May 18, 2022


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When did English replace French in international communication in the 20th century?

English is becoming more and more popular for a number of reasons. It has been the language of diplomacy and science since 1919. Isabella Clock-Fontanille, a professor of linguistics, answers a question raised by Esther, 8, and Martin, 46, in P’tits Bateaux.

Why was English chosen to speak the world instead of French? © Getty

French has been a growing language in Europe for some time. But since 1919, it has been gradually transformed from English into the scientific, international relations, but also the official language of many countries that have become independent. This is what it tells us Isabel Clock-Fontanille, Professor of Language Science at the University of Limoges:

French has long been very popular in European courts

The Moliere language was used specifically for diplomacy, but also in the arts and sciences from the Renaissance to the 20th century. It was spoken in the court of England, Prussia or even Russia during the time of Frederick II in the 18th century. “Did you know, for example, that Marco Polo, in 1296, composed the story of his voyage in French?”

English gradually spread internationally

“English was already beginning to take a big place, it was a colonial power. […] The British also settled in all the countries where the British settled. When the colonies became independent, we often kept English, except to choose a particular dialect. So English gets more importance. “

1919 was an important year for the selection of the diplomatic language

The author-researcher explains that the choice of working language is important in relation to international relations. “Versace Agreement Written in English and French”. This is the beginning of the importance that English has taken in diplomacy.

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Taken from the Treaty of Versailles (1919)
Taken from the Treaty of Versailles (1919) / Calica

For the first time, non-European countries participated in the agreement. Especially Japan and the United States. These countries then enter the international arena.

American diplomats refused to speak anything other than English once they entered European politics.

The idea was established in 1783 with the signing of the Washington Protocol. He continues: “After World War II, the United States became more and more important, and English became more and more important.”

The French language is important in the world of sports

We know that the French language is important in sports, especially in the Olympics. This is illustrated by the fact that the foundation of the International Olympic Committee was started by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin. “All Olympics are inspired by the French-speaking tradition.” That is why French is the official language along with English at the Olympics. “Furthermore, Francophony is an excellent witness, ensuring the use and visibility of the French language in the run-up to the Olympics during each edition of the Olympics.”

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Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics (2010). Michaëlle Jean, then Governor-General of Canada, announced the opening of the Olympics (3’26).

Had it not been for these official events such as the signing of international treaties or the creation of the UN, would English have occupied it sooner or later?

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“Yes, of course. English has also become the language of science. Latin lasted until the 17th century. So, yes, probably. But I hope we do not have to worry too much.”

The language that loses the most in this case is English. This is not French because English is becoming more and more simplified. Communication English is an English language that does not resemble Shakespeare’s English. So, in the end, we do not have to worry or regret it.

The democratization of English did not pose a threat to the French language.


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