The Guardian

Notebook Tomiwa Owolade

Parlez-vous Pa Anglais?

French Fre was once the preeminent em international language lan of Europe; the language lan of diplomacy and an intellectual culture, spoken sp from Paris to St Petersburg, the successor s to Latin, the t tongue of every civilised c man and woman. w

In 1871, the German chancellor, ch Otto von Bismarck, Bism crushed France and annexed a the territory of Alsace-Lorraine Als after the Franco-Prussian Franc war. More than a decade later, Bismarck hosted hoste the Berlin Conference of 18 1884-1885, and spoke to the other o European delegates in French. Fre

The Th role French played in the past as the lingua franca franc of Europe has been replaced repla today by English. I recently recen watched Anatomy of a Fall , a French film in which a German woman called Sandra (played by Sandra Hüller) is accused of murdering her French husband and put on trial. Sandra mostly speaks in English in the film. She even requests to give her testimony in the French court in English and there’s a flashback scene where she tells her husband that English is their “meeting point”: a way to transcend her Germanness and his Frenchness.

A couple of months ago, I watched another bilingual film. It’s called Passages and in it a German man cheats on his English boyfriend with a French woman. It is set in Paris, but the German man (Tomas, played by Franz Rogowski) speaks to the French woman in English.

We have come a long way from Bismarck addressing foreigners in Berlin in French. When German actors appear in films set in France, they tend to speak in English.

The French establishment is trying to fight against the encroachment of English. French diplomats, for example, are currently inveighing against the EU hiring people in fields such as defence and economics with assessments in English.

The UK may have exited the European Union but the English language is not leaving continental Europe any time soon.

Africa rising

The Afrobeats musician Rema performed to a soldout O2 last Tuesday and had mixed reviews. I don’t think he would mind too much; this year his song Calm Down became the first African-led track to get 1bn streams on Spotify. Wizkid, another Afrobeats musician, performed three, widely acclaimed, sell-out shows at the O2 in late 2021.

As Declan Walsh pointed out in a brilliant essay for the New York Times , the rising prominence of African music in the west reflects wider demographic shifts. In 1950, less than 10% of the world’s population lived in Africa. By 2050, it is estimated a quarter of the world’s population will reside in Africa.

Nigeria – the country where Rema and Wizkid come from – will replace America as the world’s third most populous country by 2050. The US Grammy awards even established a new category this year: best African music performance.

I remember when it was considered embarrassing to be an African in the west. At school, black kids perceived as being African were derided as “fresh” (as in, “fresh off the boat”), often by other black kids. Now to be African is seen as the very epitome of cool.

Rite of passage

I am getting to that age where my friends will start getting engaged and married: in fact, it has already started. Until now, every wedding I have attended has been because the bride or groom is a relative. But by the time you read this, I will have attended the wedding of a good friend of mine.

I look forward to the convivial atmosphere, displaying my great dance skills without inhibition, sharing embarrassing stories about my friend and the possibility of meeting my future wife. But most of all I look forward to witnessing my friend marrying the love of his life.

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