Francophone Nations Unite To Fend Off Anglo-Saxon Culturual Encroachment
PARIS (AP) _ Leaders of nations with the French language in common begin a conclave on Monday, 25 years in the planning, to tighten their links and fend off Anglo- Saxon cultural encroachment.
″No one listens any longer to a people who lose their words,″ President Francois Mitterrand wrote recently, explaining his enthusiasm for ″Francophonie,″ the general use of French.
Fifteen chiefs of state are expected, all African except for Mitterrand, along with heads of government or ministers from 21 other countries. Switzerland, Vietnam and Laos are sending observers.
Mitterrand opens the three-day conference at Versailles Chateau, built by Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the 17th Century, when France set for itself the role of defining civilization and culture.
The 39 nations’ combined population is 120 million, but the degree to which they speak French varies widely.
Algeria, which won a war of independence from France in 1962, is not attending because of its strict non-alignment policy. Education Minister Rosny Desroches is representing Haiti. Jean-Claude Duvalier, forced out as Haiti’s president-for-life, is in the French Alps.
Three Canadians are attending with equal status: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and premiers Robert Bourassa of Quebec and Richard Hatfield of New Brunswick. This, for France, is a hard-won victory.
Since Charles de Gaulle, French presidents have sought to organize a French-speaking summit, first suggested by Leopold Sedar Senghor, then president of newly independent Senegal.
But Canadian prime ministers had refused to grant the autonomy-minded province of Quebec equal rank with the federal government in Ottawa.
De Gaulle set the issue to a boil in 1967, bellowing, ″Vive le Quebec libre 3/8″ (Long live free Quebec) on a visit to Canada. More recently, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau rejected new French proposals.
In November, Mulroney agreed that French-speakers in Canada should have direct cultural links with France. Bourassa has altered the separatist stand of his predecessor, Rene Levesque.
Delegates plan to increase technical, cultural and commercial cooperation in a loosely knit structure without the formality of Britain’s Commonwealth.
Eleven working papers cover such diverse subjects as cooperation in energy production, Third World debt and the operation of a data bank in French.
Since 1970, the Agency for Technical and Cultural Cooperation has grouped 39 countries using French as an official language. France organizes annual summits with French-speaking African nations.
Organizers say the conference is especially urgent because of widening use of computers in finance and industry, many of which are based on English- language commands.
Jean Musitelli, the president’s spokesman, said France also was anxious to press its role as a mediator between industrialized nations and the developing world. ″French might be the language of the North-South dialogue,″ he said.
Delegates are to visit the Academie Francaise, founded by Cardinal Richelieu to oversee the language. The academy’s 40 members, ″the immortals,″ are updating the official dictionary with 10,000 new words.
The Canadian government last month set aside the equivalent of $290,000 so the Academie Francaise could make an annual award to a work in French that contributed to Francophonie.
At recent ceremonies marking the academy’s 350th anniversary, Mitterrand emphasized a growing danger to French.
″Must we give orders to our computers in English?″ he asked. ″The nation that produces the Ariane (rocket) has not the right to lose its tongue.″
He remonstrated with French diplomats ″who forget their own language″ at international gatherings and said France would cease contributing to international organizations that did not use French as a working language.
The General Commission for the French Language campaigns against foreign words. In its new television commercial, a suave Frenchman invites his date for ″un drink″ in ″mon living.″ She slugs him. He repeats the invitation in French, and she melts.
A private group, AGULF, last year took 44 companies to court for violating a 1975 law against using foreign words in advertising and business. In one case, TWA was fined $500 for issuing boarding passes in English.
AGULF stands for Association Generale des Usagers de la Langue Francaise, or General Association of the Users of the French Language.
In Europe, French is an official language in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco and Andorra. Canada and Haiti speak French. Dominica, St. Lucia, the Seychelles and Mauritius use Creole, a French-based dialect.
Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon speak French along with Arabic.
Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, has joined the French African community, along with 17 states that were French and three that were Belgian. Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides, uses French and English.
French officials count 1.5 million people who speak the language regularly in the United States, Israel and elsewhere.
The officials acknowledge excising English words is an uphill fight. Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, briefing reporters on the French-speakers’ conference, was asked what would happen afterward.
He replied there would be ″un task force,″ and then, reflecting aloud, added: ″How do you say that in French?″