La Francophonie : A Whole French-Speaking World
French is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, melodic languages in the world. The language of poetry has long inspired and influenced the arts and culture of many nations. French-speaking writers – from Victor Hugo to Aimé Césaire, from Milan Kundera to Vladimir Nabokov to Romain Gary – are still celebrated everywhere, and the influence of the French language in the world is undeniable.
French – Still an International Language
Although France is certainly the source of this beautiful language, France is not the only place in the world that speaks French. It is not even the most populated. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populous French-speaking country on Earth and one of 21 countries in Africa that speak French as one of their official languages.
There are approximately 300 million Francophones across five continents. The influence of the French language is evident whenever an international event is broadcasted; be it the Olympics, a UN General Assembly Session, or the Eurovision Song Contest, French is still one of the most spoken – and prestigious – languages used.
La Francophonie – An Organization to unite them all
Today, French is the official language or co-language in 29 countries as well as the official language in dozens of other territories, such as French Polynesia. With so many nations and people speaking it across the globe, having a unifying entity to bring them all together was a necessity that sprang to life in the form of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of La Francophonie), also known as the OIF, or simply, “La Francophonie”.
Established March 20th, 1970 at the Niamey Conference in Niger, La Francophonie is now at the center of a network of organizations representing countries and territories where French is the customary language or where a notable affiliation with French culture is evident.
La Francophonie, whose motto is égalité, complémentarité, solidarité (equality, complementarity, and solidarity), started as a small group of French-speaking countries that banded together over their shared language and culture. Soon it evolved into a global organization with many branches that cooperate with its members in fields such as culture, science, justice, economy, and peace. La Francophonie has more than 88 member countries today, of which 54 are full members.
The organization’s four primary causes are:
- To promote the French language and cultural and linguistic diversity;
- To promote peace, democracy, and human rights;
- To support education, training, higher education, and research;
- To foster economic cooperation to bolster sustainable development.
The organization has taken great pains to recognize the cultural diversity of its members and championed dialogue between the cultures. It works to preserve and develop cultural diversity while also unifying its members
Much like many organizations, La Francophonie even has a representative flag of five colors representing the five continents where French is spoken – a feat matched only by English.
The Origin of La Francophonie
How did the word Francophonie come to be? To find the origin of the term, we must travel back to the 19th century. A French geographer, Onésime Reclus, was on a quest to boost French culture and language and first coined the term while traveling through French colonial Africa. Reclus believed that people were connected by a common language and culture, no matter where the language was spoken, and thus termed this connection “Francophonie”. The term did not appear in dictionaries until the 1930s, but its spirit and vision were evident long before then.
Now, the term and its meaning are considered more important than ever, not just because of the efforts of La Francophonie, but also as part of a conceptual rethinking of historians and anthropologists who have since studied subjects, such as the state of Louisiana’s culture as it relates to its close early ties to France.
However, the term Francophonie first rose to importance during the 1960s, thanks to Leopold Sedar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, who was also a poet. He frequently used the term to highlight his newly independent country’s enduring connection to France, not only in hopes of expanding cultural and institutional cooperation with the former colonial power, but also to develop a bridge of deeper exchange of culture and thought between Europe and Africa.
The Birth of the Francophone World
Senghor’s declaration that French was “a way of thinking and acting: a certain way of asking the question and of finding solutions… thanks to a language which contains all the richness of centuries” put into motion the birth of the Francophone world. He inspired the belief that though diverse and independent, the French-speaking world could be united under the umbrella of the beauty of the French language and shared culture.
Senghor was a keen supporter of the creation of La Francophonie and became vice-president of its High Council. His vision – and that of Onésime Reclus – is still being carried out by La Francophonie today, which continues to promote peace, democracy, human rights, and political stability for all.
By allowing its members access to the expertise of its intergovernmental networks, it works to resolve conflict and bring about an end to crises in its member states – all of it while continuing its efforts to promote the beauty of the French language.
The Future of the French Language
Language and culture, like everything else, evolve. And while French has faced competition and been outpaced in some areas by English as well as the growing numbers of Arabic and Chinese speakers, its future as an international language is assured.
In fact, according to the OIF, French is still the second most learned language in the world, the second most used language in international organizations and the media, the third most important language in business, and the fourth most used language on the Internet. In fact, the future of the French culture and language lies in the same place that gave birth to La Francophonie in the first place: Africa.
On the African continent, French continues to thrive, and it is estimated that by 2050, 85% of the world’s French speakers will live in Africa. According to the French National Statistical Data Institute, French could be spoken by up to 700 million speakers in 2050 – ahead of Arabic, Spanish and Hindi.
As such, we can rest assured that the beautiful sounds of the French language and the richness of French culture will remain strong all around the world – and Chang-Castillo and Associates will be by your side to provide you with the platinum standard in translation and interpretation services, whether in French or any other language in the world.