One of our ministers visited in Côte d’Ivoire and was invited to preach the sermon in a Sunday worship service. He spoke in English, the missionary translated to French and a local brother translated to the local language. Someone might ask, “Why didn’t the missionary learn the local language?” The answer to that is another question, “Which one?” There are around 100 tribal languages in Côte d’Ivoire.
Many languages of the world serve as a means of identifying a group of people of common heritage and distinguishing them from other tribal groups. Imagine trying to run a government, a legal system, a school system, a medical system, a police force, an army, using 100 different languages. These languages serves as barriers, walls really, around the individual tribal groups.
Another language is needed to serve as a bridge to connect all these tribal groups and enable the unified administration of the country and all its functions. This is where French comes in. Many people may still speak their tribal language, but it is apt to be only an oral language. For business and many other purposes the usefulness of French as a national language has become more and more evident. Not only within Côte d’Ivoire, but also in their relationship with other countries and for the ability to access all the resources that are available in the French language.
There are 75 million people in the world who speak French as their mother tongue. If we stop there, French does not appear to be a very important language. But if we consider French as a bridge language, a language that people use on a daily basis, that number is much higher, probably about four times higher. And that number is growing rapidly. It is estimated that 100 to 125 million people are learning French and that by 2050 the number of French speaking people in the world will reach 500 million. Some say 600 or 700 million.
English and French are the only two languages that are spoken on every continent and by at least a few people in every country of the world. There are other languages that are spoken by large numbers of people, but do not serve as bridges between people of different ethnic origin. Swahili serves as a bridge language in parts of eastern Africa, but isn’t particularly useful in Europe or North America.
On a local level, there are 6,000 children in Saskatoon, our nearest city, who are receiving their education in French. Some are from French-speaking families and attend a French school, most are attending French immersion schools. Among these are many new Canadians of Asian and Hispanic background.
What are all these people reading? There is an abundance of information and entertainment available in French, but the supply of literature that portrays an authentic Anabaptist-Mennonite faith is limited. That is the reason for the existence and activity of the French editing committee of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member.