I have followed with great interest the debates on Bill 96, especially those relating to indicators for monitoring the state of the language. Since the international francophone space is our field of study, let us here examine certain observations for Quebec.
Let’s start by recalling a few names. Former Presidents Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, Hamani Diori of Niger and Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia are known as the fathers of La Francophonie. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Abdou Diouf, Michaëlle Jean and Louise Mushikiwabo succeeded each other at the head of the international organization La Francophonie. Yasmina Khadra, Alain Mabanckou, Ahmadou Kourouma and Prix Goncourt, who are Mohamed Sarr, Amin Maalouf and Tahar Ben Jelloun, are great feathers of the French language to which we can add those of Dany Laferrière, Jim Corcoran, Kim Thúy and Boucar. Diof. .
What do these people have in common? They are certainly great personalities in the French-speaking world, but none of them have French as their mother tongue.
They are a reflection of the French-speaking world, which has been completely transformed in recent decades. In the early 1960s, the Francophone population was firmly established in the Nordic countries – more than 90% – and at that time it consisted mainly of people whose mother tongue was French. This is no longer the case in 2022: Almost 60% of the 321 million francophones are in the South, where very few have French as their mother tongue. As I have pointed out on several occasions: we are born less and less francophone, but we are becoming more and more.
These 321 million people live in what we call the French-speaking galaxy, within which we have delimited a subset of territories, the planet “born or living in French”, which includes those who are daily exposed to the French language. The number of French speakers on this planet has grown by 55 million from 2010 to 2022, including 50 million (91%) on the African continent, confirming the shift of the center of francophony from Europe to Africa.
However, it is multilingualism that first characterizes the linguistic regimes of French-speaking Africa. A study we just published shows that between 75% and 98% of the population in about 30 cities in French-speaking Africa declare that they speak two or more languages. The contexts are varied, but French is ubiquitous. The example of Abidjan is eloquent, as 90% of the population declare that they speak French most often at work. In this country, French is used as the only language by 20% of the inhabitants of Abidjan, while 70% say that they use French and an Ivorian language.
This pattern also characterizes, with some variations, the larger cities of other countries: Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, etc. Elsewhere, French is less present but seen as a partner language, with Wolof in Senegal, Bambara in Mali, Arabic in Maghreb, and this, while it is very often the most important language of instruction from primary school to primary school. It is therefore the school that has become the primary place for the dissemination of the French language in the French-speaking world, a language that is then spread in the written media, in parliaments and through posters in the bustling streets of these big cities. French-speaking Africa.
It is worth remembering that it is from this continent that more and more French-speaking immigrants from Quebec and Canada are coming. Multilingualism among these francophones is therefore not a fiction that some demographers would have us believe. It seems clear that mother tongue is an indicator that we must continue to collect in surveys and censuses, but this information is clearly insufficient to define who is a francophone.
Finally, it is constantly reiterated that Quebec is surrounded by more than 300 million English speakers in America. Why not try to bring Quebec closer to these millions of French speakers on the planet, which are sometimes quite far away, but within easy reach of a click or a Zoom? Promote exchanges with these other French speakers on the planet? And even more, is it possible first and foremost to stop creating barriers for those who want to study here, discover Quebec and why not live there and start a family here? It is certainly time to revive this idea of a French-speaking visa that would facilitate mobility through this galaxy.
Pierre Bourgault wrote in 1997: “Today, our children of all origins are in our common language and know that French, if it isolates us in North America, also opens up all horizons for us throughout the world. “The horizons are now formed by more than 320 million French speakers on several continents.