Archived - Speaking Notes for the Forum mondial de la langue française
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Québec City, July 3, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues, good morning.
I would like to begin by thanking Michel Audet for inviting me to moderate this roundtable on multilingualism as a necessary challenge to the development of French.
Before I introduce the panellists, who come to us from all over the French-speaking world, I would like to say a few words as Canada’s commissioner of official languages.
It’s true that French speakers in North America are swimming in an English-speaking sea. We must always remember, however, that the message of the Francophonie, regardless of whether it originates in Canada, or France, or any other of the world’s French-speaking countries, is one of inclusion, openness and discovery.
The combination of linguistic and cultural diversity is playing an ever more important role on the international stage. But in a changing world where globalization makes it increasingly complicated for citizens to clearly define their national identity, linguistic duality remains an unequivocal Canadian value.
English and French are international languages, and this allows Canada to communicate with a large part of the world and to play a role in both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. We live in a country where people speak 150 languages, some of which were spoken well before the Europeans arrived, but the national conversation takes place in English and French.
The new globalized economy is resulting in many language and identity changes. We are witnessing the birth of hybrid cultural and linguistic identities. Identities are more fluid, roots are less evident and human relationships are characterized by movement. The nature of linguistic identity is changing everywhere. It has become less clear-cut, more flexible and less rigid.
People are starting to develop a plural linguistic identity.
Although English is becoming the international lingua franca, its predominance may wane as a result of pervasive globalization. Bilingualism, and indeed, plurilingualism, will make the difference in the world of tomorrow.
International market forces are redefining the value of languages and a good number of countries have been quick to understand that they can no longer grow using only one language.
In business and education, unilingual citizens will be competing with bilingual and even trilingual candidates who, in addition to their own language, have mastered not only English but also a third language and maybe even a fourth.
The countries of the Francophonie need to redouble their efforts so that French continues to thrive internationally and do a better job of combining linguistic and cultural diversity, and valuing all the cultures of the French-speaking world. French must remain one of the languages of international communication.
That said, there can be no question of taking up arms against English or any other language. French will never spread by pushing aside other languages, but rather through a sustainable alignment with them. In saying that we need a proactive offensive strategy, I am echoing a statement published by a group of political and cultural figures in Le Devoir last week. In this era of globalization, we need to affirm the relevance of the Francophonie and the important role it plays in international communications.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that many countries, including French-speaking countries, are going through a period of intense debate about their approach to diversity and immigration. And the situation is changing rapidly; therefore, it is vital that we have tools and flexible policies to enable us to adapt to the current reality. Populations will continue to diversify at an accelerating rate.
For the time being, French has a living presence everywhere, but we need to remain vigilant to protect it. There are challenges. For example, Rwanda had French-English bilingualism until a decision was made to adopt English as the country’s sole official language. Schools were closed for a year to train the teachers. We must of course recognize the specific situation of Rwanda and its tragic history, but this decision on language had major repercussions for a large portion of the population, and it should be seen as a warning.
Our basic challenge is to develop a feeling of belonging to a worldwide Francophonie that is inclusive and brings people together.
This message must continue to be spread throughout the world and resonate with everyone, regardless of what language they speak, in a positive and inclusive way. The message of the French-speaking world must transcend administrative measures and political commitments. Getting this message across will depend not only on our politicians and other leaders doing a better job, but also on a greater openness to the world on the part of every individual citizen, so that we may all become enriched through linguistic diversity.
And now, before we begin our discussion, I’d like to introduce our panellists:
- Albert Lourde is the president of Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt. He is also a professor of law and legal history and of institutions and social studies. He has also been vice-president of the University of Perpignan; director of a French institute that studies comparative law and Islamic law in the Mediterranean and Africa; dean of the international faculty of comparative law of French-speaking states; and regional director of the southeast Asia office of the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, an agency dedicated higher education and research.
- Jean Tabi Manga is president of the University of Yaoundé II in Cameroon and professor of literature. He holds a variety of honours, including Chevalier des Palmes académiques, Officier de l’Ordre de la Pléiade de la Francophonie and Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Valeur du Cameroun.
- Christian Philip is the rector of the Académie de Montpellier in France and professor of public law in Lyon. In the past he has been a university president, a director of graduate studies, the chief of staff of the minister of higher education and research, a member of the legislative assembly for Lyon and the personal representative for the president of France to the Francophonie.
- Bernard Cerquiglini is head of the Agence universitaire de la francophonie and professor of linguistics at Paris-VII University. His specialty is the French language and he is a well-known author and hosts the program “Merci professeur!” on TVMONDE. Mr. Cerquiglini is also a member of the program committee of the Forum mondial de la langue française.
Gentlemen, the floor is yours.