Friday, February 19, 2010

Should French Be Dropped From the Olympics?

Fearing that French would be under represented at the Vancouver Olympics, "La Francophonie " an organization that represents French speaking nations around the world, sent it's Secretary General Abdou Diou, to the Vancouver Olympic site to check on the state of affairs. Of course he was disappointed.

At the same time, President Sarkozy of France, sent his special envoy, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, to the United Nations to demand that French assume it's historic position at the international forum.
"The UN recognizes six official languages: English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French and Russian. Of these, only English and French are the working languages. However, in daily practice, English dominates and remains unchallenged." AFP
There's little doubt that as a lingua franca (a third language used to communicate between persons not sharing a common mother tongue ) French is in rapid decline.

English has supplanted every other language as the one used to communicate between peoples of different linguistic backgrounds. Anyone who works internationally, be it in politics, trade, medicine, science, sport or entertainment and who can't speak English, find themselves with a serious handicap.
By international treaty, English is the only official language for aerial and maritime communications and this trend continues to grow in other domains.

France's very own higher education minister, Valerie Pecresse shocked her colleagues when she proclaimed to the press that she had no intention of speaking French when attending European meetings in Brussels, because, she said, it was quite obvious that English was now the easiest mode of communication. LINK

That is why other French language officials are so alarmed at what they consider linguistic imperialism, the de facto situation where French, although recognized officially internationally, is ignored in practice.

There was a time when France had an empire that stretched across the world from Vietnam to Africa,  the Caribbean, North America and across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia. The French language was heard around the world.

Until the middle of the 20th century, international relations and diplomacy were mostly conducted in French and the language's influence and culture flourished throughout both the eastern and western world. The height of this linguistic force reigned until the mid 1960's, at which time France lost it's colonies in Asia and Africa.

Although French continues to be spoken in many countries to some degree, it has not been able to build a momentum or conserve it's position. While some form of French is spoken in Africa, Quebec and Haiti, it has in some cases, become incomprehensible to a Parisian. The decline is not only linguistic, but cultural too. There is little exchange in literature, music and cinema between countries in the Francophone world.

The English language, as well as it's culture has grown to dominate the world.
More people speak English as a second language than any other and it is growing exponentially. More people across the world are studying English as a second language, than all the other languages combined.
Today English is the lingua franca of the world. To deny it, is to live in a fantasy world.

For people who can't master English completely, there is always the abbreviated form of 'GLOBISH' (Global English,) a compendium of about 1,500 English words that when learned can get a non-speaker by quite nicely in an English world. See a video about how Globish is expanding the world of English.

And so the question begs asking; Should French be dropped from the Olympic movement, leaving only English and the host nation's own language as the only official languages of any future Games?

Is it reasonable to impose the expense and hardship of French, in the face of so little demand?

Vancouver may be the example that sparks the debate. It seems that Canada, an officially bilingual country cannot muster the necessary resources to give French it's authorized position as an equal.
There is so little demand for French, that the 15% of volunteers who speak French,  have almost nobody to speak to.

In a little publicized move, the Vancouver Olympic Committee, last summer, considered as a cost cutting measure, the elimination of French signage from 27 venues, citing lack of demand.
Ottawa was forced to cough up over $5 million to translate internal documents and technical manuals into French and another $1.5 million for the signs.

Getting enough referees, marshals and officials who speak French remains a challenge as well, considering that most international athletes have already learned to speak English.

Defenders of French will argue that the modern Olympic movement was born in France and as such, French should remain an official language.
That argument has seen it's day.

French is as pertinent to the Olympic movement as is Greek. Perhaps, as a compromise for dropping French, the team can march into the stadium right after the Greeks as a sign of respect.

As for speaking French at the Olympics, it should be history.


  1. Please do not overestimate the position of English.

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

    Your readers may be interested in seeing Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at

  2. It's is short for "it is".

    Its means belonging to it.

    So "It's a dog eating its bone" is correct.

    "It's a dog eating it's bone" is not.