Speaking of Languages: The Decline of French


The 12th Summit of the International Organization of Francophonie wrapped up on Sunday in the capital city of Canada’s French-speaking Quebec province. During the three-day event, leaders from 55 member countries (including Belgium, Switzerland and Canada – though in these countries French is only spoken by a minority of the population) and 13 observer nations held talks on wide-ranging issues. The financial crisis stole the limelight. The 70 nations and regional governments also pledged to help cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. They said they would draft a “concerted francophone position” for upcoming climate change conferences in Poznan in December and Copenhagen in 2009. However, while the French-speaking politicians talk about (financial) bubbles and (greenhouse) gases, their language is dying, both globally and within France itself.


I have discovered an informative new English-language website for anyone interested in the French language. Called The World-Wide Decline of French, and administered by a gentleman named Unfrench, it chronicles the decline of the French language and the ineffectiveness of costly and conscientious programs initiated by the French government in its misbegotten effort to rescue and promote the language of Molière.
How can Third World countries that speak a rather limited French, and that have more urgent economic problems to worry about, save the language? How can schools teach French if the overwhelming number of students demand Arabic or Spanish or Chinese? Above all, how can French compete with English?
The only factors that propel a language from mere street talk to the level of a great cultural asset are the men of genius who write great literature, the poets who open new avenues of expression, leading to a higher level of consciousness, the artists, musicians, essayists, playwrights, actors, journalists, commentators, teachers, scholars, etc... all of whom use, manipulate and enrich the language with individuality, and at the same time with national pride.
Such men are inspired and inspire others. But how to bring about a return to cultural excellence in this time of spiritual impoverishment? How to generate inspiration? Lawrence Auster, who was responsible for my discovering the site, has some suggestions:

To paraphase Obama's "spreading the wealth," what they're doing now is trying to save French by "spreading the French," instead of by elevating it. Meaning, improve the quality of French among the French people. Teach great literature. Instill love of France and French culture, so that the French have something worth talking about again. Make Muslims unwelcome and start pushing them out, thus re-invigorating French identity. Dismantle the EU and the entire managerial, liberal, egalitarian, and Eurabian agenda and consciousness, which kill the mind, turn language into a PC tool to conceal instead of a tool to communicate truth. Bring back belief in truth, so that there will be things worth saying again, worth using language well for. Focus schools on 17th century French literature with its clarté. Make clarté, love of truth, love of France, love of the historic West, and, even better, belief in Christianity, which is all about TRUTH, the center of French culture.

Clarté” means “clarity”. French was always said to be the language of “clarté”. There is also the implication of light because a language that is clear sheds light on a problem. The old saying went "ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français" (what is not clear is not French).

Once French nation and culture and its Western identity have been saved and revived, and once the French used by the French people has been improved and purified, then start to make French attractive again to other Westerners. Forget about trying to make it attractive to Third Worlders. As you suggested from the articles at that site, such efforts do not avail. Accept the fact that France cannot have an empire again, that trying to have a Muslim empire only Islamizes France, but see that French can still be saved, because the greatness and beauty of French can still have a great appeal to fellow white Westerners. Thus encourage French as a universal second language in the West alongside English. It won't be as widespread as English, of course, but the unique beauty of French and the "high" of speaking it gives French an appeal that English can't match.
What do you think?

I responded that I agreed completely with his ideas but didn’t think it would happen. However, I added that my more fatalistic view is not to be taken as a prediction. One never knows how things will evolve. After all the Renaissance was ushered in by disastrous events. That could happen again.
I would add a couple of ideas to what Larry Auster said. First, start teaching LATIN again, and even Greek, if you can find students willing to make the effort. Second, STOP teaching French children the “global” method of reading. This language-destroying method has had a demonstrably disastrous effect on the way the formerly well-educated French spell, conjugate verbs, and express themselves. This applies to the teaching of foreign languages as well. Third, STOP teaching French to foreigners via the “global” (or “audio-visual-lingual”) method. This method can lead to chaos. Language study for older students has to be structured and grammar has to be taught systematically, whether the students like it or not. Then it is easy to make the transition to structured speech, and eventually to everyday speech. (Note: the final step to authentic everyday speech at normal speed is never easy.) Foreigners are not learning French any better than the French are learning their own language.
If anyone has other suggestions, please let us know.
Of course, the very young learn languages quickly, and grammar can be put off, but not eliminated. The illustration of Jemima Puddle-Duck in French (Jemima Cane-de-flaque) is from Barnes and Noble. Such a translation can be used for both French children and those learning French.
Remember when Winnie The Pooh came out in Latin (Winnie Ille Pooh)? It was a huge success and it sold out immediately. Everyone thought that a new era in the teaching of Latin had arrived. But today, the downward spiral of education having taken its toll, Latin is rarely taught, although it hasn't entirely disappeared. Winnie Ille Pooh may be a good example of making Latin “fun”, but it also shows that making something “fun” does not save it. Quite the contrary.
A return to the teaching of the classics is one very good way of re-stimulating interest in the languages of Europe, including German and Castilian Spanish, which is very difficult – has anyone tackled Don Quijote in Spanish? The original version used to be read in American universities, but that would be very rare today. However a solid background in Latin would facilitate access to the great literatures of Western Europe. (Note: I do not know Latin. I studied it too late in life to retain it. I did go a bit further in Greek, but I would need supervision and grammar review if I were to go back to reading Homer. Not being classically trained is a major handicap, IMHO.)
As for German, it was quickly phased out (again, not entirely) after 1968. Nobody was willing to make the effort. Dumbing down the mind, and jacking up the grades became the unexpressed and inexpressible goals of education.
Finally, what would happen if we suddenly began making intellectual demands on hedonistic young people, or people from different cultures who simply do not have the background to do rigorous work? Would there be violence? Is dumbing down a defense against revolution? Would it be better to just close the schools? I have often thought so, but people turn in disgust from such suggestions. They say "education is our future." That’s what we all fear, isn’t it?

Foreign-language learning

"Language study for older students has to be structured and grammar has to be taught systematically, whether the students like it or not. Then it is easy to make the transition to structured speech, and eventually to everyday speech."

If I understand what you are getting at, it sounds like you are talking about the way that languages are usually taught here in the U.S. And it doesn't work very well. My niece has taken two years of Spanish and can't even order a taco using Spanish.

I'd say start with everyday speech and move on from there. This is what Pimsleur does. I'm trying to learn Arabic, and Pimsleur is the best of the resources I have found for learning this language.

O tempora, o mores!

At the University of California, two foreign languages were required for the PhD in 1964, one of which had to be German. Since I knew only French and Russian, I had to take a crash course in scientific German. These days, I am told, no foreign languages are required for the PhD in the sciences.

Malum consilium quod mutari non potest

The French government is strongly advocating the teaching of the Arabic language in French (and Breton?)schools, and I'm supposed to feel empathy with the French elites when they complain that the French language is dying? I don't think so.