Flanders: French-speaking mayors blocked from taking up public office

Recent news from Belgium has been encouraging as the Flems are increasingly seen standing up to the French-speaking mafia ruling the country behind the scenes:

Flemish regional authorities have blocked three French-speaking mayors from taking up public office since they were elected in January 2007 in the Brussels suburbs of Linkebeek, Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem. Marino Keulen, the Flemish Interior Minister responsible for the ban, remained defiant and announced he will stick by his decision to outlaw the elected mayors."Flanders has not been convicted. Only a court can impose a conviction," he said. "I would have preferred a different decision, because this will hit the international headlines, but the real impact is nil." Mr Keulen insisted that the three mayors did not respect Flemish linguistic legislation that prohibits French election literature even though the suburbs they represent, while geographically in Dutch-speaking Flanders, are mainly inhabited by French speakers. The COE [Council of Europe] has demanded that the mayors be immediately appointed and called for a review of Belgium's linguistic laws that have been used by Flemish nationalists to ban the use of the French language in municipalities around Brussels, home to the EU. Damien Thiéry, the banned mayor elect for Linkebeek, told human rights watchdogs in Strasbourg that a legal appeal in Belgium could take five years. "You are our last recourse. Without you the democracy will die out in our towns," he said. The COE's intervention has stepped up the long-running row between Belgium's two main communities, the richer Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders and the poorer francophone Wallonia region in the south. Flanders, where 60 per cent of Belgium's 10.5 million people live, has sought more regional powers leading to a political impasse that means Belgium has been without government since inconclusive elections in June 2007.
03 Dec 2008
Bruno Waterfield

This news story is also interesting in that it mentions only three municipalities as having elected a French-speaking mayor in Flanders even though the Francophones often claim that most communes located between Brussels and Wallonia are inhabited by a majority of French speakers and should be annexed to Wallonia in case of Flanders seceding from the Belgian Kingdom.

"in 2011 French will be history"

Looks like the Rwandans mean business. Way to go, Rwanda!

    KIGALI, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Rwanda's schools will cease the use of the French language for instruction in two years, the country's Education Ministry announced Thursday. The private Rwanda news agency quoted Mutsindashyaka Theoneste, state minister for primary and secondary education, as saying that in 2011 French will be history. "After that time, only French will be taught in French, "said Theoneste amid laughter from the audience at the on-going national dialogue. He said that by adopting English, Rwanda was simply joining the international system.   The Rwandan official said that starting with next academic year, all science subjects will be taught in English, adding that by the end of 2010 all schools will be English speaking.  However, the decision to drop French made in August has attracted heated debate. Some quarters have linked it to the severing of relations between Rwanda and France. In November, 2006, Rwanda cut diplomatic ties with France after a French judge called for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to be tried over the killing of a former leader 12 years ago.


Fire bomb attack against a French language institute

French official culture doesn't seem to command the respect it used to:

Athens braced Friday for further protest demonstrations as violence continued in the city with a fire bomb attack against a French language institute. Eyewitnesses said around 20 masked protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the institute in central Athens and then escaped down a narrow street. The incident continued nearly two weeks of severe unrest which was triggered by the shooting death of a 15-year-old youth by police on Saturday, Dec. 6.


Can French compete with France's local tongues?

The French elites love posturing as protectors of language diversity on the world stage, but everyone knows that there is nothing they fear more than competition, starting at home:
Right after the French Academy strongly denounced a constitutional revision recognizing linguistic diversity as part of France’s heritage, the French Senate voted 2-to-1 to kill the measure. Article 1 of the French Constitution defines France as an indivisible, secular, democratic republic. On May 22, the French National Assembly voted all-but-unanimously – there was one negative vote – to modify that formula by adding the nation’s many local languages to the short list of constitutionally-protected civic virtues: “[France’s] regional languages belong to its patrimony.” But on Monday the Académie Française rejected any attempt to constitutionalize local languages as “an attack on French national identity.”  Article 2 of the French Constitution clearly states, “The language of the Republic is French.” As the Academy reads it, the national identity can only be expressed through French. 
 In an uncharacteristic comment on pending legislation, the 40 Immortals of the French Academy called constitutional recognition of regional languages “an attack on national identity.” While France has always been a linguistically-diverse country – the nation is even named after the Franks, a medieval Germanic tribe – the French government has often denied that heritage, preferring the myth of one nation speaking one language. After the French Revolution, the government actively sought to eradicate local patois, replacing them with French. But at the start of World War I, French army officials were shocked to discover that many of their new recruits still could not understand the language of command (as Monty Python might have asked, how do you say, “Run away,” in French?).

By 1930, one quarter of the French were still speaking a regional language, and even today, a good 10 million of France’s 60 million residents don’t speak French at home. Not counting the languages of immigrants, there are 29 local languages spoken in the Hexagon, as the French call mainland France.  (Another 45 or so native languages are spoken in current French territories and in its former colonies.) According to Ethnologue,the regional languages of France include Alemannisch, or Aslatian (1.5 million speakers); Auvergnat, or Occitan (1.3 million); Breton (500,000); Provençal (250,000); Romani (about 50,000); Corsican (340,000) and Yiddish (numbers not available). Historically, students in French schools were punished for speaking Breton, Alsatian, and Occitan (while speakers of Yiddish were simply deported), and France is one of the few nations refusing to sign the European Union’s charter giving legal rights to minority-language speakers. Linguistic diversity in the Hexagon The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Parliament to support regional-language protection, as did many community activists.

Even the rigid national educational system makes allowance for linguistic diversity. According to Radio France, on Tuesday almost 6,000 students took their Baccalauréat, or national high school exit exams, in a regional language. But the senators were not convinced, and on Wednesday they shut down the regional languages protection clause with a resounding “Non!”   Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a prominent Socialist Party senator who opposes constitutional protections for regional languages (photo: Le Figaro) While both the Senate and the Académie admit that other languages are spoken in France, they insist that constitutional recognition of this fact would imperil national unity and subvert the principles of the revolution, which sought to subsume individual variation in order to achieve liberté, égalité, and fraternité, a process which caused many French citizens to lose their heads. The French newspaper le Monde editorialized that living languages don’t need constitutional notice in order to exist, and opponents of regional language support observed that regional languages, like a religions, were a matter of personal choice, not something to be privileged in the Constitution. Others mocked the language proposal by calling for constitutional recognition of France’s highly-regarded regional cuisines. And several argued that instead of quibbling over the rights of Breton or Auvergnat speakers, France needed to unite under the banner of French to fight the real linguistic danger to national identity, world English. Of course none of the defenders of French against the onslaught of both local and international languages acknowledged that English managed to achieve the status of a world language without constitutional recognition in either the United States or Great Britain. 

English wasn’t even a regional language when it started out, just an insignificant dialect spoken on a tiny island off the coast of Europe. It grew to its present position not through legal protection but through the power of guns, dollars, computers, and rock ‘n’ roll. French was the language on every cultured European’s lips when the English were still wondering whether their language was mature enough to have grammatical structure. But today French itself has become one of the world’s regional languages, with fewer speakers than Chinese, Hindi, English, Spanish, or Russian. Clearly the Académie Française and the French Sénat think that French needs all the constitutional help it can get, though the editors of le Monde must surely realize that, just as living languages don’t require constitutional protection to exist, constitutional privilege can’t protect French as it competes against the living languages of France, not to mention the languages of the rest of the world. 
UPDATE: On Monday, July 21, the French Senate reconsidered and passed the Constitutional reform package, which includes recognition of regional languages, by one vote more than the required 3/5ths majority. Article 75.1 of the Constitution now reads:"Les langues régionales appartiennent au patrimoine de la France."

