Parlez-vous …?

French is the language of the guillotine – its components have French names – but how is French faring as a language?

French is the language of the guillotine – its components  have French names – but how is French faring as a language?

The answer, according to the OIF (Organisation International de la Francophonie) the language of Molière is bearing up well against other languages, especially the language of Shakespeare.

In a report that will be published tomorrow (Tuesday, October 12, 2010) there are now 220 million people in our world who know French. By ‘know’ is meant that these people are able to read and write French. Had the organisation included those who can speak and understand it but without being able to read and write it, the number would have increased by a few million.

Most of the French readers and writers – 51.3 million – live in Africa and the Indian Ocean region. This is thanks to the colonial days of France and Belgium, and they live in Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo Brazza (Republic of the Congo), Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Central African Republic, Gabon, Ghana, Guinée (Guinea), Guinée-Bissau (Guinea-Bissau), Equatorial Guinea where they also speak Spanish), Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles and Tchad.

Next comes Europe with 27.2 million. They live in France of course (foreigners), and then in Andorra, Belgium, Corsica, Luxemburg, Monaco, Switzerland, and a scattering in countries like  Russia.

Third is North Africa with the Middle East, and again thanks to French colonialism. These countries are Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and 26.4 million there can read and write French.

North America and the Caribbean come next with 8.7 million.  Most of them live in Quebec.

Then, another 2.4 million French readers and writers live in Asia like in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and the Oceania islands like Wallis and Futuna and Tahiti.

How well do these 220 million people read and write French? The OIF gives breakdowns for each part of the world as well as for some countries. For example in the Ivory Coast 52% read and write French very well, while 15% do so well, but the remaining 32% do so with difficulty.

The OIF predicts that in 2050 the number of French readers and writers would have increased to 715 million. This will happen despite that French is not the most popular second language among European scholars and students: It is English.

The OIF’ member states – there are 56 of them – meet every two years for a francophone summit. This year’s will be held in the Swiss city of Montreux from 22 to 24 October. Five countries have asked to attend as observers; they are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Montenegro and the United Arab Emirates.

Only one country where French is a second language (a first for many) is not a member of the OIF. This is Algeria which had raged a bitter war against France for its independence. Some hurts last a long time.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses to “Parlez-vous …?”

  1. 2
    Marilyn Says:

    I know what you mean, Jo!

    I just wish to tell some other visitors to my site (not you Jo) who had queried the percentages which I mentioned, that they were not my percentages but those of the OIF and it went without saying that the percentage for Europe excluded the French of France. But, alas, one must always paint pictures to go with everything so that the small minds can understand.

  2. 1
    Jo Wake Says:

    Must admit I didn’t know French was so widespread. Most of the States now has Spanish as a second language due to the influx of a number of people from the Spanish speaking countries. As for French in Canada, are you sure that’s what they speak???

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