Documenting Francophonie without borders

The Power of words and numbers
Project management
12.2021 - 12.2023
Diversity, History, Inequality, Institutions, Policy

The 19th century saw a proliferation of scientific documentary works contributing to the production of knowledge about languages and their speakers around the world. These included linguistic corpora, ethnographic reports, maps and language statistics comprising a set of research data which was subsequently used by Western governments to define geopolitical borders, to legitimize the construction of nations and to determine those language practices that would come to be recognised as "standard". The documentation also encompasses the missions of Christians and the military during processes of colonisation. It can therefore be used in the production of knowledge, not only about the language of colonisation, but also about a diverse range of languages which are often overlooked in the West, a process which can help shape our perception of languages and their speakers in society at large. This pool of scientific knowledge may also be consulted to guide the drafting of public policy surrounding language. In this regard, the French language and its speakers have been documented in countless publications around the world. While the quantity, nature and impacts of this documentary research vary considerably from one region of the planet to the next, it is often of great interest to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), whose political ambitions transcend national borders.

This research project is studying the relationships between the documentation of languages and their speakers, the production of knowledge and the subsequent implementation of political, economic and educational projects. It mainly focuses on documentation work conducted by the OIF and its institutional partners. The intention of the project is to examine the interests and conditions which inspire the production of scientific knowledge covering the French language and the diverse group of Francophone territories. The project employs strategies of historiographical and ethnographical research and fundamentally addresses three interconnected aspects of the French language, French-speakers and the linguistic diversity of the French language as spoken around the world:

  1. the ideas which drive the methodological, technical and didactic discourses present in the documentation;
  2. the scientific and political debates which contextualise the production of knowledge generated by the documentary works;
  3. the dissemination and interpretation of this knowledge in the public space for political, economic and educational purposes.

The research project primarily focuses on developments taking place during the past forty years (1980-2021), a period during which the OIF (and its prior incarnations) extended its institutional documentation apparatus and its network of international experts.

Purpose – Expected results

This research project intends to provide a better understanding of:

  1. the actual roles and impacts of various types of documentation work on the management of political, economic and educational projects dealing with linguistic issues;
  2. international and local issues arising from scientific and political debates around linguistic diversity in a globalized economic context;
  3. the negotiation and evolution of the relationships of power that form part of the colonial history of the dissemination and teaching of the French language.