From the desk of Unfrench Frenchman:
I keep hearing from the French that the global number of French speakers is increasing because of black African demographics. This is a red herring. Here is why:
- Africa accounts only for a part of la francophonie. Everywhere on earth outside of Africa, France, Quebec and France, both knowledge AND use of French are dwindling fast.
- West African countries that have French as an official language have high total fertility rates, but also very high rates of mortality and emigration. Emigrants from French speaking countries tend to move to English speaking countries such as Nigeria and the US. The net gain is therefore less than the french assume to be in terms of total population increase and francophone fertility rates may in the long run even benefit the rival language, English.
- Even second and third-generation African immigrants to France continue to use pidgins and creoles in the ghettoes where most of them live, while most of them cannot speak or write native-level French. Those pidgins and creoles are not understandable by non-African speakers of French. Mainstream French is being quickly Africanized to the point of discouraging non-African foreigners from studying French. Does this benefit French?
- French is a medium of instruction in many black African countries, but African education systems are huge failures. Just because French is taught at schools doesn't mean people are actually learning it. English is taught to virtually every French student at all French schools, but you could hardly say that every Frenchman is an Anglophone. As for West Africans, they have very few incentives to practise French outside of schools, which is why most of them speak or write no French at all.
- Francophones who argue that African demographics automatically strengthens la francophonie never reveal in which African countries an absolute increase of French speakers is supposedly taking place. I have hard evidence that the use of French is actually diminishing in many African countries. This is the case in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauretania, Senegal and Rwanda. You are invited to click the matching label links on the right-hand side of this blog to learn more on the decline of French in those countries. Even in the Ivory Coast, pidgins are increasingly used where pure French used to be de rigueur. In Subsaharan Africa, studies and reports suggest that the teaching of French at schools has done little to improve either literacy or the knowledge of French. Even if the French can prove using actual studies that a few of a France's not-so-former African colonies have witnessed an absolute increase in numbers of French speakers, and I have yet to see any, the overall picture for Africa will be of an absolute decline, given that Africa's most populous countries are seeing their disenfranchised populations turning their backs on French, and when it comes to global numbers, the decline of French is nothing short of a catastrophe, a huge blow indeed to inflated French egos.