While the Journée internationale de la Francophonie, observed on March 20th, is well-known to Francophones and Francophiles around the world, the Semaine de la langue française et de la Francophonie, an initiative of the French Ministry of Culture since 1996, and observed in its 28th edition from March 18th to March 26th, 2023, highlights the diversity of the French language and of Francophone culture around the world. Many events are scheduled on March 20th, during the Semaine de la langue française et de la Francophonie, and throughout the entire month. The theme for 2023, «À tous les temps» (“At all times?”), is intriguing on many levels for so many of us who speak and love French, or who have a French or Francophone personal cultural identity.
Beyond the many words and expressions in French that relate to time, such as heure, temps, longtemps, toujours, le temps qui file, etc., present in the spoken and written language, time is especially relevant to those who speak French beyond French borders, where French generally exists in a multilingual environment.
In any discussion of French, it is important to remember that while the population of France is 67M, there are 321M Francophones worldwide, and French is the third most widely spoken language in North America. The French government has launched a worldwide French language initiative and the dual-language immersion fund in the US in 2017, followed by the French for All initiative in December 2022 in New Orleans.
Within the North American context, French is the official language of Québec, and an official language of Canada. In the US, the State of Louisiana is a member of the OIF (Organisation internationale de la Francophonie), which currently has 88 members, and the State of Maine has the highest percentage of French/Francophone ancestry. French is spoken by 33M in North America, by 11M in the US. French is spoken in the home by 2M in the US and is the second most widely studied language in the US. In addition, there are over 250K French nationals living in North America.
However, despite these impressive numbers and the deep historical and cultural connections that exist between the US, Canada, and France, “time flies” (a metaphor relevant to this year’s theme and that exists in both French and English), and French in the US co-exists with multiple languages, most notably English, our de facto official languages, and is not immune from the language loss that has been part of US history. “Time flies,” and it is necessary to act now in order to ensure that the opportunity to learn and use French is available to all.
Franco-responsibility, or francoresponsabilité, the use of French in our daily lives, is at the heart of the resurgence of French in the US. It is essential that stakeholders and supporters of French language and Francophone culture in the US work together to strengthen and support the learning and use of French – in our schools and educational institutions, in communication, and in media and the arts. French language stakeholders include educators, government, business and industry, philanthropic and external partners, and – most importantly – communities and parents.
The good news is that there is a resurgence of French across the country. People are learning and using French, and schools, organizations, and communities are empowering French language learners and French language speakers to fulfill personal and professional goals, to re-connect to family history and heritage, and to step up as global citizens through this shared global language.
The following are just a few of the many examples. In addition to the American Association of Teachers of French, whose mission is “to promote throughout North America the teaching and learning of the French language and French-speaking cultures and civilizations,” and traditional, immersion, and heritage French language programs, there are opportunities to learn and use the French language and to connect with French and Francophone culture through organizations both global and local, including the Alliance Française and the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques, as well as through organizations like the Nous Foundation, the Franco-American Centre, and the UM Franco-American programs, Acadian Archives, and the French American Heritage Foundation in Minnesota. For those who may not yet speak French, initiatives like the NH PoutineFest and the French-Canadian Legacy podcast offer opportunities to re-connect with Franco-American heritage.
The future of French in the US is up to us, and teamwork means everything. L’Union fait la force!