How France battles to keep French alive at Olympics
The French language will remain a staple part of the Olympic Games, and it’s no easy task.
« Mesdames et messieurs – bienvenue à la cérémonie d’ouverture des Jeux Olympiques… »
Even if you don’t speak a word of French, you probably understand the above after coming across it (or something similar) at each Olympic Games opening ceremony.
French may no longer be considered a global international language or even the language of Europe after the rise and rise of English in recent decades, but it is still an official language of the Olympics – a legacy of the Frenchman who founded the games Pierre de Coubertin.
And French authorities are determined to make sure their language remains one of the official languages of the Olympic Games.
The organization, which boasts 57 member countries, has sent a delegate, known as the Grand Temoin (Great witness) to each Olympics since 2004 to monitor that the French language is actually being used for the athletes and spectators, a move introduced after French started to become less popular as the use of English soared.
At this year’s games in Rio, the job has gone to jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango of Cameroon, who is there to perform but also to oversee that amount of French on hand.
‘It’s a struggle each time’
He told the New York Times that he saw the job as « being the flag-bearer of the 300 million people around the world who speak French ».
Dibango is expected to closely monitor the level of French used on signage and announcements and produce a report afterwards. Early signs look good too, with the announcements for the opening ceremony made in English, Brazil’s national language Portuguese, and French.
Previous reports from other summer and winter games, however, have included complaints that some announcements weren’t in French, or that new sports came without sufficient French terminology.
Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the International organization of Francophonie, told the paper that the job of keeping the Olympics in French was « a struggle each time ».
« We must be there to make sure the French signs and documents and information are there. We have 3,000 athletes and a lot of people in the public from Francophone countries, » she said.
So should everything be in French?
Well, quite simply, yes (according to the rules, at least). The Olympic charter specifically states that the games have two official languages, English and French.
This rule is a result of the fact that the modern games were invented by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, but are no doubt in place as well considering the huge population of the world that speaks French.
If we forget the rules, however, one can only wonder if having everything in three languages is really necessary.
After all, there are more people in the world who speak Spanish (not to mention Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic) than French – so surely they should get a look in somehow?
And as for the live broadcasts, many countries will have their own native-speaking correspondents on the microphone anyway, talking over the often lengthy announcements in French, English, and Portuguese.
So does French really still have a place at the Olympic Games? The jury is out on this one.
Vive la France, le français et l francophonie !!!!