20 Jun 2008

Edited Date: 23 Jul 2008

France's Double Defeat in the Heart of Africa

French judicial arrogance toward Rwanda may backfire and cannot mask the fact that the recent Great Lake wars have seen France defeated twice by African armies: in Zaire and Rwanda. Times have changed, and French politicians should take these defeats as a warning: if they insist on prolonging colonial rule in disguise, the French could face an African Dien-Bien-Phu in the future:   

'Tiny' Rwanda was one of the first bitter lessons that were to force France to reconsider its neocolonial project in Africa. On the 1 October 1990, rebel Rwandan soldiers who had been refugees in Uganda -- and many of them part of the Uganda NRA army (National Resistance Army) -- launched [an] attack on Rwanda with the aim of returning to the country where their parents had been forced into exile as a result of genocide aided and abetted by the Belgians and the French. It was a David and Goliath battle and no one gave the rebels any chance. Even their only backer Uganda initially believed that the military pressure was necessary to force the Habyarimana government to negotiate with the rebels, integrate them into the army, and stop the government from discriminating against its own citizens or killing them. No one thought that the RPF/RPA could ever capture power. Hence the negotiations for peace under the auspices of the OAU in Arusha. It was a painstaking process but by the time the final documents were signed in Arusha both the political and military situation had overtaken the negotiations. Extremists within the Akazu (family cabal) that Habyarimana was hostage to accused him giving away too much. There were divisions within the ruling MRND (Mouvement républicain national pour le développement et la démocratie) and the various ruling cliques. It was the blasting furnace of a house divided against itself that Habyarimana was returning to from Arusha (with Burundi's president) when his plane was brought down with parts of it falling on his luscious presidential gardens. Within hours genocide against the minority Tutsi population and non-genocidaire so-called moderate Hutus including the prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and other prominent Hutus began and in 100 days 1,000,000 Rwandans had been slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia with the full backing and orchestration of their own leaders. The state was against its own people. Against all odds the RPF/RPA ended genocide, defeated the army that was backed by France, Belgium, and some African countries in June 1994. To forestall total defeat the French launched Opération Turquoise which provided the defeated army opportunity to regroup while the Interahamwe was able to march people from Rwanda into the Congo. Fugitives and refugees came together and the former held sway in the camps but also had the support of the crumbling state of Mobutu. France could not forgive the RPF/RPA in Rwanda and two years later another French ally, Mobutu, (supposedly leading the largest francophone country in the world!) was removed from power by a coalition of regional military alliance led by Rwanda and Uganda. France could neither save Habyarimana nor Mobutu. Meanwhile post-Cold War winds of democratic change were sweeping across the rest of Africa, including former French colonies, making France unsure of its role. It lost its nerves and was no longer able to proclaim its idealism of égalité and fraternité drowned as it was in the blood of innocent Africans as a result of its alliance with some of the most brutal regimes across Africa. Instead of reading the signs of the times it fell back on the colonial default of rivalry with the British and their American cousins. It could not accept that African armies defeated it in both Rwanda and Zaire and was therefore of the view that it must have been the CIA and the British, a smokescreen that many Africans unfortunately swallowed. This is not to say that the British and the Americans and other vested interests were not involved, but the essential root and initial solution to the conflicts were dictated by Africans. The politics of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ later propelled different kinds of convenient alliances. But both Mobutu and Habyarimana were consumed by the fires of xenophobia and genocide that they ignited.


Pambazuka News

November 13, 2008

--Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement, based in Kampala, Uganda, and is also director of Justice Africa, based in London, U.K.

France might prefer to refuse to apologize for organizing the Rwandan genocide in the 1990's, but it would seem in its best interest to at least keep a low profile. The unwarranted arrest of Rose Kabuye might turn into a golden opportunity to show the world the ugly face of French imperialism in Africa:  

As France prepares to try Rose Kabuye, judge Bruguière's "case" is falling apart.

France is in a fix on the Rose Kabuye issue.

Jean Louis Bruguière -- the judge who in his vendetta-fevered mind went as far as gathering "testimony" from the likes of Theoneste Bagosora and Hassan Ngeze to "prove" that members of the current Rwandan administration killed Habyarimana -- finally got one leader (out of a possible nine) arrested on his concocted charges.

But now it looks more and more like the fellow's arrest warrants have become boomerangs that could do more damage to him and his government than the intended victims.

In the few weeks since President Kagame's chief of protocol Rose Kabuye was arrested in Frankfurt and transported to Paris, Bruguière's case, if it can be called that, has been falling apart spectacularly.

To begin with, no independent investigation offers a lead as to who the real culprit in the shooting down of the aircraft carrying Juvenal Habyarimana and his friends was or were. Secondly, Mrs. Kabuye never was anywhere near Mr. Kagame when the latter allegedly planned the assassination. Thirdly, Abdul Ruzibiza the principal witness of Bruguière has come out of the woodwork to categorically state all the things he said concerning Habyarimana's death were lies; concoctions to get a conniving judge like Bruguière help him go to Europe. Possibly for a better life (though Ruzibiza doesn't say so).

Bruguière has sold his government a bum steer (as the Americans say), but since he has retired as a judge and actively is in politics -- which he always was even under the guise of a judge -- other poor magistrates are saddled with the task he originally set himself. To try to pin a crime, using a monstrous falsehood, on a bunch of people who actually stopped a genocide that was planned and was the handiwork of the dead Habyarimana and cohorts like Bagosora. You can't begin to think of such a plotline if you were writing a book of fiction.

The judges who have to pick up after Bruguière can't bring themselves to try Rose Kabuye so they are offering her bail on the following condition: she can walk about freely in France and even return to Rwanda if she so wishes.

It is as if these people are saying, please just go back home and forget the whole thing and we will let it drop quietly.

Rwanda however wants the lady tried. They basically are saying, go ahead and we will expose your shame-faced falsehoods; you began this thing and therefore it has to come to its logical conclusion. Which is recall and refute your bogus indictments and warrants, and while you are at it how about a few words of apology to Rwandans for participating in the 94 Genocide?

French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner has been quoted in his country's media saying Mrs. Kabuye's trial will "improve relations between his country and Rwanda." Rwandans checking in by email are unanimous in calling this "the usual French arrogance."


Everything indicates Rwanda is about to inflict a humiliating judicio-diplomatic defeat on a powerful former colonial master of much of Africa.

A few days back it looked to any Parisian (who normally follows politics) that the trial of a high profile Rwanda government official could only lead to one thing: badly restricted movement for a good number of its officials who either currently or formerly served in the military and that any judge in France or elsewhere in Europe could wake up to issue indictments against any African as they so wish.

This perception no longer is there. Instead it looks more and more like France's strutting around Africa like some colonial lord all these years after colonialism will reduce, significantly.

In international diplomatic [circles] it is known France punches above its weight and it claims "great power" status due to the influence it still exerts over huge swathes of the continent known as Francophone Africa and the favorable trade, commercial, and cultural advantages it extracts from those poor countries.

Should the French lose in the Kabuye court case it will be a tough psychological blow to recover from. It will mean any African country can openly challenge them; call their bluff, fight them in court and choose its path to future development and in so doing prove you don't have to depend on France to survive.

This is what Mr. Kagame and his government have been doing for the past 14 years.

To break free of French influence; such an example to the rest of Francophone Africa is what Paris has been dreading for a long time, and it is one of the two major reasons Paris has been so hostile to this government for the past 14 years.

Gerald Prunier, a Franco-Canadian academic writes in *The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide*, his seminal work on the 94 Genocide, that French dread and resentment of anything perceived to be a threat to the French language and culture knows no bounds.

He continues that in no other circumstance is this resentment greater than when the perceived enemy speaks English, other than French.

The other major source of French hostility to President Kagame and his government is the fact -- well-documented now in a number of scholarly and journalistic works, and the independent commission set up to probe France's role in the Genocide -- that they intervened to prop up a genocidal regime and actively participated in planning (and even in a few cases executing) the Genocide, but despite these efforts the RPF defeated their client regime.

