It has come to my attention that the Maisons Françaises of New York University and Columbia University, two places that are symbolic of French culture in the United States, may soon be renamed “Maison françaises et francophones.” This initiative leaves me perplexed.
I do not know what to think of this change, and I wonder what the French and American readers of France-Amérique will think of it. At the outset, the somewhat technocratic term “francophone” was a political project that aimed to restore the international influence of a France suffering in the 1960s from decolonization and from the United States’ rise to super-power status. The International Organization of La Francophonie — whose general secretary, Michaëlle Jean, is a Haitian-born Québécoise — includes 84 nations, in many of which little or no French is spoken.
The term “francophone” then left the realm of politics to conquer the cultural world. “Francophone” suggests someone speaking French who is not French. But if he speaks French, he does not speak francophone. There is no doubt that authors from Quebec, from Africa and from the Antilles contribute enormously to the vitality of the French language. To call them francophone authors is bizarre. This distinction, erected in the name of decolonization, looks like a neo-colonization. We are saying to them: “Sure, you are francophone, but not French!” But are all the Francophone citizens of France necessarily French? Take a singer of African origin, whether born in France or having immigrated to France — does he make French music or francophone music?
Should what is francophone be defined by the geographic or ethnic origin of the French-speaking person? To compare with the United States, where English is spoken, there are not different terms to designate the single language that is enriched culturally and in its vocabulary and accent from various sources. So it seems to me that, out of sincere gratitude towards those who enrich the French language, these speakers of French should not be assimilated within a uniform idea of what is “francophone,” and that the Maisons Françaises of American universities should remain simply… French.
Readers, what do you think?