France has been long known for its long-dated tradition of making colossal efforts on preserving the dominance of the French language, spreading it across the globe and popularizing the French culture. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that French is the dominant language in France, whereas over 88% of the French citizens consider it as their native tongue. Yet, even those people who speak minority languages also do speak French. Yet, this article will give you a better, clearer understanding of the language situation in France, the country’s minority languages, and the role of the French language overseas and internationally.
General Overview of the Language Situation in France
France is the second-largest country in the European continent (beaten only by Ukraine), and its linguistic situation seems a bit surprising in comparison to the neighboring countries. The small neighboring Switzerland, for example, has granted the status of official language to four languages. Spain, despite having officially only one state language, can boast to have a variety of regional languages (Basque, Catalan, Galician, etc.) and dialects that are widely spoken across the country.
The language situation in France is, indeed, different to a large extent. The second article of the French Constitution guarantees that French is the only official language of the country. Besides, it is a native language of 88% of the French citizens, though more than 98% of the population speak French. And even though the French state is in a way overprotective in regards to the French language (and this is believed to be caused by Englishanization and the threat of the English language becoming widespread), the French Constitution also obliges the government to protect minority languages in France. Besides, it is quite remarkable that more than 7 million Frenchs in the south speak Occitan dialects, which is roughly equal to 12% of the country’s entire population.
When it comes to the language situation in France, one should think about minority languages and dialects – more than 3% of the population, for example, speak German dialects (mostly in the country’s east). Without counting the languages of immigrants, languages that are spoken by minorities in France can be broken up into five groups: Romani, Vasconic, Celtic, Germanic, and Romance languages. While the latter two groups of languages include a large variety of languages and dialects, Romani is a language of its own, while only Basque (Vasconic group) and Breton (Celtic group) are spoken by French minorities from those groups. Germanic languages include Alsatian, Luxembourgish, Flemish and Dutch. At the end, the group of Romance languages spoken in France is the largest one: Spanish (known also as Castilian), Portuguese, Occitan, Oil languages (French dialects spoken in the north of France, south of Belgium, and the Channel Islands), Ligurian, Italian, Franco-Provencal, Corsican, Catalan, and Caló.
Concerning the issue of minority languages, teaching in those languages anywhere in the country’s regions is not supported (and highly discouraged) by the state. The reason for that is the idea that stems from the times of the French Revolution, which proclaims that “no citizen can demand additional rights for him/herself.” Though, one is able to find bilingual schools in some regions (like Britanny), but it does not happen frequently in France. In 1999, there had been prepared a report that identified no less than 75 minority languages spoken in France and the French territories overseas.
Similar as English and Spanish, French had been initially promoted in the world by the colonization of other countries, as France appeared to be a huge empire. A partly different way chose only Germany, whereas the German language was popularized mostly thanks to the philosophy and science. In the 19th century, France appeared to be in isolation because of its aggression against Germany. At that time, the French people had come up with a new idea called “cultural diplomacy,” i.e. propagating the language, culture, and traditions of a certain country (France in this case), and it worked. British, Spanish, Italians, and Germans also followed this practice by founding institutions like the Cervantes Institute or Goethe Institute.
The Language Situation in the Former Colonies of France
When it comes to the issue of the language situation in France, one shouldn’t forget about a simple fact: France was a strong empire with huge overseas territories in the past. France imposed its culture and language on the aboriginal people of all its territories, mostly in Africa (though, in Canada in the North America as well). This has, perhaps, been the main factor why French enjoy the status of an official language in 29 countries! Those countries include France, Vanuatu, Togo, Switzerland, Seychelles, Senegal, Rwanda, Niger, Monaco, Mali, Madagascar, Luxembourg, Haiti, Guinea, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Congo, Comoros, Chad, Central African Republic, Canada, Cameroon, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Belgium. As one may see, the majority of those countries are located in Africa.
At the same time, France possesses certain overseas territories up to the present time. Apart from the French language spoken in those territories, there are also other languages and dialects. For instance, Dutch and English are spoken in Saint Martin. English is also spoken in Saint Barthélemy. Various Amerindian languages are spoken in Guiana, while a large variety of Austronesian languages are used in French Polynesia, Mayotte, Wallis & Futuna, and New Caledonia.
The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, shortly abbreviated as OIF and typically referred to as Francophonie, is an international organization that includes countries or regions where French either enjoys the status of an official language or spoken by a large share of population. The organization was founded back in 1970 in a form of a small club and evolved into a large international organization, which now comprises 57 governments and member states, 3 associate members, and over 20 observers. Observers shouldn’t necessarily have many people speaking French in their countries – moreover, the majority of observers are countries in the Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, etc.).
The goals of Francophonie include promoting the French language, culture, and linguistic diversity, supporting human rights, democracy, and peace, and assisting in providing higher education, research, and training.
This link will help you in learning French.