November 30, 2008


French Down from Second to Fourth Place in Cyprus' Schools

In Cyprus education, French is in steep decline while Spanish is booming:
Three out of ten students choose Spanish
By Claudia Konyalian
But could Latin American soap operas really be behind the trend?
THE CURRENT school year has brought with it a new wave of interest in Spanish, with over a third of teenagers opting for the romantic language in the last two years of lyceum.
While English continues to be the most popular, and is considered the most important among the foreign languages to master, numbers this year show a drop in the popularity of both English and French, as trends are shifting. Assistant Director of the Education Programming Unit of the Ministry of Education, Charalambos Hadjithomas believes that there are several factors causing these shifts. “By the time students reach the second and third year of lyceum, they have already been studying French for four years. Those who feel they have gaps in their knowledge and don’t want to continue may drop French at this stage. “But these last two years also offer the opportunity to study a whole new language from scratch,” he said. Hadjithoma added, “It seems students view Spanish and Italian as ‘easier’ languages than French and German. But I also think that the popular Spanish language series on TV account for the increased interest we are seeing.”
This effect of the popular media is an opinion shared by other experts in the field. A private Spanish language tutor fromNico sia referred to the recent wave of Argentinean teen television soap operas ‘Rebelde Way’ and ‘Floricienta’. “Teenagers love these shows, which are on during the afternoon, just after they get home from school. They relate to the characters and they like to discuss who is the most attractive, and so they become interested in learning the language, and one day visiting Spanish-speaking countries,” she said.
Director of the Hispalingua Spanish language institute in Nicosia, Miguel Matayoshi referred to the prevalence of Spanish songs being played on popular radio stations. “Maybe Russian and Arabic would be more strategic languages to study, considering the economic links in Cyprus, but I think teenagers are attracted by the sound of the Spanish language, which has also become trendy somehow,” he said.
In fact Spanish is used by some 400 million people in the world and competes with English as the second most commonly spoken language by native speakers. The study of foreign languages has become increasingly important in the school curriculum with Cyprus’ accession to the EU, with French and German being added in 2001, Russian in 2002, and Turkish in 2003.
In accordance with the national curriculum, students have to study two foreign languages out of a choice of seven in the last two years of secondary school. The statistics of the Educational Programming Unit of the Ministry of Education reflect the recent changes in teenage tastes and trends.
For students in the second year of lyceum, French language used to be the most popular after English, but since last year now ranks fourth. 62.96 per cent chose English this year, down from last year’s 66.71 per cent, while only 12.65 per cent of students chose French, compared with 16.21 per cent last year.
Meanwhile the number of students choosing Turkish language is steadily increasing, with only one per cent in 2003, when it was first introduced into the curriculum, compared with today’s 7.76 per cent.
German and Russian remain the least popular at 2.81 per cent and 3.50 per cent respectively, while Italian remains extremely popular – consistently second only to English it is chosen by over one in two students.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008
Dec 14th, 2008



Spanish Now Second-Most Studied Language

The French like to claim that French is the second-most taught language in the world, and this might have been true a while ago. However, some now contend that Spanish has taken up that position due to both the rise of Spanish and the decline of French:

According to Spain's 20 Minutos, there are now more than 14 million people studying Spanish in 90 countries in which Spanish is not an official language. According to the Director of the Instituto Cervantes -- the Spanish organization that looks to promote the language all over the world -- one of the main reasons that people are choosing to study Spanish is because they believe that it willprofessionally benefit them in today's global economy. He also pointed to Brazil's decision to make Spanish an mandatory subject in schools as an example of the growing importance of Spanish in the world. There are currently one million Spanish speakers in Brazil butMolina estimates that in 10 years there will be more than 30 million Spanish-speaking Brazilians, adding to the already 500 million Spanish speakers in America and Spain, making it the fourth most spoken language in the world, after Chinese, English and Hindi. Brazil's new Spanish initiative will call for 210,000 Spanish teachers to teach the language. Molina, speaking at a language school conference in Coruña, Spain, also said that the United States -- currently with (according to his estimate) 36 million Spanish speakers -- is the frontier that must be conquered, calling it "a decisive platform for Spanish to reaffirm its role as the second language of international communication."

Illusory Bilingualism

Mandatory bilingualism is spawning a lot of fake French in Canada:

J'ai reçu comme tous mes concitoyens l'invitation de Statistique Canada à participer au recensement.

La lecture de la phrase «veuillez remplir votre questionnaire par [sic] le 16 mai» amène la question suivante: pourquoi dépenser des fonds publics pour un recensement dont les résultats permettent principalement au lecteur aguerri de constater le déclin du français au Canada? On arrive à moindres frais à la même perception en lisant cette invitation. L'examen des enveloppes vendues par Postes Canada où l'inscription «jusqu'à» apparaît au lieu de «destinataire» est tout aussi éloquent. Ottawa aurait-il pris la relève de Toronto en matière de qualité du français?

Spanish Eclipsing French in Eastern Europe and Morocco

The French knew it would be an uphill battle for their language in Eastern Europe when the EU was enlarged to include countries such as Poland or Cyprus. Whereas French had hardly recovered any of its prewar influence since the fall of the Iron Curtain, English was already far ahead in 2002 as a lingua franca from Tallinn to Nikosia. But who would have thought then that Spanish itself would leave the Gallic tongue in its wake in the new, unconquered polyglot markets of Eastern Europe? The rise in interest for Spanish in Morocco is even more of a humiliation for French culture nationalists.    
Spanish on the rise in Eastern Europe
Thursday July 3, 2003
Looking for a place to practice your Spanish? Think Eastern Europe. According to a report issued this week by the Instituto Cervantes, Spanish is growing in popularity among students in places such as Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The interest in Spanish is most spectacular in Poland, where the number of people studying the language is up 158.5 percent in the past four years. The report also mentioned Morocco, where Spanish has risen to second place in foreign languages studied, behind English.
 Instituto Cervantes says that the typical student studying Spanish in Eastern Europe is a female between 17 and 25 years of age, most often choosing Spanish for personal reasons such as interest in tourism, culture or romance. The situation is different in Morocco, however, where Spanish is frequently studied as a means to obtaining employment.
Articles (in Spanish) on the report can be found in today's editions of at least two Madrid newspapers, La Rioja and El Periódico.

No Luck For Haute Couture

French cultural domination is being eroded in all fields. In The End of Fashion, How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, published in 2000, Teri Agins shows how even French Haute Couture has ceased to set the tone. The end of French cultural relevance is one factor explaining the decline of French as a lingua franca.

The time when "fashion" was defined by French designers whose clothes could be afforded only by elite has ended. Now designers take their cues from mainstream consumers and creativity is channeled more into mass-marketing clothes than into designing them. Indeed, one need look no further than the Gap to see proof of this. In The End of Fashion, Wall Street Journal reporter Teri Agins astutely explores this seminal change, laying bare all aspects of the fashion industry from manufacturing, retailing, and licensing to image making and financing. Here as well are fascinating insider vignettes that show Donna Karan fighting with financiers, the rivalry between Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, and the commitment to haute couture that sent Isaac Mizrahi's business spiraling.

Quebec's Lib Gov't Deceives Francos to Relax Anti-English Laws

Quebec's Franco bloggers are fuming: the team currently running the Quebec administration is more concerned with saving la Belle Province's economy than propping up what passes for French there. In order to undo the harm done by the fanatics previously in government, ministers like Christine  Saint-Pierre are seeking to surreptitiously relax the worst provisions of the infamously xenophobic Bill 101. To help Francos swallow the bitter pill and save face, government makes up figures suggesting that French-language decline has been reversed  in Montreal when the opposite is true and claims on the strength of these fake figures that Bill 101 is a success and therefore needn't be toughened. As a result, desperation pervades French online rants such as this one from earlier this year: 
Pourquoi suis-je ainsi en furie après la ministre libérale, me direz-vous? Parce qu’elle a eu le culot de dire que son gouvernement ne durcira pas la Loi 101 afin de redresser la situation du français au Québec, dossier qui a été ramené au devant de la scène par l’enquête effectuée par une journaliste du Journal de Montréal dernièrement. Les libéraux disent qu’ils comptent tout simplement faire de la sensibilisation auprès des commerces montréalais qui s’entêtent à fonctionner en anglais au Québec, dans un pays français. Quelle bande de baveux! Mais qu’y a-t-il de si étonnant à ce que les lâches que sont les libéraux ne fassent rien pour sauver la langue française, me répondront certains. Considérant leur triste bilan en la matière (enseignement de l’anglais en 1ère année, coupures importantes dans les programmes de francisation des immigrants et hausse des taux d’immigration par exemples), l’on ne pouvait après tout s’attendre à rien d’autre de leur part. Effectivement! Mais alors pourquoi suis-je autant en colère?

Je le suis, et profondément, parce que Christine-Saint-Pierre-la-traîtresse a osé balayé du revers de la main tout durcissement de la Loi 101 en arguant qu’une étude de l’Office de la langue française avait démontré à l’automne 2006 que 90% des commerces à Montréal fonctionnaient déjà en français. C’est ce que l’OLF avait fallacieusement indiqué dans un communiqué diffusé en janvier 2007 afin de convaincre les Québécois que le français se porte bien au Québec. Par conséquent, ajoute la ministre, nul besoin d’agir de manière drastique dans ce dossier.

