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The scope of the French-speaking world

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Did you know…?

SF’s focus is the French-speaking world. 300 million people speak French around the globe, making French one of the world’s top ten languages.

Did you know…?

French is an official language of the international Olympic Games. The other two languages are English and the language of the host country.

Did you know…?

Until the early 20th century, Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain colonized countries in Africa, the Americas, and Asia, bringing them under their rule and introducing their language, customs, systems of government and education to their “empires.”
Most colonies became independent during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but colonial powers have dramatically influenced language, culture, and ways of life. French continues to be used in former Belgian and French colonies.

Did you know…?

The French-speaking nations are gathered into the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF)
The OIF, called the International Organization of La Francophonie in English, represents countries and regions where French is an official or widely used language. Countries with a large proportion of French speakers, or that affiliate with French culture, can also join.
“Francophonie” also refers to the worldwide community of French-speaking peoples.
The organization was created in 1970 with the motto “égalité, complémentarité, solidarité” (“equality, complementarity, and solidarity”), which evokes France’s motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” From a small group of French-speaking countries at its beginning, the Francophonie has evolved into a global organization with numerous branches that cooperate with its member states in matters of culture, science, economy, justice, and peace.

Ten of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa. Six of them are French-speaking. Most of their inhabitants live on less than $600 per year.
More countries in Africa speak French than any other language. There are 200 million French speakers in Africa. The following countries of Africa speak French, but communities of French-speakers live in other countries too: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Morocco, Niger, Reunion, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia.

469 people groups least reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ live in French-speaking countries. In nine of these countries, fewer than 1% of the population knows and follows Christ. While there are growing numbers of Christians in other countries, the lack of biblical resources and people to make disciples have resulted in a discipleship crisis. There is a great need for access to affordable Bibles and books to share the story of God’s interaction with humans, bring hope of a restored relationship with him, and to help people grow as disciples of Jesus to influence their communities and nations.

Ruled by the French from 1830 until 1962, Algeria’s culture, like that of other countries of North Africa, has been shaped by many influences. It is the largest country in Africa, covering nearly 9.3 million square miles, and the tenth largest in the world. Arabic, Berber, and French are spoken in Algeria. French is also spoken in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. There are very few followers of Jesus in these countries.

98% of Belgian colonial overseas territory was comprised of the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Belgium also colonized Ruanda-Urundi, now Rwanda and Burundi.

France colonized several West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. French-style homes, for those who can afford them, are found in the cities, as are French bread and pastries in bakery shops.
Long before European colonialization, Africa was comprised of empires, kingdoms, and nation-states, some of whose names are still used. European sea powers began to arrive in Africa in the fifteenth century beginning with the Portuguese followed by the French, English, Spanish, Danish and Dutch. The sale of slaves to Europeans began soon afterwards.
Fulani jihads swept through West Africa in the nineteenth century while the French and the British subdued kingdoms. After the fall of the Wassoulou Empire in 1898 led by the renowned Muslim cleric and military strategist Samory Touré, followed in 1902 by the fall of the Ashanti Queen Yaa Asantewaa, West African military resistance could rarely prevail against colonial rule. Between the end of the Second World War and 1974, all West African nations gained independence, but many have known political instability, coups, and civil war. West African countries are home to a Lebanese diaspora.
While followers of Christ are fewer than 1% in several West African countries, the percentage is higher in a few others.

75 million French speakers live in Europe. French is spoken in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Monaco, Switzerland, and Andorra.
Five of the six countries where French is spoken are fewer than 1% evangelical Christian. Switzerland has 4%, but many of these live in the German-speaking part of the country.
The French often refer to their country as “the Hexagon” because of its six-sided shape.

France has a population of 66 million. 99% of them do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 60 million people there have never gone to church, never read the Bible (80% of French people have never owned or even seen a Bible) or heard of how to have their sin forgiven and be in a right relationship with God and have no hope of living forever with God after physical death. How will they hear if no one tells them? There are more occult practitioners in France than doctors or Christian workers.
Many African countries in which French is the legal language follow the French curriculum in schools.
In Belgium, Flemish is spoken in the north, while French is spoken in the southern region called Wallonia.

Many parts of France are scattered around the globe. France governs them as Overseas Departments and Territories. (For a comparison, think of Guam which is a U.S. territory, and Puerto Rico which is like a department.) As well as French, Créole is often spoken, but Créole is different from one part of the world to another! Here is a list and a map to help you find the DOM-TOM:

  • French Southern and Antarctic Lands
  • French Polynesia
  • French Guiana (South America)
  • Guadeloupe (West Indies)
  • Martinique (West Indies)
  • Mayotte (Indian Ocean)
  • New Caledonia (Pacific Ocean)
  • Saint-Martin (Caribbean)
  • Saint-Barthélemy (Caribbean)
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon (North America, Atlantic Ocean)
  • Reunion island (Indian Ocean)
  • Wallis and Futuna (between Hawaii and New Zealand)

French Polynesia includes 118 different islands and 5 archipelagos. A well-known island is Tahiti. Since 2004, the islands are an overseas “country” governed by France. The little island of New Caledonia is close to Australia. Vanuatu is also in the OIF. 7.2% of the population follows Christ.

Three countries in Asia were colonized by the French: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Some of their inhabitants have taken their delicious food to France and North America where they have opened restaurants.

The U.S.A. sits next to a French-speaking nation. French is one of the official languages of Canada. The province of Quebec, which is 95% French-speaking (though between 75 and 80% consider French to be their mother tongue), is considered a nation within a nation. This province of 8 million people, a French colony from 1534 to 1760, is keen to preserve its French history, language, and culture. It was populated before the French Revolution and claims to speak the purest form of French.

The history of the colonization of the U.S.A. includes many French speakers from France and Quebec (often with the Hudson’s Bay Company). Many place names such as Vincennes and Terre Haute (in Indiana), and Charbonneau and Gervais (in Oregon), bear witness to this. Parts of Louisiana were colonized by the French, and French is spoken there today.

Haiti is in Central America, in the Caribbean. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. French and Haitian Créole are spoken.
The first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought the first Europeans to Haiti. The first European settlement in the Americas was la Navidad on Haiti’s northeastern coast. The island was claimed by Spain. In 1697, part of Haiti was ceded to France. Sugarcane and slave labor made Haiti one of the richest colonies. Political instability followed Haiti’s independence, and progress was slowed by payment of a huge debt to France. From 1915 to 1934, The U.S. occupied Haiti. Autocratic presidential rule, economic problems, corruption, and violence continued until the country tried to establish democracy in 1986. Haiti has suffered many natural disasters. Spiritual needs are great. A rich literary heritage is part of its culture.

French Guiana is the only French-speaking territory of France in South America, and as such is part of the European Union! Créole is also spoken.
The French tried to start a colony in 1503 but only established a lasting presence in Cayenne, now the capital, in 1643.

Three Middle Eastern countries are members of the International Organization of la Francophonie: Lebanon, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Many Lebanese live in and visit French-speaking West Africa.

Every four years, fifty-five countries take part in the Francophone Games, an Olympic competition launched in 1989. Artistic presentations including song, dance, and poetry reflect the diverse cultures of the 3,000 athletes’ nations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Canada (Quebec). Only athletes from French-speaking sectors of a nation may participate.