By Steven Martin Kensington
French President Emmanuel Macron has faced severe criticism following his announcement to internationalize the French language in a speech he held in Burkino Faso last November. He will set out his plan on Tuesday – ‘International Francophonie Day‘ – where the aim is to globalize the use of French to boost France’s political position in the world. He asserted that a main focus in this campaign will be Africa.
[Speaking of the Africans] To isolate oneself with one language, and to reject the French language, to follow the trend of speaking English on the African continent is not looking towards the future! French will be the first language of Africa, and perhaps the world, if we know what we are doing the next decades. Let’s take this challenge together. Let’s do this. Let’s make it happen!
This is certainly an ambitious goal, especially considering the fact that it’s currently only the 10th most spoken language in the world, with approximately 229 million speakers worldwide. On first place comes Chinese Mandarin, which has 1.1 billion speakers. It should also be noted from these statistics that the statistics of French includes 76 million natives and 153 million non-natives, whereas Chinese Mandarin has 897 million native speakers and 193 million non-native speakers. As France is such a small center for the French language, it seems therefore that this campaign will be a really difficult challenge for Emmanuel Macron. His prediction is, however, based on a study done by the International Francophile Organization, which states that over a billion people will live in French speaking countries by 2065 due to the ‘explosive’ birth rates in Africa, though this study has been subject to criticism stating that not all citizens in countries with French as the official language speak now what was once the language of diplomacy there.
President Macron has received an abundance of criticism for the announcement to globalize the French language, and most of it doesn’t lay in the numbers. Congolese writer Alain Mabancko, for instance, told the Guardian that France’s hold over their former colonies in Africa is ‘one of the last instruments that allows France to say it can still dominate the world.’ He said further that ‘the institutional network of French-speaking countries ‘cannot continue as it is today because it goes against everything we ever dreamed of.’ He calls instead for an overhauling of la Francophonie – the French-speaking territories – which he said had become an instrument for French imperialism propping up African dictators.
In addition to this, he has also been accused of hypocrisy for the statement in The Local: ‘Yet despite English being his go-to language when abroad France’s energetic president is on a drive to boost the use of his native tongue.’
As defense for the criticism, President Macron adds that French should be spoken alongside other languages, and claims to support multilingualism as an aspect in the plan beside just the promotion of French as a global language.
He announced on a visit to Senegal in February that part of the plan would be to invest 200 million euros for the Global Partnership for Education. Further details on his plan will be released on Tuesday.