Il faut toutefois savoir que l’étude dont se sert l’OLF pour prétendre une telle chose, il la garde secrète, la cache, la dissimule. Il ne veut pas la montrer à personne. (...)Mais ce qui devient carrément scandaleux avec cette fumisterie, c’est quand le gouvernement national des Québécois y réfère pour justifier l’orientation de ses décisions dans le dossier linguistique qui sont d’un laisser-aller navrant. Exactement comme l’a fait aujourd’hui Christine Saint-Pierre, cette grande colporteuse de mystifications, en nous proposant de ne rien faire pour empêcher le lent déclin du français au Québec, et ce, parce qu’une étude camouflée laisse faussement entendre que tout va bien à Montréal. link
15/01/2008 16:39

The Office Québécois de la Langue Francaise (OQLF), formerly used as a tool for persecuting Quebec's English speakers, is now key to the current government's efforts to cover up the decline of French in Quebec and the failure of decades-long paranoid anti-Anglo policies:

Something is rotten in the state of the Office québécois de la langue française. The chaotic sortie of its five-year report is one more sign of how disturbingly politicized it’s become over the years.

On Wednesday, OQLF president France Boucher released a 200-page report, 1,000 pages of studies and a mishmash of statistics. Although many statistics confirm data from the 2006 census showing a decline of the French language, especially on the Island of Montreal, Boucher refused to deliver any analysis or even qualify the state of the French language.

She even had the gall to ask ordinary Quebecers to read the studies themselves to make their own analysis. There was also her Soviet-style treatment of the members of the committee in charge of reviewing the report. She asked these independent academics to take a vow of silence, told them they’d be sent into a locked room to read the report with no cellphones, no computers and no documents of their own. They had to destroy their notes before they left.

The academics refused and denounced what they called the OQLF’s paranoia. The head of the committee, Simon Langlois, resigned over what he described as an abusive climate of distrust, excessive control and improvization. Boucher even refused to brief journalists before she released more than 1,000 pages of studies for them to go through in just a few hours.

In any normal government, she would have been fired on the spot for any or all of those things. But ever since Lucien Bouchard, who feared the language issue like the plague, turned the OQLF into a neutered extension of the premier’s office, Boucher’s silence and bullying tactics should assure her a long life at the head of the OQLF.

In fact, Boucher had nothing to say about French losing ground on the Island of Montreal and the suburbs, or about only 65 per cent of people working in French on the island, or about only 45.7 per cent of allophones choosing French as a second language, compared with the 54.3 per cent who choose English. No word, either, on the 40 per cent of allophone kids who went to French high school choosing to go to an English CEGEP.

Boucher is a problem. Parti Québécois language critic Pierre Curzi said Boucher is either incompetent or the victim of pressure from the premier’s office. Sorry, but it looks like both.

But the real problem behind the growing politization of the OQLF is its very nature. Contrary to what Language Minister Christine St-Pierre says, the OQLF is not independent from the government. You couldn’t tell by the power struggle between Boucher and St-Pierre, but the OQLF answers and reports to the minister by law. Part of its mandate is to monitor the language situation. So contrary to what Boucher contends, it the OQLF’s mandate to analyze.

Since it is not independent, the OQLF’s president is named by the premier’s office. This opens the door to nominations based on politicial affiliation, not competence. Such was the case for Boucher, a former Liberal aide.

Over the years, OQLF presidents learned quickly that if they want to keep their job - a lucrative five-year posting that can be terminated at any time - it’s crucial to reflect what’s politically desirable for their real boss, the premier.

It all makes one thing painfully obvious : The OQLF should be rendered as independent from the government as the auditor-general. This means making it answerable to the National Assembly and having all sitting parties choose its president based on competence, not based on the political masters he or she once served.

If the OQLF is not changed, it will continue to follow the whims of the government du jour and fail to inform Quebecers fully about the state of French.

It is absolutely irresponsible that the monitoring and analysis of what most distinguishes the Quebec nation from the rest of the continent - its language - isn’t handled by a competent and politically independent agency.


The Gazette (Montreal)
vendredi 7 mars 2008


French Shrinking in the Netherlands

French used to be a very important foreign language in the Netherlands. Knowledge and use of French have perceptibly shrunk in the last few decades, and this trend is likely to hold:
"het Frans wel onder hevige concurrentie lijdt van het Engels, Duits en tegenwoordig ook Spaans in het beroepsonderwijs. (...) is er steeds meer passieve kennis: leerlingen kunnen de taal wel lezen, maar niet schrijven of spreken. Ook zijn er op de universiteit steeds minder studenten Frans (er zijn zelfs meer studenten Nederlands in Frankrijk dan andersom!)."
Translation: "French is under fierce competition from English, German and now even Spanish in vocational education. (...) Its knowledge is increasingly passive: students can read the language well, but cannot write or speak it. Universities also have seen French enrolment numbers decrease constantly (there are more students of Dutch in France than of French in the Netherlands!)."

Decreasing Use of French in Aosta Valley

Aosta Valley, Italy: everyday usage of French is decreasing:
In Valle d’Aosta, dove dal 1948 vige ufficialmente il regime di bilinguismo italiano-francese vincolato ad appositi trattati internazionali con la Francia, il francese gode di un forte prestigio. L’uso del francese come lingua amministrativa e di cultura risale agli storici legami della valle con i domini d’Oltralpe di casa Savoia, presso i quali l’utilizzo ufficiale della lingua risale al 1560. L’azione politica di tutela (ad opera soprattutto del partito di raccolta, l’Union Valdôtaine) si è quindi basata sulla promozione del francese assai più che sull’uso quotidiano del patois francoprovenzale, e ciò malgrado il progressivo regresso del francese stesso, che ha oggi funzioni prevalenti di carattere statutario e rappresentativo, mentre l’utilizzo quotidiano appare insidiato dal progredire dell’italiano.
liceopercoto.ud.it: there are no native French-speaking communities in Italy:
Utilizzo: per i motivi accennati, non si può affermare che esistano comunità, in Italia, che abbiano il francese come lingua prima: salvo casi individuali, in Val d’Aosta e nelle valli piemontesi l’utilizzo di tale idioma è legato all’apprendimento scolastico o a una consuetudine acquisita al di fuori del contesto familiare, ed è pertanto impossibile dare stime anche approssimative sulla frequenza d’uso. Si può asserire che almeno l’intera popolazione della provincia di Aosta sia in vario modo coinvolta in una conoscenza più o meno attiva del francese, che trova impiego (sempre meno nell’uso parlato) accanto all’italiano, ai locali dialetti franco-provenzali, al tedesco walser nelle zone interessate e ai dialetti italiani degli immigrati, in particolar modo il piemontese. In base alle normative di legge, il francese è riconosciuto come lingua minoritaria dallo Stato Italiano, in Valle d’Aosta vige ufficialmente il regime di bilinguismo italiano-francese. La scelta dell’una o dell’altra lingua nei rapporti con l’amministrazione è a discrezione del pubblico.

Removing the Language Barrier

As European universities continue moving toward standardizing their degree cycles, universities in the continent’s non-English speaking countries are increasingly offering master’s degree programs in which English is the language of instruction — in a bid to increase their competitiveness throughout Europe, and beyond.

“It’s taken off in the past 5 to 10 years, since the advent of the Bologna Process,” says Mariam Assefa, executive director of World Education Services, a non-profit organization specializing in foreign credential evaluation. The Bologna Process, named for the Italian city where the agreement for “harmonizing” European higher education was signed in 1999, aims in part to foster greater student mobility by creating a common structure for higher education in Europe.

“Basically when they decided to open their systems internationally, it was thought that English-language taught programs would make the programs more accessible, because the students don’t necessarily come equipped in German or Dutch or French – particularly if they wish to attract students from beyond Europe,” Assefa explains.

The English-language professional degree programs are primarily in business, the sciences and engineering, but as more and more pop up, more and more options are obviously available. A database of “international” master’s programs (which, by and large, are taught in English) maintained by Finland’s Centre for International Mobility yields 151 master’s degree programs in everything from radio frequency electronics to forest products technology to tourism. The number of master’s degree programs taught in English in Germany has risen to 362, with most of the programs less than a decade old. The University of Heidelberg, for instance, offers master’s degree programs in American Studies, international health and molecular and cellular biology, all in English.

Even France, a nation not known for its love of the English language, has jumped into the arena with a 206-page guide to programs taught in English. “Students no longer have to choose between coming to France and studying in a language they understand,” André Siganos, director-general of Agence CampusFrance wrote in a message to potential students in the front of the guide.

“That,” says Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president for the Institute of International Education, “was a big break-through in France over the past decade or so.”

