The term “francophonie,” first coined in 1880, was used to describe a group of individuals and countries who spoke French. More than a century later and with an estimated 274 million French speakers around the world, we come together on March 20 to celebrate International Francophonie Day. It is a celebration of French language and francophonie culture and supports the work of the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF). It represents one of the biggest linguistic zones in the world. The IOF organizes political activities and actions that represent cultural and linguistic diversity, respect for human rights, and serve to promote the French language, peace and sustainable development. Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada, has served as the Secretary General of the organization since January 2015.
French is currently the fifth-most widely spoken language on the planet. Together with English, it is the only other language to be spoken on five continents: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. At 96.2 million, Africa is the continent with the largest number of French speakers. In addition, French continues to be one of the fastest-growing languages, with 60 per cent of all speakers under the age of 30.
March 20 was designated International Francophonie Day because it marked the signing of the Niamey Convention in Niger. It was on this date back in 1970 that the Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique (ACCT) was established and served as a precursor to the IOF. At the time of its creation, the ACCT was tasked with the promotion of French language and culture throughout the world.
There are currently 84 IOF states and governments, across five continents, where French is the first language, where there is a significant association with the culture of France, and where a large section of the population is comprised of French speakers and francophones.
Since 2010, March 20 has been declared as United Nations French Language Day and celebrated in conjunction with International Francophonie Day. It marked the fortieth year since the founding of the IOF. Established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it was a way to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity. It was also a way to promote the equal use of six official working languages throughout the United Nations. They are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
Canada’s involvement in La Francophonie is a reflection of not only its linguistic duality but also its history; one that is as rich and diverse as the people who call it home today. La Francophonie gives Canadians more opportunities at the international level and also provides greater appreciation to the unique contribution Canada provides to the development and evolution of La Francophonie.
In Ontario, the francophonie culture has had a rich history. It celebrated 400 years of French presence in 2015 by commemorating Samuel de Champlain’s exploration of Ontario. With the help of the Wendat (Huron) and Anishinaabe, his First Nations guides and allies, the land that is known as present-day Ontario served as the longest, most extensive and westernmost point of his travels. Today, there is a push for the creation of a francophone University in southwestern Ontario. There is a growing need amongst Franco-Ontarians to access services, be trained in their first language, and to come out of an institution knowing the vocabulary that is necessary in Canada’s official languages. If passed, a Franco-Ontarian university would be mandated to offer a full range of university degrees and programs in French.
At a time where divisive and protectionist ideologies dominate conversations, International Francophonie Day strives to create a space of solidarity. It is one that is based on the principles of humanity, democracy, and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity for all.
Other benchmarks of la francophonie:
- French is the four-most widely used language on the Web
- There are an estimated 900,000 French teachers worldwide
- French is an official language in 32 member states
- At 16 per cent, French is the second-most widely spoken first language in the European Union behind German (23 per cent) but ahead of English (15.9 per cent)
- At 19 per cent, French is the second-most widely spoken foreign language in the European Union behind English (41 per cent) but ahead of German (10 per cent) and Spanish (7 per cent)
- TV5MONDE is a multilateral French language television channel with the third-largest international television network and is broadcast in 202 countries
- TV5MONDE broadcasts French productions 24 hours a day to an estimated audience of over 220 million homes
- All of the IOF’s members signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie comprises of 78 parliaments or inter-parliamentary organizations
- The Academic Agency of La Francophonie federates 781 establishments for further education and research in 94 countries
- The International Association of Francophone Mayors comprises of cities and city associations from 49 countries
For more information: