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Will French be the most spoken tongue by 2050?

Ben McPartland · 26 Mar 2014, 11:02

Published: 26 Mar 2014 11:02 GMT+01:00

The French language has taken a back seat in recent years due to the continued dominance of English but a recent study by French bank Natixis suggests the tide could soon turn.  

Natixis's study concludes that by 2050 French could be the world’s most spoken language with a potential 750 million people speaking the language of Moliere.

That’s a big jump compared to the 220 million French speakers in the world in 2010.

The study puts the huge rise of French speakers down to the surge in population of sub Saharan Africa, one of the fastest growing regions of the world, and where French is the offical national language of many countries.

Needless to say the study has caused a bit of a stir in France and beyond, but many are skeptical that Natixis’s conclusions will come true.

In an interview with Challenges magazine Alexandre Wolff from the Observatory of the French Language, suggested that English will retain its hegemony.

“In reality English will remain the most used language in the world by 2050. But on the other hand it is possible [for French] to achieve such a result if we just take into account the inhabitants of countries where French is the official language.

“This concerns 32 states where French is the official language and here the projections are indeed impressive, but they do not take into account the coexistence of languages, which is the reality in many countries,” Wolff said.

“Many countries have several official languages, like Belgium, while in African countries, French may the official national language, but not the most spoken,” he added.

Writing on his blog for Forbes magazine Pascal Emmanuel Gabry doubted the study’s conclusion but stressed that the French language was indeed on the rise.

“The point still stands: French is still a fast-growing, global language,” Gabry wrote.

Story continues below…

“The other mooted language of the future, Mandarin, despite being excruciatingly hard to learn for most Westerners, will probably not be that given China’s certain demographic slide.

“Meanwhile, French will be present on all continents, and particularly predominant in a continent that, by 2050, should be a fast-growing economic powerhouse–Africa.”

Gabry concluded that “If you were to pick a language of the future, you could do a lot worse.”

So don’t give up those French lessons just yet.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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