The faculty composition for these programs can vary, with M.B.A. programs often taught by a mix of international and host country faculty, and engineering programs, on the other hand, mainly taught by host country faculty fluent in English, Blumenthal says. The cost of these programs for international students can also vary dramatically, from nothing at all (the old European price model) to 20,000 Euro or so, or about $27,000 (much more akin to the American model). Yet, by offering instruction in English, the international language of business, universities aren’t solely looking to attract American or British students in search of a cheap(er) or even free program — far from it.

In Germany, for instance, the majority of students are coming from China, India and Latin America, with a “considerable” number also hailing from Eastern Europe, says Ulrich Grothus, director of the German Academic Exchange Service’s New York office. “There’s a much smaller number of students coming from developed countries like the United States or Western Europe – in these particular programs,” says Grothus. “It is true that the majority of American students coming to Germany do so not in spite of the fact that we speak German but because we speak German.”

Hat tip: Edward J. Cunningham


English – fifth language of Switzerland?


swissinfo.com, August 22, 2002

While the majority of Swiss speak one of the four national languages, the number using foreign tongues – especially English - continues to rise.
According to a recent study, almost 64 per cent of Swiss speak German, 19.5 per cent French, 6.6 per cent Italian and less than 0.5 per cent Romansh.

But almost ten per cent of people living in Switzerland do not count one of the national languages as their main tongue.

Since 1950 the proportion of foreign language speakers has risen steadily and now languages such as Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and Kurdish – not to mention English - are more frequently spoken than Romansh.

Of all the foreign languages spoken in Switzerland, English is by far the most dominant and could soon become the main foreign language taught in schools in many cantons.

So is English destined to become the principal lingua franca between the different linguistic regions of Switzerland?

A decision last year by canton Zurich to make English – rather than French - the first foreign language in the school curriculum has made this more likely.

Canton Zurich’s decision met with a strong reaction in French-speaking Switzerland.

The day after a press conference in September 2000 by Zurich’s chief of education, Ernst Buschor, the French-language newspaper “Le Temps” asked if the inclusion of English in the canton’s school curriculum spelled the “End of Switzerland?”

Many people, particularly in the French- and Italian-speaking areas of the country, feared the choice of English would undo the glue in the Swiss national identity.

While Switzerland’s linguistic minorities need to learn German for professional reasons, Swiss from all language areas find it useful to acquire a knowledge of English.

Many parents want their children to have access to the language of globalisation. In the field of scientific research, in some professions and at the higher levels of UBS, Swisscom, and Novartis, English is already used for in-house exchanges.

Decline of Romansh and Italian

But while French and German are continuing to hold their own against the onslaught of English, Romansh is rapidly losing ground.

In 2000 Switzerland’s fourth national language was spoken by just 0.46 per cent of the population – or around 34,000 people – compared with 0.6 per cent 10 years before.

This trend has led a number of Romansh representatives to ask canton Graubünden for stricter measures to protect the language.

One example would be to oblige dual-language communities – where Romansh and German are spoken – to use Romansh as the language of teaching and administration.

Fewer people are also speaking Italian. Some 7.6 per cent of people living in Switzerland used Italian as their main language in 1990. Ten years on this figure has dipped by one per cent.

The drop is in part due to the diminishing number of Italians amongst Switzerland’s foreign population. In 2000, Italians accounted for 21.4 per cent of the country’s foreign population, compared with 60 per cent in 1960.

Federalism – a double-edged sword
It remains to be seen how many cantons will ultimately embrace English as their first foreign language.

But the debate on English highlights one of the fundamental problems which has be to confronted by the Swiss federalist system: the possibility of a clash between the autonomy of the cantons with respect to education, and an appreciation of the needs of cultural minorities, and the subsequent effect on the sense of unity within Switzerland.

swissinfo/ Andrea Tognina

English is the 'Neutral' Language of Switzerland

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I follow the use of English in Switzerland more than in other parts of the world because my school is made up of a large percentage of Swiss students. Most of them come to San Diego to prepare for the Cambridge Certificate Exams.

On my first trip to Switzerland in 2001, I went with the expectation that the people there could speak at least two of their four national languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh) and that since I knew some French, I could rely on that more than on German. I didn't expect people to prefer to use English. Contrary to my image of a country where people moved freely from region to region, easily slipping into French in Geneva, Italian in Lugano, and German in Zurich, there were strong feelings against German-speakers in the French or Italian part, and against Italian- or French-speakers in the German part. So, apparently, the way this small country functions with four distinct national languages is by strong regional linguistic separation. In addition, with the recent introduction of English into the public school system, English is becoming the neutral lingua franca of Switzerland. That is, most German speakers would rather speak English than French in Geneva, and French Swiss would rather speak English than German in Zurich.

Naturally, I am not the first to make this observation, and I've often queried my students about this phenomenon. Their responses vary. For example, I have encountered Swiss school teachers who were rather irritated or indignant that they had to pass an advanced level Cambridge exam in order to secure or hang on to their teaching positions in Switzerland, even though English is not one of the country's national languages nor is there any deep historical connection to an English-speaking country. (But see an account of the English love of Swiss). On the other hand, many young Swiss German students are happy that they had an opportunity to study English early in their education. Few German-speakers enjoy studying French, especially since they 'dislike the sound of it.' Likewise, the French and Italians claim that German is a harsh-sounding language that is difficult for them to pronounce.

The following are some online references which you might want to peruse. The first is an essay by Duermueller entitled "English in Switzerland: From Foreign Language to Lingua Franca?"From a different perspective, there is an abstract by Christof Demont-Heinrich, "Language and National Identity in the Era of Globalization: The Case of English in Switzerland." For a historical perspective, Duermueller also wrote an article about 20 years ago based on a survey of roughly 5,000 Swiss military recruits, exploring their attitudes toward learning English.

Romansh, which is a nationally recognized language of Switzerland, now appears less important than English. In fact, the canton of Zurich broke tradition when it made the change from French to English as 'the first foreign language' for its school-age children. Swissinfo.com comments here on the importance of English - the Fifth language of Switzerland? Finally, here is some commentary in French and German about English in Swiss schools. 

Hat tip: Edward J. Cunningham 

Switzerland: more English, less French



Foreigners often assume that the fact that there are four national languages in Switzerland means that every Swiss speaks four languages, or at least three. However, the reality is very different.

The Swiss can certainly be proud of their linguistic proficiency and many understand the other languages of their fellow countrymen very well. However, proficiency in the national languages is decreasing in favour of English. Quadrilingual Switzerland is apparently becoming a two-and-a-half-language Switzerland. Many people speak their mother tongue and English and understand a second national language.

Each canton makes its own decision about which language will be taught when. In German-speaking Switzerland children have traditionally started French from the age of 9, while French speakers have started German at the same age. In Ticino and the Rumantsch-speaking areas, both French and German are learned during compulsory schooling. Ticino decided in 2002 to make English a compulsory subject, alongside French and German. To lighten the load, children will be able to drop French when they start English in the 8th year.

Zurich's education minister provoked a national debate in 2000 by announcing that his canton intended to make English the first foreign language, rather than French. Supporters of the move point out that English is more useful in the world. They add that children and parents are in favour and that since motivation is an important ingredient in language learning, pupils are likely to learn English more successfully than they do French.

Opponents see the decision as a threat to the unity of Switzerland, and fear that French and Italian speakers will be put at a disadvantage because they will still need a good standard of German to rise in their careers within Switzerland.

The French are afraid of the workload of learning languages. Who'd have thought?

Hat tip: Edward J. Cunningham

English Language in Switzerland



Traditionally, Switzerland is home to a large anglophone community. The English language is very widespread and is used as a link between Switzerland's various linguistic communities. Switzerland is extremely open culturally and economically, and thus has all the services an anglophone could possibly want. So much so that some English speakers who have lived in Switzerland for years have not felt the need to learn one of the national languages, since they are able to deal with any situation in English.

The bulk of the anglophone population is concentrated in the Lake Geneva area (31%), where the cities of Geneva and Lausanne are located. Other thriving communities also exist in large cities such as Basle (12%), Zurich or Zug (9%). The percentage of anglophones has reached as much as 13 to 15% of the population in some communities such as Founex or Bogis-Bossey, near Geneva.

The English language is very widespread in Switzerland. After their mother tongue, the Swiss speak English best, since it is used as a link and the language of communication in this multilingual country of germanophones (65%), francophones (20%), italophones (7.5%) and Romansh (0.5%). The Swiss English-language skills shown in the following table indicate that two out of three German-speaking Swiss and one out of two French-speaking Swiss speak English.

