Defending the French Language by Raising our Shield

More than one thousand Francophones gathered in Quebec City for the very first Forum mondial de la langue française, held last Monday to Friday. Together the participants, from different countries put together a list of 15 key priorities for preserving and developing the French language.

Organised by the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) and the Quebec government, the event received huge media coverage. The OIF’s Secretary General, Abdou Diouf, caused quite a stir with his opening remarks: "Nous devons être des indignés linguistiques!"

In the wake, of Occupy Wall Street and other expressions of anger and as students protest in Quebec, the sentence that went around the world was warranted. However, against whom (or what) should Francophones be outraged? Even without having heard Mr. Diouf’s full address I can answer that question: against themselves.

Although I do not claim to be a great linguistic scholar, let me briefly explain myself.

The threat of the English language is global, especially on an economic level. The world’s languages must be complexed when compared to English.

Because of its omnipresence it is said to be the new Esperanto. We can’t fight off the English language, but we can resist assimilation.

That's how Francophones around the world will be linguistically indignant, as requested by Mr. Diouf. We will be stronger by emphasising our Francophone assets than by constantly focusing on our minority complex.

After all, we are more than 200 million French speaking people around the world. French is strong enough to coexist with other languages, no matter how powerful they may be. "(...) nous ne sommes pas là pour lancer une déclaration de guerre, mettre les langues en concurrence en compétition." I agree with Mr. Diouf.

Let us through down our weapons but raise our shields, because sometimes we can be our worst enemy.

Philippe Daoust

PS. Have a look at the Forum mondial de la langue française’s web site to discover a wealth of news, relevant documents and links surrounding this event for the first time available to the public.