Jean Harzic





  1. 1. French Language and Cultural Diversity

Babel is not a curse, but, rather, a blessing.

Learning a dozen languages, or even five or six, is beyond the reach of most of us, especially because of time constraints. But if English and information technology are two tools that have become indispensable, learning a major language of communication and of culture—whether it’s French, (language of the Francophony in sixty-two countries), Spanish, Portuguese, German or something else, helps to avoid a dangerous standardization: one language, one way of thinking. Each language has its own « Weltanschauung, » or world vision, which is unique to that language. This point will be discussed in detail by using specific examples and concrete comparisons between several languages.

We will emphasize the Francophony, without claiming that it’s our one and only hope, by underlining three of its aspects: its presence in numerous countries throughout the world, its seductive appeal, and its utilitarian aspects.  We will also discuss the many personalities in the limelight (both male and female politicians, artists, CEOs . . .) who speak English fluently, which is not uncommon, but who also speak French, often very well. Numerous examples will be provided in support of this point. We’ll pay special attention to the UNESCO vote, virtually unanimous, in October 2005, opposing linguistic uniformity and mercantile systems that are sometimes tied to a culture and a language.

Numerous anecdotes, often ones experienced by yours truly, will be offered as a way of holding the audience’s attention and also as a way to humorously convey the gist of the talk.


2. The Alliance Française Yesterday and Today

We’ll briefly go back over the origins of the Alliance Française, founded in 1883, in a country that was very centralized, characterized by the colonial expeditions of the time and by the messianic feelings that sustained them, for whom the language was sacrosanct. The Alliance Française, which, depending on its geographical locale, could also be called the Alliance Franco-Américaine, the Alliance Franco-Canadienne, the Alliance Italo-Francese, or the Alliance Franco-Brasileira, is diametrically opposed to that colonial sentiment since it has a non-French director in most cases.

We will discuss the evolution of this movement, often called « cultural multinational, » which will go from exclusive concerns about language, to diverse cultural events such as la Fete de la Musique.   The goal of the movement has always been to emphasize the host country while at the same time not overlooking French creativity or that of the Francophone countries.  It is important to note that it is not only France that the Alliance likes to promote, but all of the Francophony, which includes sixty-three countries.

There will be a strong emphasis on the role of volunteers, with specific examples provided.  The ongoing modernization of these institutions will also be underscored along with their ability to stay in step with the times and show the contemporary and appealing sides of today’s France.

We’ll see how, over the span of time, the Alliance has developed a strong presence in Africa, the Indian Ocean, Australia, and New Zealand, Eastern Europe (Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.) as well as in Russia and in China.  Of course Latin America and North America continue to play an important role, so we will take a look at where things stand at present on this continent stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

We’ll describe the opening up of Alliances to the outside world, whether it’s academic—collaboration with universities, and schools at every level—commercial, even industrial. Obviously the language of business is still English but the increasing number of French businesses in certain countries (500 in Mexico, for example) have paved the way for an increase in the number of courses offered to companies, called « French at your desk » in English-language regions. Every topic relating to the Alliance will be discussed: human relations, a basic point since they allow for creating and strengthening friendships not only among individuals but also among peoples; instruction, which remains at the heart of the Alliance’s work; cultural activities; and, in a word, values, especially what they hope to promote, particularly in certain countries where freedom of thought, expression or customs and beliefs is not clear. But enough about the past, let’s talk about the future: where is the Alliance now, what does it do? Where is it going?

The exposé will be very concrete, focusing less on the « philosophy » of the Alliance than on what the Alliances accomplish in the world and what the future may have in store. We’ll also talk about cities at the ends of the earth, so the audience will know what’s happening elsewhere, in the most remote and improbable places on the planet.


3. The French Language Today in the World

Through the use of specific examples, gleaned from over a hundred countries from all across the globe, we will endeavor to define the place that France holds in the world today. Without any chauvinism or arrogance, and without getting into any kind of competition with English which is the undisputed leading language, we should then have a look at what is its importance and its influence.

The French language can, however, hold on to its respectable second place. Why do Jodie Foster, Woody Allen and so many other Americans, famous or otherwise, speak French?  Why do Walter Salles, the great Brazilian film director and so many other Latin-Americans, writers, filmmakers, or simply average citizens speak French?

Do the sixty-three countries of the Francophony carry some weight in the world?

What role do they play?

If English remains the language of business, how can we explain that French is taught in a hundred companies in London, 50 in Madrid, 33 in Bangkok, etc.?

Is the appeal of the French language due to its utilitarian aspects (« You have to speak the language of your customer ») or, first of all, to the various ways people feel about it ?: love of Paris, an idealized picture of France, a strong interest in the clichés which often are actually true, artistic patrimony, fashion, gastronomy, summer festivals, etc.

How do we explain that most of the North Americans and also those from the southern hemisphere whom I meet in the tourist sites in Paris, whether it’s Montmarte, Montparnasse, les Champs-Elysee, etc. do their best to speak French rather than English, Spanish or Portuguese when asking directions ? Is it simple courtesy, or a desire to immerse themselves in French culture, which begins, quite naturally, with the language?

The aim of the exposé will be to determine as precisely as possible what place the French language holds in the world today: lost, going extinct, as certain French people believe? Or quite the contrary, undergoing a renewed vitality based on real-life situations in a wide variety of areas? The components of the French cultural network, Alliances Françaises, French cultural centers and institutes, French junior and senior high schools all play important roles—we’ll see which ones.


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  • Fondation Alliance Française
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  • Cultural Services of the French Embassy
  • Federation of Alliance Française USA


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