Swiss English-language skills (Grin: 1999)

The tourist industry and the presence of many international organizations and businesses make English a must in Switzerland. English dominates the worlds of business, commerce and finance. The Swiss are used to English, which conveys a young and positive image. It's the language of choice for advertisers wishing to avoid multilingual campaigns. And it's not by chance that the recently privatized Swiss telecommunications firm adopted a single English-sounding name: Swisscom. The same goes for the major Swiss airline, which is called Swissair. As a general rule, "Do you speak English?" is greeted with a smile and a well-spoken reply in this multilingual country. Proof of this is the fact that many anglophones who do not speak any of Switzerland's national languages have lived there for years without the slightest communication problems.

English is really en vogue with young people. Most of the successful films are American and the music that is popular with the youth is almost exclusively anglophone. English is also the language of the Internet, which many Swiss use as a means of communication.

You can be understood in English in almost any shop or business. At the post office, the bank or the train station, all the employees speak English. In all the major urban centres there are English-language bookstores and video rentals as well as English grocery shops. Most of the cinemas show films in the original English as well. The anglophone community in Geneva benefits from a dozen or so cultural organizations, notably the American library. Several English-language radio stations broadcast in this region, the main one being World Radio Geneva on 88.4 FM. And of course, all the English newspapers are available at any news stand.

You can find English churches in all of the linguistic regions, and anglophone schools are located throughout Switzerland. The most renowned are along the Genevan Riviera and in the Vaud Alps, giving Switzerland its excellent international reputation for private education. Young people from around the world come here to study. Princess Diana studied in Switzerland, as did many other members of the Royal Family. So it's not surprising to find the gliterati taking part in the joys of skiing each winter in the Vaud Alps and Gstaad ski resorts.

Hat tip: Edward J. Cunningham

The Globalization of Language


PUBLISHED OCTOBER 29, 2008 on the columbiaspectator.com

In case anyone had any doubt, the contagiousness of our current economic crisis has made it painfully clear how integrated our global neighborhood is. It doesn’t make much sense, though, that we can’t all speak about this world-embracing problem in the same language—literally. It is time that all nations swallow their pride and agree to adopt a common language, one that every person on Earth would speak, read, and write.
Visceral reactions to such a call for language commonality are understandably indignant. What about national sovereignty, cultural identity, or tradition and history? On the surface, demanding that everyone speak the same language seems bigoted and culturally imperialistic—who can say that one language is better than all others?
A universal language does not, however, mean the extermination of linguistic diversity.
It is possible to maintain bilingualism or even multilingualism in a society. Everyone at Columbia, for instance, speaks English, but we are all required to learn a foreign language as well. Rather than linguistically and culturally homogenizing the world, speaking a common language would increase opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue and intercultural understanding, as it would allow direct dialogue between people of different origins.
Furthermore, times of economic suffering remind us that being rational and pragmatic is sometimes more important than clinging to tradition. It is inevitable that some feeling of national sovereignty and distinction will be lost if everyone speaks the same language, but it is naive to believe that the conception of cultures as discrete entities has not already been significantly eroded. The fact of the matter is that adopting a universal language is not too large of a step from where we already find ourselves in our globalized world—English has already infiltrated societies across the globe.
Evidence for the proliferation of English abounds. France has found itself so inundated by English that one of the branches of its Ministry of Culture, the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie, has devoted itself to preventing the contamination of the French language by English words. Although it maintains Web sites intended to encourage French speakers to use native alternatives for words such as “podcasting” and for phrases like “beach volleyball,” it is difficult to be optimistic about its chances for success when words such as “Internet” have become so universally ingrained.
Indeed, if the French backlash against English only hints at the extent of the globalization of English, the Japanese obsession with English offers unequivocal evidence. It is not only words for things that are un-Japanese, such as “pizza” or “necktie,” that the Japanese borrow from English. Using English in Japan has become so trendy that English words regularly replace Japanese ones in pop culture: for example, “getto,” Japan’s adaptation of the word “get,” is so frequently used that it has become part of the vocabulary of the average Japanese youth. With English so prevalent in societies across the globe, it isn’t as huge a leap as one would expect to call for a more formalized, codified role of a global language. The obstacles are largely ideological and psychological—the will rather than the way seems to be the largest barrier to linguistic unity.
Yet the fact that English has become increasingly globalized does not in itself justify a more formal role for universal language. The reasons for a global language are more fundamental and more pressing. A common language would be a significant step towards the elimination, or at least the diminution, of racial and cultural prejudices that have no place in our contemporary world. When people are technologically capable of communicating with essentially anyone in the world with Internet access, why should they be linguistically deprived of this opportunity?
More importantly, a single global language makes economic sense. According to an article in July 2006 in British newspaper the Independent, the European Union budgeted one billion euros for translation of documents into each of what was then its 20 official languages. One billion euros is only the budget for one year in the EU—the cumulative cost of translation for small and large businesses and organizations across the globe must be staggering. With world economies slipping into recession, it is the right time to reconsider the wisdom of allocating resources to the culturally symbolic but highly impractical and difficult service of translation.
Of course, some may rightly argue that adopting a universal language would also incur costs. Would the staggering one-time cost of translating already-existing documents in all countries to a single global language really be less than the cumulative daily costs of translation? What would happen to translators and interpreters whose jobs would be demoded? How feasible would such a shift to a common language be? How many generations would it take? All these questions are profound and challenging, but they are nonetheless—or therefore—ones that multinational organizations should consider carefully.
Our global economic recession reminds us that we are all interconnected on this planet, and it is detrimental to seek to sustain anachronistic and artificial linguistic barriers merely for the sake of the antiquated concept of cultural autonomy. Each nation, of course, should value its own culture highly and seek to preserve it, but not at the cost of the welfare and progress of our world. Perhaps the United Nations could put the question of language on its agenda. To avoid having English or any other language inadvertently or arbitrarily imposed upon them, nations must proactively and cooperatively decide their own linguistic destiny.

The author is a Columbia College first-year.

The Rise of English in Switzerland

English in Switzerland: From Foreign Language to Lingua Franca?
Urs Dürmüller University of Bern

Since World War II English has been spreading all over the world in (sic) an ever increasing tempo. Like so many other countries in which English was once nothing but a foreign language, Switzerland, too, has allowed English to acquire a more dominant place within the national language repertoires. Before World War II the presence of English could be felt only where the citizens of the Anglo-American countries - then above all Britain - came into contact with Swiss citizens. In Switzerland borrowings into the Swiss national languages - German, French, Italian and Romansh - were made in the domains of sports, entertainment and other leisure time activities. These borrowings were mainly terms that could easily be integrated into the Swiss languages and did not change them structurally. Sport, corner, foul, jazz, charleston, fox-trot, star and many others were taken up in the same way as the Italian spaghetti and gelati or the French parfum and jupe. The average Swiss citizens did not have any fluency in English; typically they would acquire an English language competence only if in contact with English speaking foreigners, as in tourism. In the Bernese Oberland the English speaking Swiss wanted to accommodate the British mountaineers and skiers in every way possible, thus also linguistically. No doubt, there existed Swiss citizens who were able to converse in English, but they would make use of that language only because they had to communicate with English speaking foreigners. The idea that English might also be used for intra-Swiss purposes, if it had occurred to them at all, would have been judged utterly absurd. English was generally and doubtlessly identified as a foreign language. To the average Swiss English was much farther removed from their mother tongue than any second national language. In German-speaking Switzerland the name of the legendary comedian Charles Chaplin was made familiar not in its English phonological shape, but in a French form, not as [t*æplin], but as [*aplæ] . [Now, that's odd: my fellow French pronounce that name "shapleen"--Unfrench Frenchman] Equally, the generation born before World Word II would call the trendy Levi‘s pants becoming fashionable among the young from the fifties onward [blu*㶶a] according to a French pattern, not [blud*in]. [Is it so? In France "jeans" is pronounced "jeen", in Germany, "cheence". Maybe a Swiss reader could enlighten us?--Unfrench] What is interesting about these two cases is that everybody knew that the Chaplin movies and the jeans came from the USA, not from France; nevertheless, the names in question were pronounced in French, not in English, i.e. in the non-native language most familiar to the German speaking Swiss. (cp. Dürmüller 1992) Although it is difficult to obtain any data on the language competence of speakers in the past either qualitatively or quantitatively, it is assumed quite generally that second-language (L2) competence was fairly good. On the other hand, third-language (L3) competence seems to have been scant, except maybe in Italian-speaking Switzerland where the German influence had become more and more important already from the beginning of the century onwards. More recent data confirm this impression by indicating that the population of those over 65 years of age in German-speaking Switzerland still show a positive attitude toward French, their L2, while all the younger ones show a preference for English. (Dürmüller 1986) People‘s language repertoires in the past consisted of the native languages - German, French, Italian or Romansh - plus a second national language, and, maybe, a third national language. English was definitely not part of these repertoires. It was a foreign language only and because of its fringe status, would not appear in the language repertoires of the Swiss.

