Skip to comments.The unstoppable rise of the English language (Bye, France.)
Posted on 10/20/2008 10:33:12 PM PDT by buccaneer81
This month Rwanda defected, announcing that henceforward only English will be taught in the schools. It would not be overstating the case to say that this caused alarm and despondency in France.
You couldn't help feeling, either, that Rwanda's trade and industry minister, Vincent Karega, was deliberately rubbing salt in the wound when he explained why French was being scrapped.
"French is spoken only in France, some parts of west Africa, and parts of Canada and Switzerland," he said. (In parts of Belgium, too, actually, not to mention Haiti, but you get the point.) "English has emerged as a backbone for growth and development, not only in the region but around the globe."
No country cares more passionately for its language than France, and it has waged a long and expensive campaign to guarantee the survival of a French-speaking zone in central and west Africa. It even provided the bulk of the foreign aid for the former Belgian colonies that spoke French: Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. But the present government of Rwanda has special reasons not to be fond of France.
Getting very close to the regimes in African countries that have French as an official language, even sending troops to protect them from their domestic enemies, has always been part of Paris's strategy for preserving the status of French as a world language.
In Rwanda's case, that put France in bed with the extremist Hutu-dominated regime that ruled the densely populated country before the genocide, to such an extent that Paris largely paid for the tripling in size of the Rwandan army in 1990-91.
When the Hutu regime began murdering the minority Tutsis in industrial quantities in 1994, France did not abandon it. The French president at the time, Francois Mitterrand, is alleged to have remarked that "in such countries, genocide is not too important..."
And a principal reason that France overlooked its Rwandan ally's ghastly behaviour was that the Tutsi-led opposition in exile mostly spoke English, because its members had found refuge in English-speaking Uganda.
An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 1994, but the Uganda-based Rwanda Patriotic Front put an end to the genocide by invading the country and overthrowing the regime. Even a direct French military intervention in Rwanda (thinly disguised as a humanitarian operation) could not save the Hutu "genocidiaires," as they are universally known.
So it was not to be expected that the new, mainly English-speaking government in Rwanda would have warm feelings towards France.
Fourteen years later, more than 95 per cent of Rwanda's secondary schools still teach mainly in French, although an alternative English instructional programme or intensive English language courses are usually available.
Knowledge of both English and French is required for university entrance (and for most government jobs), but the government's own statistics say that only three per cent of the population is fluent in English. Nevertheless, the new decision ends the teaching of French in Rwandan schools.
The government defends it as a purely business decision, driven by Rwanda's membership in the largely English-speaking East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), but there is no question that resentment of France also plays a role.
This is a country that has already expelled the French ambassador and closed down the French cultural centre, international school and radio station.
But can an African country just switch from one European language to another like that? It can if, like Rwanda, it only uses one language domestically. Almost all Rwandans, whether Hutu or Tutsi, speak Kinyarwanda, so they have no need for a lingua franca to communicate among themselves. Only those going into higher education or working with foreigners need any other language at all - which is why only eight per cent of Rwandans speak fluent French after all this time.
This is far from typical of African countries, most of which have many different ethnic groups, each with its own language.
Such countries use the language of the former colonial power as a neutral "national" language, and have such a large investment in teaching it by now that switching is out of the question. The Congo will always use French; Nigeria will always use English; Mozambique will always use Portuguese.
So francophones can relax: their language is not about to vanish from the African continent. On the other hand, French will always lose out to English in situations like Rwanda, where there is a single national language and the main reason for learning a foreign language is communication with the rest of the world.
Vietnam, an ex-French colony, has long taught English as the main foreign language in its schools, and Madagascar, also formerly ruled by France, made English a national language last year.
English-speakers often assume this world role for their language owes something to its huge vocabulary and wonderful literature, or at least to the fact that Hollywood speaks English.
Nothing of the sort. The sole reason is that the world's dominant power for the past two centuries has been English-speaking: Britain in the 19th century, and the United States in the 20th.
Timing is everything, and English just happened to be the leading candidate when globalization created the need for an agreed global second language.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based, Newfoundland-born independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
Now if they’d only give that much committment to English in American schools, we’d be on a better track...
But that would be racist.
France doesn’t have to worry. The youtube generation has butchered the English language so much that soon p30P1c Vi1l B Talkin lik Dis.
Thanks to a little law called Freedom of Speech....
It would probably be advisable for Englihs speaking students to study Chinese.
True. If you're begging for your car not to be torched in Paris.
pathetic isn’t it?
(shrug of the shoulders) If the Manchurian canidate get's elected what won't be??
France has been pathetic since 1792.
I have feeling that such a resident of the White House may face some serious organized opposition (That's all I'll say to avoid...controversy.)
Then why in the freakin world do I have to press one in AMERICA to communicate in English when I call an automated phone service?
I’ve traveled to many foreign countries. Routinely I was able to find someone on the street who spoke English if I needed help with something.
However, go to any street corner in downtown Los Angeles and you won’t have a snowballs chance of finding anybody who speaks English.
French and English, the two languages of civilization. Les deux langues d’un monde civilisé.
Constant reports of the death of French are always exaggerated.
(Greek, Latin, French, English: the Western world keeps the hits on coming!)
Liberals want Arabic and Spanish to feel warm, cozy and “diverse” while their neighborhoods are turned to 3rd World shooting galleries, me included.
Let's see -- 26 characters vs. 4,000, even in the "simplified Mao script" ... my computer speaks ASCII. The internet runs on ASCII. ASCII, and ye shall receive-y. People around the world can learn "Caterpillar Simplified English" -- a restricted dialect of perhaps 1,000 words -- in a month.
Dead language anyway. In 30 years, Arabic will be the dominate language of France.
Why do you need to press one for English? Because businesses don’t like losing potential customers who prefer Spanish.
The existence of Spanish as a second language is troublesome for national unity, but we’ve been through this before with German and Polish and other languages. The second generation speaks English, even now with Hispanic youth.
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