200 Million French Speakers

Flag of the OIF

French Language Flies High

Alexandre Wolff, head of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) French language observatory, speaking on its 40th anniversary said the rise was occurring despite the global reach of English boosted in recent decades by the Internet.

According to OIF, the commonwealth of French-speaking nations, French ranks ninth among the world’s most-spoken languages. OIF research shows a rise in the number of Francophones since 2007. OIF estimates there are now 200 million French-speakers in the world with nearly half of these in Africa, home to some 96.2 million French-speakers.

French is a Second Language For Most
The OIF suggests that rising literacy and birth rates mean there could be 700 million French-speakers globally by 2050. But Alexandre Wolff told the French news agency AFP that “growth is far from guaranteed. French is a second language for most of its speakers, so will only flourish if countries retain it in school syllabuses.” He noted French was the mother tongue of France, francophone Belgium, francophone Switzerland, Quebec and some Canadian provinces, Luxembourg and Monaco a total of around 75 million.

English is the Language of the Internet
“With English as the language of the Internet and of the world’s only superpower, the world’s 328,000,000 Anglophones tend to believe in assured linguistic hegemony. But Mandarin Chinese and Spanish both have more native speakers — 800,000,000 and 358,000,000 respectively, while Hindi, Arabic and Bengali are all close behind,” he said.

The OIF’s current head is former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf, and the organisation’s mission has always been a little ambiguous. Officially it fights to protect the language, still keeping up a losing battle for international institutions to publish French versions of working documents.

However there have been calls for OIF to become the French version of the British Commonwealth a channel which would help retain a French-speaking sphere of influence. OIF has 56 members, and 14 observer states with 26 members on the African continent alone, although Algeria, France’s former north African colony has declined to join. Albania, Armenia, Romania and Mozambique are members, while Austria, Hungary and Thailand all enjoy observer status.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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