Since the end of World War II, particularly since about 1960, the situation regarding the place of English among the languages used in Switzerland has drastically changed. The worldwide spread of English has not stopped at the Swiss border. Today, it is estimated that about a third of the world population has at least a marginal knowledge of English; and a third of that third is said to be able to use English as L1 or as an additional language of coherent and fluent communication. This is what can also be observed in Switzerland. Indeed, everyday life is full of objects, processes and phenomena that are defined and referred to in English. In domains like economy, science, technology, entertainment, leisure time English is present in Switzerland to a degree that has evoked defensive measures by people who fear that what they consider to be the "true" culture of Switzerland - which includes the Swiss national languages - might be endangered. (Dürmüller 1993) Up to 20% of the language of presentation in some music radio programs is in English; up to 50% of the language used in public commercials and in graffiti texts is in English; names for Swiss products tend to be anglicized, etc. (Dürmüller 1986) English has quite definitely become part of Swiss life. People in Switzerland are now often more familiar with English than with the languages of their compatriots. English has definitely changed its status, it has moved from the fringe to the centre, from the status of a foreign language to that of an additional language with lingua franca functions, i.e. a language that can be used for special purposes and for wider communication. As regards the language repertoires built up in the schools, where the languages are numbered according to the weight they are given, Switzerland has officially admitted English only as L3 (L4 in the Italian-speaking area), unofficially, however, English has now won the L2 position, at least among the young. There has therefore been a split status for English in Switzerland in recent years, an official one and an unofficial one, or, to put it differently, a de iure status - English as L3 - and a de facto status - English as L2. This parallel existence of a de iure and a de facto status for English in multilingual Switzerland has encouraged two types of model repertoires:

1) a repertoire with English as a foreign language in third position

German-speaking Switzerland French-speaking Switzerland Italian-speaking Switzerland

L1: Mother tongue German French Italian

L2: National language French German German/French

L3: Foreign language English English English

and 2) a repertoire with English as a national lingua franca

German-speaking Switzerland French-speaking Switzerland Italian-speaking Switzerland

L1: Mother tongue German French Italian

L2: lingua franca English English English

There appears to be some competition between these two models. In everyday life it has been observed that occasionally English is preferred as the vehicle of communication to one of the national languages when people have to talk to someone not able, or not willing, to speak their own language. This is possible if both partners have sufficient competence in English, i.e. if in their individual repertoires they have shifted English up to the L2 slot.

It is especially the young who prefer to make use of English in this way. That is to say, they are replacing the traditional Swiss language repertoire consisting only of Swiss national languages with one that conforms to their wishes, needs, and competences. (Dürmüller 1991) In response to this trend, in the 1990s, the education authorities in several cantons began to give in to the clearly articulated wishes of the young and also the apparent needs of employers for personnel with good English language skills. Language learning at Swiss state schools is now seen in a more global perspective. Rather than insisting on the various types of Swiss bilingualism (or trilingualism), the cantonal Departments of Education have begun to accept the idea of helping the young to build up language repertoires in which English always occupies a central place. These repertoires comprise one of the local national languages (mostly, but not always, identical with the pupils‘ first language), a second national language, and English. This means that English is now quite generally available to Swiss teenagers. In the Canton of Berne, for instance, 99% of eighth grade secondary school students are taking English lessons (1999). In the Grisons, the authorities are giving the L2 slot, which before was occupied by French, over to English or Italian. The discussion in Switzerland is no longer about whether to offer English classes or not, but about when to do so: already at the primary school level? already before the second national language? There is no doubt that English now belongs to the language repertoire of Swiss people and to the language repertoire of the nation. In spite of such readiness to accept English into the national language repertoire, public opinion does not support the idea of introducing English officially as a lingua franca into multilingual Switzerland. Even the young, by whom English is favored most, would not like to see English become an official Swiss language. (Dürmüller 1991) English is a language that is useful to them, but it is not their home tongue.This means that there is a split attitude towards English. On the one hand there is agreement that English, being a foreign language, should not become an official language of Switzerland; on the other hand, people seem convinced that English cannot be removed from everyday Swiss life any more and that some knowledge of English is necessary if one wants to go through life profitably. In their everyday activities, they are turning more and more towards English as an additional language for many purposes, preferring that language over the other Swiss national languages in situations where English can compete with these, and thereby gradually moving English to the L2 slot in their individual language repertoires. The embedding of Switzerland in a world dominated by English indeed creates needs for English also inside the country, as is well illustrated by the increasing use of varieties of English for Special Purposes in various professional domains.

A look at Swiss universities can show how such varieties of English for Special Purposes are gradually occupying territory formerly covered by the Swiss national languages. Science and research have long been singled out as fields within which English has attained a commanding presence world-wide. That is why, in Switzerland, too, the language of science tends to be English. English has definitely become the language of and for research in Switzerland, too. As research is an integral part of graduate and especially postgraduate education, English quite naturally also is the language used for presentations, for discussions, and for written reports. This means that, quite often, English is also used for prescribed work, such as the writing of theses and dissertations, and, more rarely, in oral examinations, and it means that where a course is devoted to the discussion of research, particularly ongoing research, the language chosen is English as well. (Dürmüller to appear) The academic disciplines in which English is used in this way are first of all the medical and natural sciences, then disciplines like psychology, and parts of the social sciences and economics; while theology, law, and most disciplines in the humanities, apart from English studies, can still do without English most of the time. The use of English at Swiss universities differs from discipline to discipline. It depends on whether English is already established as the language of that discipline outside Swiss universities. Where it is and where there is a need to participate in the international scientific discussion, English will be used without reservation. Where English is only one among several languages serving a discipline, as in history, e.g., the pressure to use it is much smaller. Although, in Switzerland, the universities are state institutions, they do not appear to be under any obligation to follow a particular state policy regarding the use of languages. All of them have accepted the language of the territory within which they are situated as their prime language. However, they do not control whether the local territorial languages are used by all the departments and institutes without exception. That is why the languages of web pages, of courses, examinations, and publications depend on whoever takes the responsibility in these departments and institutes. There are, however, certain attitudinal differences with regard to [the] use of English. In German-speaking Switzerland, there are hardly any reservations with regard to using English. Pragmatism rules, what counts is easy exchange of information and the productive dialogue across language boundaries. English is accepted as a lingua franca, and as the language of the club. If you can express yourself in Scientific English, you belong. In this way, English has the same function as did Latin in the Middle Ages, giving access to the community of scholars and maintaining partisanship within it. In French-speaking Switzerland, on the other hand, and especially, in Italian-speaking Switzerland, there is more hesitation to adopt English, or, to put it differently, the bond between the universities and the territorial languages is stronger there. One is tempted to establish a correlation between the relative openness towards English and the minority/majority status of the territorial language: the larger the language territory is and the more speakers of the national Swiss language it has, the more open it is to allow English in. And the smaller the territory is, the less likey it is that English will be used. For publications and research proposals, however, this correlation is not valid. Nor is it for teaching graduate and postgraduate students in in the medical and natural sciences. Where the goal is to reach the international community of scholars, even the representatives of French speaking Switzerland will use English; and where students and scholars meet to discuss research written up in English, even the French speakers will switch to English. (Dürmüller to appear)

