Lots of worry at this year's Francophonie summit, but there's some good news too

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

There's a lot of worry out there at the moment for the future of the French language, especially with such news as Rwanda having decided to become an English-speaking country. The article however, says that:

The decision taken by Paul Kagame is more political than cultural. Rwanda has been most vociferous in accusing the French government for its participation in the genocide, which took place in the country 1994. After severing diplomatic ties with France, Rwanda has threatened an international legal action against some French personalities who were serving in government at the time of the tragic genocide.

The switch over to English also does nothing to change the current situation, where Rwanda is the tiny blue dot on the edge of all those French-speaking nations, next to Burundi just below and the humongous Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, another French-speaking country and with a population of 62 million.

There's no reason a country can't have two languages of course; happens all the time. Case in point: this article on Mauritius, probably the coolest African country there is (from what I can tell). They have about three official languages there (French, English, Mauritian creole which is based on French) and since the language people use in everyday life there is based on French there's a natural inclination towards French itself, the use of which is increasing in the country:
Despite Britain's ouster of its French colonial rulers and being in predominantly anglophone Africa, Mauritius is seeing a rise in the use of French in the absence of an official language.

The Indian Ocean country's constitution makes no mention of an official language and its one million citizens speak either English, French, Hindi or Mauritian Creole -- a French patois.

Only in parliament is English stipulated as the official language -- but lawmakers are allowed to address the speaker in French.

"There is evidence of increased use of French," said Arnaud Carpooran, a lecturer at the University of Mauritius. "It is difficult to find a Mauritian who does not speak French."


Still, it appears French and English can exist in harmony here.

"The extraordinary thing is that French is not becoming dominant at the expense of English," Furlong said.

"The Francophonie is not a dance to the tune of French," said Carpooran. "We are celebrating being multilingual and French is evolving alongside other languages, including English."

Belgium could learn a lot from Mauritius.

And in other news, Vanuatu has a new French-language newspaper:

A new French language newspaper has been launched in Vanuatu. L'Hebdo Du Vanuatu is to be published by Vanuautu's Daily Post newspaper. Not only will it cover news in Vanautu, but will provide coverage of New Caledonia, where it will also be distributed.

Bottom line: French won't be going anywhere anytime soon, and those who are worried about the future of the language should have Africa's best interests in mind, because the more conditions improve there the more influence the language will have. This article agrees with me: "L’avenir du français passe par l’Afrique" (the future of French passes through Africa).


Anonymous said...

Yes, there was lots of worry about the future of French at the Francophonie Summit in Quebec last weekend. But surprisingly, there wasn't that much talk about the decision in Rwanda, at least in the corridors and among journalists, where I was hanging out. Most of the media here in Quebec were caught up in Sarkozy's statement about not supporting Quebec's separation movement.

I researched the state of French in Africa for my book The Story of French (2006). Rwanda's decision is clearly a slap in the face to France -- and I'm not saying France doesn't deserve it. However, the decision clearly wasn't one that sprung from popular resentment about the use of the French language. And the real question is: despite what Kagame says, will it work?
In my opinion, the chances are slim. The reasons most former French and Belgian colonies held onto French as a language of instruction was that they couldn't afford to build a new education system using a new language. Not to mention the difficulty of overcoming resistance from teachers -- a major obstacle -- it's doubtful Rwanda can afford to entirely revamp its education system at this point in time. And what a shame if it failed.
Like all countries where French is the language of social promotion,learning French is key to getting an education. There are a lot of uncertain futures at stake.

Anonymous said...

It would be a sign of haughtiness and arrogance if I, a European, thought to do things better in Rwanda. I never have been staying in this country, I ignore its culture and language and I know little about the bitter circumstances that led to the regime in place (perhaps much more than my German compatriots, but lesser than I should have to). But I learnt by my family that discussions about differences and misunderstandings have to happen. Maybe they are not successful in every moment, but important decisions must not be imposed. Free elections are highly important, but they cannot replace a democracy which begins at the roots. And in this case, the decision to drop French as a teaching subject was not the result of a democratic debate. It was imposed by a tiny cercle of leaders who will not be in the situation to implement it. This has to be done by teachers and professors who have to learn English although their French may be excellent. Imagine President Kagame speaking French fluently. What he does not want to be expected to do, he inflicts upon other persons without debates, without compromisses. Perhaps he wants his people to speak the language of his new masters.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP