Language, Culture And Geopolitics

After Latin, French was the language of high culture in the West. It still remains a highly cultured language.

November 08, 2023 02:05 EDT
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Historically, French is the language of diplomacy

We tend to forget that French succeeded Latin as the dominant language of Europe. For a while, French was the language of diplomacy. Cynics might say that this happened because Louis XIV waged numerous wars and la grande nation imposed its language through “a whiff of grapeshot” so favored by Napoleon. However, there may be merit in the argument that French is a language of nuance. The likes of Molière and Voltaire might have played a role too.

Victor Adam: The Signing of the Treaty of Mortefontaine, 30th September 1800, Wikimedia Commons

When we speak about diplomacy, It is impossible to forget Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. This remarkable French statesman served as Napoleon’s foreign minister during the heady days of multiple triumphs and then snatched a largely favorable peace after the 1815 catastrophic Waterloo defeat. Thanks to deft diplomacy, Talleyrand negotiated a favorable peace at the Congress of Vienna that brought a century of relative peace to Europe, which only ended when World War I erupted in 1914.

Many argue that it was not only Talleyrand’s exceptional ability but also the use of French as the diplomatic language that enabled his historic diplomatic achievements. After all, the wily old diplomat had home turf advantage.

Not only diplomats but also intellectuals used French too. Across the Rhine, the polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz wrote in French, too. It was the best way to reach a pan-European audience, and remained that way long after the British Empire led to the rise of English as the global lingua franca. As late as the 1960s, French was the working language in international projects like the Second Vatican Council. French remains a preeminent language of art, culture and diplomacy to this day. It is one of the UN’s six working languages and one of the EU’s three procedural languages, spoken not only in Europe but also in North and South America, Africa and Asia.

Fair Observer is now entering that tradition with francoFOnie. Our goal is to publish many voices from around the world in French and translate some of them into English. Of course, we will translate some of our best pieces from English to French.

Note that we have already launched a Fair Observer Hindi YouTube channel. We have done so quietly and, so far, we are making slow but steady progress.

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