When people are used to reading, writing and talking English in their professional lives or/and when they engage in leasure time activities that are characterized by English, it is only a small step for them to also try and use English for general communicative purposes. Swiss people, on the whole, cannot be considered truly multilingual, often they are not even functionally bilingual. (Bichsel 1994, Dürmüller 1997) Polyglot dialogue within multilingual Switzerland is the exception rather than the rule. It may be practiced by the educational elites, but is not generally popular. (Girod et al. 1987) It seems much easier to make communication possible by means of a shared lingua franca, i.e. a foreign language used for wider communication. That is why it is possible to consider the spread of English in the world and in Switzerland as a chance for a better understanding not only between one Swiss language group and another, but also between Switzerland and the world. At the end of the twentieth century English is the principal language of Western culture and civilization. Traces of English are visible wherever that culture has been allowed in; they are certainly visible in Swtzerland, and in all of the Swiss language areas quite in the same way and to the same degree. Bike, Body, Stretching, Jogging, Cool, Acid, Rock, Non-food, Fashion, By-pass surgery, Heart attack, Compact discs, Sorry, Hi and All you need is love mean the same to all the Swiss, whatever their L1. English vocabulary, whether for leisure time activities or special science branches, is at the disposal of Swiss speakers everywhere. The English language as it appears in such domains does not make communication among the Swiss more difficult, but, actually, makes it easier. As a matter of fact, it is in domains where English jargon has already become dominant that Swiss people of different L1 backgrounds, sometimes even from one and the same L1 background, may be heard talking to each other in English: in medicine, physics, management, business administration, product planning, computer programming, film distribution, banking, trading, defence strategies, etc., etc. English facilitates the contacts of all these groups and their members both across the borders of the nation and across the linguistic barriers within the country. English is an ideal lingua franca for Switzerland. For one thing, it is not one of the Swiss languages, it is not the L1 of any of the four language groups, but a foreign language for all and everyone. The other reason why English has good chances of being used within the Swiss multilingual community is its „general acceptancy", a term introduced into the language discussion by public opinion (Dürmüller 1993). It indicates that the public is ready to accept English and that English is generally welcomed as a language one might take up into one's repertoire.

In 1989 a government report on the linguistic situation of Switzerland acknowledged certain trends working in favour of English. It noted that Switzerland was more and more exposed to economic and cultural influences from abroad, and that the economic concerns had generally become more dominant. Both the cultural and linguistic influences from abroad and the use of language(s) in economic domains defied control, it said, and did not respond to measures in language policy. The report also noted that the linguistic behavior of a large part of the population was changing - helped on by modern communications technologies. There was, the report regretted, a tendency away from "languages of culture" towards a language which is "merely functional and communicative". This development, the report said, would lead to "a loss of esthetic values, of cultural diversity and expressiveness"; to "a general levelling" which would find "its adequate instrument" in the English language. While the competences in the traditional languages of Switzerland, even in the citizens' own L1, were being diminished, a compensatory competence was being built up in English. People's motivation to learn a second or third Swiss language was falling, but Swiss people seemed keen to learn English. This observation the report linked to the utilitarian thinking of the Swiss and their acceptance of a world-wide culture transported by the English language. As a consequence of all these trends, the state of Swiss multilingualism was appraised rather soberly: the four-language repertoire of Switzerland had been reduced to a repertoire of two and a half languages, the report said. For, as the country as a whole was concerned, only German and French could count as full languages. Italian, the report commented, might be an official language, but on the national level it had, at best, the significance of half a language. And Romansh, which is L1 not even for one percent of the Swiss, should not be counted at all. The report went on to say that the distribution of languages according to their relative importance could also be seen differently, especially if one looked ahead into the future. The quadrilingualism of Switzerland might then be reduced to the bilingualism of German and French. English might then be the language to join these two national languages in the repertoires of the citizens, where it would probably occupy the L2 slot, leaving the second national languages to the uncomfortable L3 slot, where they would be no more than "half languages". (Eidgenössisches Departement des Innern 1989) The spread of English in Switzerland and the apparent status change of English from a foreign language to a language of wider communication have been described and documented (see references). As suspected by the government report quoted, the attraction of English lies mainly in the economic benefits that come with the acquisition of English and the share in a modern Western, mainly American, culture that English gives access to. While material gains and cultural affiliation are strong factors promoting the spread of English in other nations, too, in Switzerland English also [benefits] from the factor of linguistic diversity. As English is entering competition with the traditional Swiss languages for a key position in the national language repertoire, its international prestige and the promise of world-wide understanding it carries, as well as its other assets make it look like a winner. Of course, English cannot replace German, French or Italian where these are L1, but it is replacing them where they are L2 in people's individual repertoires. It seems that a distinction has to be made between the individual repertoires of Swiss citizens, in which English may indeed be advancing to the L2 position, and the language repertoire of the whole nation, which continues to be dominated by German and French. Yet, for communication across language borders, from one language community to another, the shape of the individual speaker repertoires are decisive. It matters which language(s), apart from their L1, speakers are able and willing to use. In this respect, English has some advantages not only over Italian, but also over French.

This apparent change in the status of English has not gone unnoticed. During the eighties self-appointed language purist groups were writing letters-to-the-editor complaining about the increasing use of English inside Switzerland; they also published newsletters urging that the spread of English be stopped by measures of a kind similar to those that had been adopted in neighbouring France. In France the "purity" of the language is indeed an age-old concern. Unlike Switzerland, France has a long tradition of language planning. That is why it was possible in France to take steps against the increasing use of English by French speakers. From 1959 onwards a language policy with an anti-Anglo slant can easily be detected. Ministers of Culture, like André Malraux and Jack Lang, and even French Presidents themselves, voiced their concerns about the permeation of French by Anglicisms. Anglo terms were banned from the French language, and people were challenged to join a crusade against the "sprititual imperialism of the USA" as it appeared in TV serials like "Dallas" or "Denver". (cp. Goudailler 1976) In multilingual Switzerland there is no such easy equation of language and culture. If the authorities wanted to battle the foreign elements intruding into the national languages, they would find themselves in a difficult and complex situation. The influence of English is felt in the same way in all of the linguistic regions of Switzerland. The domains concerned are more or less the same in Italian-speaking Ticino, in French-speaking Western Switzerland and in the dominant German-speaking part. Taking measures against English would be easiest in French-speaking Switzerland because it would be possible to simply follow the example set by France. Since neither Italy nor Germany have taken comparable measures against the intrusion of English into their national languges, the Italian- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland would find themselves in quite a different situation from their French-speaking compatriots. Indeed, the French language policy of fighting off English is unique in Europe. It must be assumed that the difference in mentality reflected in the language policies regarding English among the neighbouring states of Switzerland would also be reflected among the Swiss population groups. That is to say, a Swiss language policy following the French example would probably not be well supported in the German- and Italian-speaking parts of the country. In addition, such an anti-Anglo language policy would solidify the language barriers already existing inside Switzerland rather than weaken them. For every language region would have to enlarge its vocabulary quite drastically. Again there would be an inequality in these efforts because the French group would be able to use the newly created terms with their French neighbours, while the German and Italian groups would lack that advantage, since in Italy and Germany the anglicisms seem to be acceptable. These appear to be some of the reasons why officially nothing is done to stop the spread of English in Switzerland. Gradually, therefore, English is allowed to acquire a more prominent place in the language repertoire of the country, even one with a communicative function for the Swiss themselves: i.e. that of language of wider communication or lingua franca.


Bichsel, Reinhard, 1994. Individueller Multilingualismus. In: Mehrsprachigkeit - Eine Herausforderung. Hans Bickel & Robert Schläpfer, eds. 247-279. Basel/Frankfurt a.M.: Helbling&Lichtenhahn

Dürmüller, Urs. 1986. The Status of English in Multilingual Switzerland. Bulletin CILA 44 : 7-38.

- 1991 Swiss Multilingualism and Intranational Communication. Sociolinguistica 5: 111-159

- 1992 The Changing Status of English in Switzerland. In: Status Change of Languages. Ulrich Ammon and Marlis Hellinger, eds. 355-370.Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter

- 1993 Themen der Schweizerischen Soziolinguistik m Spiegel der öffentlichen Meinung. In: Schweizer Soziolinguistik - Soziolinguistik der Schweiz. Iwar Werlen, ed. 79-92. Bulletin CILA 58

- 1997. Changing Patterns of Multilingualism. From quadrilingual to multilingual Switzerland. Zürich: Pro Helvetia.

- to appear. The Presence of English at Swiss Universities. In: The Effects of the Dominance of English as a Language of Science on the Non-English Language Communities. Ulrich Ammon ,ed. Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter

Eidgenössisches Departement des Innern. 1989. Zustand und Zukunft der viersprachigen Schweiz. Bern: EDMZ

Girod, Roger et al. 1987. L‘eventail des connaissances. Aarau/Frankfurt a.M.: Sauerländer

Goudailler, Jean-Paul. 1976. Sprache und Macht. Dialekt 6(1): 28-51


Hat tip: Edward J. Cunningham