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French-speaking world struggles to voice its concerns


Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2008-10-28

Quebec, a historic stronghold of French presence in North America, welcomes the 12th summit of the French-speaking world. While the financial crisis dominates talks, enthusiasts of the French language are concerned about its future.

Watch our Face-Off programme: 'Quebec, is the dream still alive?'


Where is the French language flourishing? Read our four reports from around the world:

'French is a hit despite political tensions'

'A francophile nation eyeing the US'

'A look at the world's largest French-speaking country'

'The French language in Shiite hands'



The XIIth summit of the French-speaking world, which opens this Friday in Quebec, will debate the future of the French language for the first time. The language is spoken by around 200 million people throughout the world.

Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of the International organization for the French-speaking world, hailed the move in an interview with the AFP: “It seemed obvious, but in a world which runs the risk of being overrun by one language, we need a policy to [promote] the French language.”

Persons participating in the debate will work on ways to improve the teaching of the French language and encourage its use in international organizations. “We can’t teach French merely as a language,” says Diouf. A couple of projects are testing ways to teach “French in French.” “We want states to support and finance us,” added Diouf.

These test-projects include the long-distance training of primary school teachers in Africa, “because this continent needs to recruit more than 2 million teachers before 2015,” says Diouf.

A “French offensive”

The French-speaking world needs to launch a “French offensive,” says Quebec daily Le Devoir, in reference to the words of Hervé Bourges, a former journalist and high-ranking official of French radio and television. In June, he published a report on the “renaissance of the French language.”

According to his report, “the French-speaking world is struggling to renew its ideas and actions.” Bourges pointed to “a lack of visibility at a time when French is weakening relative to other languages.”

The report’s author believes “the French are mostly responsible for this situation.” According to him, “France has become too withdrawn,” while the legacy of French colonialism has become a millstone around the French-speaking world’s neck.

He also believes the French aren’t interested in the French-speaking world and don’t easily see “diversity as a positive thing.” The accusations are tough. And Bourges holds the “elites” responsible for much of what is wrong today.

As if to drive the point home, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will leave the summit before the debate on Sunday to meet the US president. However, French PM Francçois Fillon will stay on.

Financial crisis gatecrashes summit

The financial crisis could also disturb the debate on the future of the French language. The summit, which gathers both G8 countries and developing countries, is starting to look like a North-South conference, the first since governments voiced their worries over the world’s economic woes.

This is a great opportunity for Sarkozy to defend EU calls for G8 members and developing countries to discuss the financial crisis.

According to a well-informed source quoted by the AFP, Sarkozy wants “the crisis to be at the heart of discussions, to get a head start on the topic. He might come forward with some proposal to reform the global financial system.”

Diouf is also alarmed by the crisis. “France and French-speaking countries shouldn’t reduce the funds allocated to the development of the French language. We are worried about this possibility at a time of budgetary restrictions,” he said.

Date created : 2008-10-17