French Language Week: Minister launches new French dictionary app

Francophonie – French Language Week – Interview given by M. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to TV5 Monde (excerpts)

Paris, 15 March 2021

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Q. – French Language and Francophonie Week; 500,000 words and expressions in a dictionary of French speakers, which you’re launching tomorrow with Louise Mushikiwabo, who heads the Organisation internationale de la francophonie [OIF – international Francophone organization], Leïla Slimani, who’s sponsoring the Week, and Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot. What is this dictionary?

THE MINISTER – Well, I’ve got it online here. It’s the test version, but it’s going to be available. It makes it possible to have all the words in the French language, because meanings sometimes differ from one country to another. For example, the word char [tank]: in France, char means military hardware. But char in Quebec, for example, means car. In Switzerland’s case, it means an agricultural vehicle. So you can see that one word sometimes has different meanings, different senses depending on the country. So the French language, as you can see, is diverse. And I think Tahar Ben Jelloun has a very fine turn of phrase when he says that francophonie is ultimately a house with more tenants than owners. So, yes, it’s true that the French language is employed, is in common use, adopted by all the peoples using it worldwide. And that leads to differences. So the President wanted to show that this language unites, brings together very different peoples. And it’s fantastic, because thanks to the French language, you can work, study, travel and be in love on every continent, in French. I think that’s a very fine message.

Q. – Yes, with different accents...

THE MINISTER – Exactly.

Q. – Elsewhere in the dictionary we find un bol d’air [“a breath of fresh air”]: it’s the theme of the Week – we really need a breath of fresh air, with Covid and everything. But beyond that, the French language is faring better, despite what’s said – obviously there’s multilingualism –, despite what’s said about the rise of English.

THE MINISTER – Well, I’d say the reality is differentiated. On the one hand, the French-speaking world has strong demographic momentum, because its centre, as the President likes to say, is somewhere in the Congo Basin area. So it’s true that we’re seeing this strong demographic momentum. But in order for it to be fully achieved, we still have to have enough trained French-language teachers and also enough institutions teaching in French. This is why we’ve put the emphasis on the Global Partnership for Education, the doubling of the number of staff in the French teaching system abroad. And at the same time, a battle still needs to be fought, particularly within international institutions – I’m thinking, for instance, of the European Union – because after all, it’s got to be said, we’re witnessing a sort of emergence of English as Esperanto. I’m not resigned to this. On 8 April, Louise Mushikiwabo and my European Affairs colleague and I will be defending multilingualism, the fact that we must use French and other national languages more in institutions because using solely English completely impoverishes: speaking with the same 300 words in gobbledygook is unsatisfactory, and, ultimately, being able to speak in one’s own tongue, being able to express oneself in French, German or Spanish is very important, it’s a key to democracy.

Q. – The French language ranks third for business, it’s the fourth most used for international communication and fifth most spoken in world. Can we do even better?

THE MINISTER – I think we’ve got a major challenge when it comes to the digital world, because we’ve got to make all content visible in French, in the French language, in the digital world. Here too, France is running a project with Canada, Quebec and French speakers about the “discoverability” of Internet content. Because today everything is digital, and as you can see, what’s important is to be able to be well referenced and feature clearly. The French language is venerable, it’s centuries old. Remember [the Ordinance of] Villers-Cotterêts, which standardized the language in France. Today we’ve got to continue in new areas, the information highways etc. There’s a lot to do, but there’s also great determination from heads of State and government. The President is spearheading this ambition, and in a few months we’ve got the [OIF] heads of State and government summit. It will be in Djerba, Tunisia – a tribute, too, to the OIF’s founders. Remember, it happened 51 years ago. The 50th anniversary was last year, but sadly we couldn’t celebrate it properly because of the pandemic. But it’s a legacy which, I think, imposes many duties on us, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the President and I are attentive to this.

Q. – Beyond that, we were talking earlier about visits, about geography. All the same, hasn’t Covid broken the unity of this great Francophone family?

THE MINISTER – Well, Covid has made us work differently; we’ve all had our share of video conferences, and admittedly sometimes the video conference has alas led, at international level, to the use of English. And here too there’s a battle to ensure that the post-Covid world, with changed habits, isn’t one which denies linguistic diversity. So you’re right, some very big challenges have arisen with this pandemic: to resume the flow of trade and students. Happily, a Maison des étudiants de la francophonie has sprung up at the Cité internationale universitaire in Paris. I’ll be there on Wednesday with the Recteur [Executive-Director] of the AUF, the Agence universitaire de la francophonie [Francophone university association]. We need to resume these exchanges, not just of students, interns and apprentices, and admittedly this has been made complicated. So we’ve got to continue things differently, in large part on the Web. But we aren’t giving up, because this francophonie presents a huge, tremendous field of possibilities. Imagine yourself on five continents, [with] this ability to communicate. I think it’s also a vehicle for the economic world. Incidentally, I pay tribute to MEDEF [French employers’ association], which wants at the end of August to convene a genuine economic Francophone summit. It will provide an opportunity, I think, to boost this economic francophonie which has been the subject of many seminars and reports but which we’ve somewhat struggled to see materialize. This is good timing, because the OIF has, precisely, a new economic Francophone strategy. So as you can see, everyone is moving in the same direction.

Q. – Yes, and TV5 Monde is the francophonie channel, with its new free platform TV5 Monde+.

THE MINISTER – Which is wonderful. I can’t stop talking about it whenever I’m asked questions because there’s this ability to have access, precisely, to different formats and hundreds and hundreds of [cultural] programmes – and it’s free –, so I think it’s wonderful. (...)./.

Published on 18/03/2021

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