French President Emmanuel Macron was to unveil plans to boost the number of French speakers in the world to 700 million in a speech in Paris on Tuesday.
With its young and growing population, Africa is key to his strategy but some intellectuals there have criticised «colonialist overtones» in the project. Most of the world was probably unaware that Tuesday was World Francophonie Day 2018, but the occasion was marked by France and the 84 countries grouped in the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), not to mention the French president himself. After a build-up starting in August and given an extra boost at a speech in Burkina Faso in November, he was due to unveil about 30 measures to «promote French and multilingualism» to an audience of academicians and young people «from every continent» at the French language’s holy of holies, the Académie Française.
Fifth world language
Assessments of how widely spoken languages vary greatly, although there is no doubt that Mandarin Chinese and Spanish lead the list of first languages and that English - or what has become known as «globish» - is the most widely spoken second language. The OIF says that French is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, the third business language and the fourth on the world wide web. «It’s not a question of opposing languages to each other - French and English, French and local and national African languages,» the president’s office insists. «There is room in today’s world for a plurality of languages.»