Louis-Jean Calvet

With the support of the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA, Inc.

The Speaker

Born in Tunisia, Louis-Jean Calvet obtained his "doctorat de troisième cycle de linguistique" at the Sorbonne in 1970, and his "doctorat ès lettres et sciences humaines" at the University of Paris V, Sorbonne, in 1978. A professor at the Sorbonne (Université René Descartes), where he taught socio-linguistics until 1999, Calvet is presently at the University of Provence (Aix-Marseille 1).

Calvet has been a visiting professor in many countries for periods ranging from a few weeks to several months: in the universities of Algiers (Algeria), Rabat (Morocco), Maputo (Mozambique), Canton (China), Tulane (New Orleans), Niamey (Niger), Brazzaville (Congo), Bamako (Mali), Vigo (Spain), La Coruña (Spain), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Louisville (Tennessee).

Calvet's more than twenty books (classics that have been translated into many languages) include Studies on Roland Barthes and signs (Payot, 1973), Saussure (Payot, 1975), Linguistic politics (Payot, 1987), Roland Barthes (Flammarion, 1990), European etymologies (Payot, 1993), European languages (Plon, 1993), The French singer/composer George Brassens (Payot, 1993), Urban socio-linguistics (Payot, 1994), The history of writing (Plon, 1996), The ecology of world languages (Plon, 1999), and Linguistics and colonialism (Payot, 2002).

Louis-Jean Calvet collaborates with the International Organization of the Francophonie but also with Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking organizations on linguistic policies designed to foster linguistic diversity.

From his very first publications, he has analyzed the relationships between linguistic discourse and colonial discourse on languages and, later, the links between language and power and the linguistic role of the city.

He has recently worked on an analysis of French political discourse, in particular that from the presidential campaign (Combat pour l'Elysée (The Fight for the Presidency), Seuil, 2006) and speeches by President Sarkozy (Les mots de Nicolas Sarkozy (The Words of Nicolas Sarkozy), Seuil, 2008).

Along with his academic pursuits, Calvet has published a column for over twenty years devoted to popular French vernaculars in Francophone countries in the review Le Français dans le monde (French in the World).


The Weight of Languages in a Time of Globalization (The Role of French and Foreseeable Developments to the Situation)

When we think about the relative importance of languages, we most often base our conclusions on a single factor: the number of speakers. Yet, there are other factors: the number of countries in which the languages are official, their role on the Internet, the economic importance of the countries where they are spoken, etc. Beginning with statistical processing of ten or so factors, we will present a “barometer of world languages” which provides an aid in decision-making on linguistic policy, and we will discuss the foreseeable evolution of this situation.

What Slips of the Tongue Reveal
Some people believe that communication is a voluntary act, that we cannot be caught without our knowledge in a phenomenon of communication. Starting with a group of slips of the tongue made by politicians during the last French presidential campaign, we will show that, on the contrary, we can say things that just come out without realizing it and we will discuss what these slips teach us about the linguistic sign.

Francophonie through Song
From Québec to France, from Louisiana to Congo by way of Algeria or Egypt, people sing in French. This lecture, illustrated by musical excerpts, presents both what Francophonie is and how the French language evolves differently in these different countries as it takes root and is transformed.

Urban Sociolinguistics
In multi-lingual countries, of which there are many, the city acts as a suction pump: migrants converge there with their languages and must deal with communication problems. The city sucks up multi-lingualism and spits back out monolingualism; it contributes to the linguistic unification of the country. Starting in particular with the presentation of surveys conducted in African multi-lingual markets, we will explore the linguistic role of the city.



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  • Fondation Alliance Française
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