Could French become again the first world language? The issue is old, it goes back to the end of World War Two where Yalta devoted English as the World Language. In 2016, a French think-tank (not quite, summarized them as a group of bank influencer) Natixis have published a study where a population projection put French as the most spoken language. From this point, a lot of issues have waved the international community, the point was: Could French become again the world leading language?
Ok, the interrogation is tricky, stuck in the middle of tensions emerging from the assertion of identity from ethnic or linguistic group. So, time for a break, forget your linguistic irredentism, calm your need to give an opinion, look at the fact (don’t ask them out! That’s too fast). French used to be the world leading language from Peace of Westphalia (or Westfälischer Friede in German if you are snobbish) to Yalta Conference, so 1648 to 1945. During this three centuries the diplomatic service everywhere in the world speak French. At this time, the France is one of the most powerful countries. Then, France is a military power, a religious power (daughter of the church –that’s mean the population is fooled to believe in an imaginary friend who made the king one of its designee), a colonialist power –second after the UK- with, in addition, a strong soft power. But it’s most important lever for action is the language.
When it’s time to discuss the Napoleon fall at the Congress of Vienna, the discussion are in French. That’s the same at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the World War One. When something is discuss in the world language and this world language is your maternal language, you have an advantage in the debate. Not only because of the subtlety distinction in grammar, but because the negotiator speaking French is aware of the French Culture, so more exposed to the soft power and then less likely to be hostile during the debates.
The world language is the most powerful lever of soft power.
So. The historical boring part is done, time to do the statistical annoying part. As I’ve a wonderful life (don’t be jealous please) I’ve done some excel graphic to illustrate the actual language repartition in the world (I’ve said don’t be jealous!).
Therefore, what did this sexy sheet teach us about the world language? In 2019, French isn’t, by far, close to become again the world leading language. Sorry Victor, everybody will still read les misérables by translation.
So how Natixis could say that French will become by 2050 the world leading language? It’s because of the nice science which is: Demography. (If you’d feel you nipples tickling at this word, that’s ok, this is the new definition of eroticism).
With some projection, French will have more than 1 billion speakers in 2060 as you can see on this graph (blue French, yellow Arabic, green Spanish, Red Portuguese, purple German)
During this time, the number of speaker of Mandarin will fall drastically, killed by the policy of «only one child» per family adopted by the Chinese government after Mao’s death. In regards of the expansion of the English speaker, the curves will not follow this growth to.
Indeed, this increase of the francophone demography is led by the rise of Africa where the former French Colony that have not yet completed their demographic transition.
This number show that French will probably be the most spoken language in the world by 2060.
But (and I insist on this butt) the number of speaker don’t give to the language the rank of world language. Africa have not power in international relation. Counting on its growth to make French great again isn’t the wisest move.
Nevertheless, the power of this language should indeed growth. French is actually an official language at UN (among six other), one of the three in WTO, the one who share with English the power in NATO, OECD, European Council, ICJ, CJEU (I know most of this abbreviations doesn’t ring a bell in your mind, but I need to feel cleverer than you to compensate my English level). So, French is still a language of power.
Furthermore, by the OIF, (International Organization of Francophonie) there is an international movement –neither leaded nor created by France- where the countries which speak French share a common softer power policy. This is a political lever who have the same power than the commonwealth in a way. Without its structure or influence capacity, it’s still a diplomatic tool which can be used as a solidarity principle between the 80 members of the organization (even if only 30 have French as official language).
Thus, sadly, I still need to improve my English, notwithstanding the growth of French in the next years, it will not become again the world language. Although its power will rise again, in a different way, as a shared language between nations, not anymore as a hegemonic tongue by a narcissistic (but beautiful) country.
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