Marc Arnal: More than a Proud Defender of the French Language

By Jocelyne Verret-Chiasson, Edmonton (Alberta)

Credit: University of Alberta

What do the dean of the University of Alberta’s Saint-Jean Campus and the XIII Francophonie Summit in Montreux, Switzerland, have in common? A vision! One of a global Francophonie that is proud and respectful of its diversity.

Evolution of the French Language

Marc Arnal, Dean of the Saint-Jean Campus since July 1, 2003, has seen the situation of the French language in Manitoba change. “There was a time when teaching French and religion was illegal in Manitoba. We only had a half hour of French after classes were over […] All his life, my father took great pride in being a Francophone, even at a time when that was rather rare,” Mr. Arnal recalled. “It was not until 1970 that Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer changed the school act, allowing French to be a full-time language of education in Manitoba. At the time, I was an education coordinator with the Franco-Manitoban Society. My job consisted primarily of raising awareness among Francophones who feared identifying themselves as such. This fear is alarming, because one must have confidence in one’s own means in order to enter into dialogue with others.”

French Speakers in the World

  • French is the ninth most widely spoken language on the planet.
  • French is the official language of 29 states and 3 governments.
  • There are at least 220 million French speakers worldwide.
  • Africa is the continent with the highest number of French speakers, with 96.2 million French speakers in OIF member countries.
  • More than 116 million people are learning French worldwide. French is one of the only languages taught in every country in the world.

Source: (in French only)

A Pillar of the Community

Today, Marc Arnal is actively involved in Western Canada’s Francophone community and is particularly interested in cultural diversity and in welcoming Francophones from abroad. He co-chairs the Citizenship and Immigration Canada – Francophone Minority Communities Steering Committee and chairs the Canadian Foundation for Cross-Cultural Dialogue, an organization that aims to promote dialogue among the different components of Canadian society.

For Marc Arnal, welcoming and integrating newcomers is an opportunity to strengthen the Francophonie. “Although Francophone communities are beginning to open up to the diversity represented, at least in part, by the migration of Francophones of African ancestry to the West, there is still a lot to do. The Mahé decision legitimized the French language and Francophone schools. The Supreme Court supported the decision. It is now time to show some diplomacy toward political leaders at all levels. We must reflect upon things that others take for granted, stimulate debate, and ensure that provincial governments, legal systems, etc., offer services in French.”

Credit: University of Alberta

A Family Open to the World

Not only is Marc Arnal’s professional life punctuated with encounters with people from all over the world who speak several languages and who have a range of beliefs and visions of the world, it has also played out in an cross-cultural environment. His wife, Rashmi Joshee, speaks Punjabi, French, and English. Gabriel, their eldest son, has studied in Japan and speaks Japanese. He majored in Canadian Studies at the Saint-Jean Campus and now studies law, specifically the constitutional issues related to the rights of minorities. The couple’s younger son, Daniel, is currently studying business at the Saint-Jean Campus, and their daughter, Anu, is studying Indian Dance.

A Vision of the Future

“My hope for the future is that the Saint-Jean Campus become the nerve centre of French development in the West. My dream for my children and for the world’s people is that we can all live in harmony by respecting the principles of fairness, equality and justice for all. Everyone has a role to play,” Mr. Arnal concluded.

Francophonie Summit

The XIII Francophonie Summit 2010 was held from October 22 to October 24, 2010, bringing together 56 member states and governments and 14 observer states of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). During an event themed “Challenges and Visions for the Future,” the members discussed the Francophonie in global governance, shared issues such as food safety and climate change, and the teaching of French in the world.

The International Organisation of La Francophonie took this opportunity to release the Rapport sur la langue française dans le monde 2010, a key report that “provides quantitative and qualitative information on the role of French not only in the 70 member and observer states and governments in the Francophonie and, in certain cases, in the rest of the world.”

Source:,34384.html (in French only)

Published on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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