Discovering French around the world: your guide to la Francophonie
Although France comes to mind first when one thinks of all things French, and although l’Hexagone appears as the mother ship of the francophone space, it is important to know there are various countries, regions, and places where le français plays a key part. Introducing la francophonie…
The French language and culture are rich and diverse, spanning centuries and territories.
From Montréal to Tunis, from Dakar to Lausanne, from Asian cities to Pacific islands. These populations are united by a language, and thus form a part of the vast, vital, and sometimes elusive entity we call la francophonie.
But what is la francophonie exactly? What purpose does it serve?
What power does it hold on the political stage?
Do its members share values, or is French the only common point?
As a Québécoise who lived in Brussels and Paris, I should be well-versed on the topic. But I admit I still find the subject hard to grasp at times given its various definitions and numerous goals. Nonetheless, I am aware of its fundamental significance and certain of the need to shine a light on it. Without further ado, let’s delve into the matter.
La francophonie: more than just le français
The mot francophonie is polysemous and bears different facets – at times linguistic, spiritual, cultural and institutional. One can get lost in the various meanings attached to it. Not only does the meaning vary, but the spelling itself changes.
- In fact, when spelled with a lowercase f it refers to the populations using French as a language
- Whereas when spelled with a capital F it refers to the official institutions where governments and authorities speaking French gather
Born of a desire from intellectuals and politicians to see the creation of an institutionalized francophone community, the most prestigious and central of all these institutions is l’Organisation international de la Francophonie (OIF).
The OIF includes 84 member states and governments. It has acquired an important voice on the international stage over the decades and is an advocate for any causes or issues encompassed in its objectives and valeurs.
When looking up the OIF’s website, we find four objectives:
- To champion the French language, and cultural and linguistic diversity
- The promotion of peace, democracy, and human rights
- To support education, training, higher education, and research
- To nurture sustainable development through cooperation. For example, most recently the OIF took a stance against the Rohinga ethnic cleansing occurring in Burma
This illustrates a strong political engagement and shows that la Francophonie does not shy away from its position as a world player. Selon moi, this fact, alongside many aspects of la francophonie, are sadly too little known.
Histoire and evolution of la francophonie
The term francophonie was first coined in 1880 by French geographer Onésime Reclus as a way to categorize French-speaking cultures.
Very soon forgotten, the word reappeared in 1962 in the pages of Esprit magazine, where renowned Senegalese intellectual and President Léopold Sédar Senghor penned an essay, which is now widely considered as the founding text of the concept of francophonie.
In the essay, the Senegalese wordsmith declared that “La Francophonie is a complete humanism”, equating the revived notion with not only a linguistic value but an ethical one.
More than fifty years later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared this sentiment by declaring on TV that:
La francophonie se rassemble autour des droits humains – the francophone world gathers around human rights.
Even though the two statesmen expressed such views in vastly different contexts (the postcolonial world of 1962 and the globalized one of 2017), their respective messages remain similar at heart; the populations sharing French as a language share also, if not mostly, ideals and principles.
How well do French speakers and Francophiles know la francophonie?
From the late 19th century until today, the significance of la francophonie has evolved greatly. But, one problem persists – the lack of presence in the public sphere. Many people are still unsure or oblivious to its definition and role.
This stems from feeble media coverage and a meagre existence in school textbooks. Education and culture are keys to better understanding the meanings and history of this concept.
If citizens are informed and knowledgeable, they can act, discuss, and share ideas and projects. This would, in turn, allow la francophonie to become stronger in the future. I am convinced we need to give it more attention.
In a world dominated by the English language, la Francophonie is necessary as it guarantees diversity and a cultural dialogue. Furthermore, the ideas of peace, humanism, and democracy supported by l’OIF are all aimed at creating a better world.
Therefore, more clarity and exposure are necessary to fully inform citizens about the notion and structures of la francophonie. But mostly to create a strong movement of solidarité between French-speaking populations.
Initiatives and ideas: a face for the future
Initiatives do exist. For example, there is:
- The Semaine de la langue française et de la francophonie, which takes place in March each year
- There’s also TV5, a global television network broadcast in French-speaking countries which acts as the de facto francophone channel. But, more can be done
- French President Emmanuel Macron recently appointed young Goncourt prizewinner, Leïla Slimani as his personal representative for la Francophonie
As a Moroccan woman living in France, and a socially engaged journalist and novelist, Slimani will hopefully bring a spotlight (but mostly great ideas) to la Francophonie.
For example, Slimani recently wrote an essay on the subject of sexuality in Morocco. She does not balk at the thought of expressing her views and defending human rights – even if it means going against the political powers in place.
This vocal commitment, alongside her exceptional talent as an author, represent an undeniable step forward to expose and highlight the various faces of la francophonie. With her youth and her forward-thinking attitude, Leïla Slimani is bringing a more modern image to la francophonie.
Do you have any ideas to create more awareness around la francophonie? Would you like to learn more about it? Let us know your views in the comments box below.
1. Flags of the Francophonie, via Wikipedia
2. OIF logo, via Wikipedia
3. Léopold Sédar Senghor, via Wikipedia
4. Les Francophones dans le monde 2015, via Wikipedia
5. Leïla Slimani, via Wikipedia