THE FRENCH LANGUAGE AT STAKE?The influence of English in a francophone country: the case of Mali.During a period of three years’ stay in Mali, an arid country in the western part of the great African Sahel area, an interesting phenomenon attracted my attention: the extraordinary interest in the English language. Mali is a multi-linguistic country with more than twenty ethnic groups and a corresponding number of local languages. Among these, Bambara is the national lingua franca, while French is the official language, serving the areas of administration and education. Why was this former colony, since colonial time so loyal to France and the French language, so interested in English? My curiosity led to the collection of data of a linguistic character from both the public and the private sector, with the intention of verifying the influence of the English language and unveil Malians’ attitude towards this language.The survey included distribution of questionnaires among a sample of students at the University of Bamako and at the Language Centre of Badalabougou, accompanied by classroom observations. The survey was followed up by interviews with people representing different professions. English loan words in the media were analysed and snapshots taken to illustrate the presence of English in daily Malian life.In Mali, the French language has until recently been an important way to success in social life and a door opener to jobs. But the results from my survey demonstrate that this situation is changing: Bambara is beginning to dominate in linguistic areas formerly reserved for the French language, while English gradually enters the country as a useful tool in the economic field, but accessible only for a few, belonging to the privileged classes.The most important reason for this change in attitude caused by the phenomenon is the practical aspect and a strong desire to improve social conditions through work and earning capacity, preferably in the USA that represents the ultimate dream of success. As for the mass media, it seems that the French language in Mali is not more influenced by English loan words than what is the case in other areas where French is being spoken. But the constantly increasing number of English students at the university as well as in private institutions shows a reorientation away from France and towards Anglophone countries and especially the USA.Due to the globalisation, English in Mali must be looked upon as a useful linguistic complement, from which the Malians should benefit, and not be considered a competitor to French.
Blindern, July 13, 2005