiversity; and the need for an increased effort to promote the development of the poorest countries, particularly through innovative financing.

Two pieces of good news accompany this La Francophonie summit taking place in the homeland of Rousseau.

The first: the French language is continuing to gain ground. A recent report puts the number of French speakers worldwide at 220 million.

There should be half a billion of them in 2050. French is the official or working language of 32 States. Proof of its vitality: it’s the third language on the Internet and the only one with English taught in nearly every country on the planet. And French-language literature and cinema enjoy the widest international distribution after those of the English-speaking world.

Second piece of good news: the turnaround of Africa, where nearly 100 million French speakers live, is under way. The African continent now has an average growth rate of over 5%. Even though many challenges still have to be met, economic and cultural globalization has taken off in Africa and the continent should soon start gaining all the benefits of them.

Let’s get the pessimistic views into perspective. While French is one language among others, it’s also one of the world’s great languages. We can look at its future with confidence. However, let’s take care how we promote it! My conviction: French will go on developing only if it’s an open language.

Open, first of all, to invention. A frozen language, reluctant to create words and new expressions, is quickly overwhelmed by foreign expressions and more inventive languages. The Quebecers have understood this and demonstrate a prodigious linguistic creativity.

Open, secondly, to the global communication channels. Our language’s future depends on the Internet, Web 2.0 and the international media. We must give priority to these new technologies.

French-style passion

Open to the other languages, to other cultures. We must enable others, particularly minority cultures and languages, to enjoy the cultural diversity we demand for ourselves. It is a matter of consistency. Open to English. French must not be drawn into conflict with English. This is no longer the time for rearguard battles! It is important for Francophone Africa also to talk English and vice versa.

This is what is behind the increasingly close ties between La Francophonie and the Commonwealth supported by the Head of State.

Our compatriots too are embracing this openness. They know that to count for anything in the world, they have to speak foreign languages.

This has been clearly understood by those of our universities which, to attract academic and scientific elites from all over the world, no longer hesitate to offer them, at the same time as French immersion courses, curricula taught in English.

Finally, La Francophonie must provide a forum for discussion of the major international issues. The Francophone club – uniting countries with different levels of wealth, cultures, and religions – must also get more involved in resolving conflicts, advancing political freedoms, and promoting a shared, sustainable development. This is what it is doing successfully, led decisively by Abdou Diouf. We will show this once again in Montreux.

This outward-reaching Francophone vision at ease with itself serves as an inspiration for France’s foreign policy. It is the basis of our support for the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie which the President will reaffirm. It underpins the commitment of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Head of State’s personal representative for La Francophonie. It justifies our external audiovisual action, network of 460 French lycées and partnership with the hundreds of Alliances françaises which teach our language. It is what lies behind the large-scale reform we have launched by creating, with the Institut français, the great external cultural agency our country needed. For Rousseau, language grew out of passions more than out of the needs of mankind. Yes, great passions are also involved! Passion for the Other, passion for freedom, passion for justice, French-style passion… ./.

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