French in Europe and Africa
Although it doesn't make the top five (Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic), or even the top ten (Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese with Punjabi, Javanese, and German fighting it for tenth place), French has a disproportionate amount of influence in the world.
Prior to English, French was the standard language for art, literature, and diplomacy. In pursuing an imperialistic policy of French administration and French-language education in its colonies, French, much like English and Spanish, became an official or widely spoken language in parts of Asia (where it has mostly died out), North and South America, in Canada and colonies, and in Africa. In Africa, where various languages have made French a lingua franca, or common language, it's an essential means of communication between nations.
The French in Europe
Obviously, France is the home of many French speakers on Earth. This was not always the case. French was not the standard language of France until the early 16th century. Much like Old English, which evolved after foreign invasions and influence from other languages, the French we understand today comes from the Paris region. It is asked whether France made French or French made France. Either way, the language was instrumental in unifying the French people and the idea of France as a state.
In Europe, other large areas where French is spoken include Belgium and Switzerland. Both countries are linguistic oddities. In Belgium, more prosperous Dutch and the less-industrialized French Walloon, have butted heads for most of Belgian history. In Switzerland, there is more linguistic peace. German (65%), French (25%), Italian (8%) and Romansh (1-2%) make Switzerland a linguistic challenge. Many speak English in both countries as a bridge language.
Monaco, the tiny but independent principality that sits completely surrounded by France on all sides except for the Mediterranean, speaks French as well.
European vs African French
In Africa, there are many countries that use French to varying degrees of officialdom. French is an official language, or shares official status with other languages in Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Burundi, Guinea, Chad, Rwanda, Congo, Mali, the Seychelles, Djibouti, and Senegal. In Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and even Egypt, French is still widely spoken among the upper classes.
In Europe, French is much more standardized, and there are only relatively small differences between the French of France and the French of Belgium and Switzerland. However, in Africa, French has many dialects and regional differences. These differences in African French include wide variations in pronunciation and vocabulary, but are generally broken down into northern, Arabic French, west and central African French, and the French spoken in Far Eastern Africa in Djibouti.
French has managed to maintain some influence on the world through intense efforts by France to preserve their language. This has been primarily driven by direct laws in France advised by the Academie française, which is a body of French language experts, including instituting the rights of French workers to use their native language in companies in France that use English as their working language. Also, the outlawing of ever-encroaching ''Englishism'' in the French language, and the Institut francais. The Institut francais encourages French education and culture in over 140 language programs outside of France, usually based under the French diplomatic service. The French are not alone in such an idea. American Corners from the U.S. State Department, British Councils from the United Kingdom, the Goethe-Institut from Germany, and even Confucius Institutes from the People's Republic of China aim to do the same with their languages as well.
In Africa, French is a firmly rooted and crucial language for commerce, and with the African population set to dramatically grow in the future, the importance of French in that country is nearly guaranteed.
All right, let's take a moment to review what we've learned. Due to the history of French as a diplomatic language and a tool in colonial education and administration, French has a disproportionate amount of linguistic influence in the world, making it a lingua franca, or common language. In Europe, France, Belgium, and Switzerland are large centers of French speakers. In Africa, French is primarily concentrated in west and central Africa. France has attempted to stop the spread of English words entering its main language, and promotes French culture and language through its Institut Francais system maintained by the Academie française, which is a body of French language experts.
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French-Speaking Countries in Africa & Europe: Activities
True or False
There are five sentences below about the French language. Decide whether the sentence presents a true or a false statement. If the statement is false, correct it so it presents true information.
- In the early 1500s, French became the standard language of France.
- French is the third most spoken language in the world.
- In Switzerland, more than half of the population speak French.
- In African countries such as Togo, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon, French is registered as an official language.
- The Academie française is comprised of a group of French language experts who direct the use and preservation of French.
- False: English is the third most spoken language in the world. French is not in the top ten languages with the most speakers worldwide.
- False: French is spoken by approximately 25% or 1/4 of the Swiss population.
Fill-in-the-blanks below with key terms from the lesson.
- In many countries, especially in African countries, French is a common language shared by many people, which enables communication between countries. This marks French as a _____.
- French once held global status as a language of _____, but English has since replaced French in this categorization.
- French has a large number of speakers in the following three European countries: _____.
- The French spoken in African countries can be divided and categorized based on _____.
- lingua franca
- diplomacy and culture
- France, Belgium, and Switzerland
- dialects and regional differences
Reflect on the history, future, and current global use of French as a lingua franca. To complete your reflection, consider responding to the following questions:
- How does French ''fit in'' with other languages? What is your experience with French in relation to your native language? Perhaps you have visited a country where French is the dominant language or an official language; perhaps you learned the language in school.
- What do you think the history of French as a once-dominant language of culture and government to its replacement by English demonstrate about languages? In other words, how does French demonstrate the evolution of a language through time?
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