“Known in the whole world”

“Known in the whole world” – (PIP #24)

By Louise Peloquin

On March 20th, the International Day of Francophonie, it is fitting to remember that, for decades, French echoed in the streets of Little Canada.

L’Etoile’s main objective was offering its readership a wide variety of articles in French. Since September 8th, 23 peeks into the past (PIP’s) have given a sampling of the newspaper’s menu.

On October 29th 1917, an editorial entitled “Our struggles judged in France,” attests that L’Etoile’s quixotic mission was recognized abroad. Here is an excerpt.

           The last postal delivery from Europe brings us an issue of  “Libre Parole” (Free Speech)  where our struggles to help French survive in America are appreciated as they deserve.…In “How the French-Canadians maintain our language…,” the Parisian newspaper recognizes the French-Canadians’ tenacity in defending France’s old tongue….pointing out its usefulness by reminding readers: Do not forget that French is known in the whole world….”  (1)   

 That “whole world” where French is spoken is called “la Francophonie.” The latest report from the “Observatoire de la langue française” (2) states that an estimated 321 million people on 5 continents speak French. Hence, the language is no longer “France’s old tongue.” Today, French is spoken the most in Africa. In fact, many recent linguistic publications have highlighted that the vitality of the language, and therefore its standing on the world stage, is closely linked to its use in sub-Saharan countries. Thus, one can deduce that French learners today would do well to lend an attentive ear to speakers from Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon for example rather than to limit their focus on Parisian lingo. Check it out “Emily in Paris!”

Since 1986, Francophonie Summits have taken place every 2 years in a country belonging to the International Francophonie Organization. Heads of state and government officials from Algeria, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Monaco, Québec and Vietnam, to name a few, attend. America’s historically francophone enclaves, Louisiana and the New England states, send observers. (3)

      The Francophonie Summit agenda includes a wide range of items from encouraging cultural diversity to promoting academic exchanges. Facilitating economic development by using French in trade, technology and tourism is increasingly important.

This year, the summit will be held in Villers-Cotterêts in the Picardy region north of Paris. Why would a town of some 10,500 inhabitants host such an important international meeting? Sure, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo and other bestsellers, was born there in 1802.

Alexandre Dumas

Dumas’s renown certainly put his hometown on the map but there’s another reason why Villers-Cotterêts is a most fitting venue for the next summit. In 1528, King François 1 built a castle in the forest there, a place where he could indulge in his favorite pastime – hunting. He rarely resided in Villers-Cotterêts but enjoyed meandering in its lush woodlands full of deer and fowl. It is vital to point out that François 1 was responsible for jumpstarting the French Renaissance. Indeed, he is the one who invited Leonardo Da Vinci to reside at his royal castle in Amboise along the Loire. Later he offered the illustrious artist an estate nearby – Le Clos Lucé. When he settled in France, Leonardo brought with him La Gioconda, AKA the Mona Lisa. Whether or not Leonardo gave the masterpiece to the king to express his gratitude is not absolutely certain. Leonardo is buried at Amboise and today the royal residence and Le Clos Lucé attract countless tourists as does La Gioconda at the Paris Louvre.

An innovative and farsighted leader, François 1 wanted to unify France, a country with numerous regional languages or working vernaculars. (4) A crucial step in reaching unification was François’s decision, in 1539, to sign “L’Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts,” an edict mandating the use of French to replace Latin in all official acts like birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates and so forth. “L’Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts” is considered the first step in making French the official language of the nation and marks the beginning of a long history where it gained prestige, influence and global exposure in diplomacy.

Over the past couple of years, francophonie member states have pitched in to renovate François’s Villers-Cotterêts castle and transform it into “La Cité internationale de la francophonie.”

 Next October 4th and 5th, this cradle of the French language will host the 19th Francophonie Summit with an agenda focused on “Créer, innover et entreprendre en français.” (5)

      Although the term “francophonie” was not widely used a century ago, today we recognize that Lowell and L’Etoile are part of francophone history.


  1. Translation by Louise Peloquin.
  2. Observatory of the French language.
  3. I served as Franco-American observer at several of these summits for example at Versailles in February 1986; in Québec in September 1987; in Dakar in May 1989 and in Paris in November 1991.
  4. Some regional languages are still taught in schools today, le Breton, for instance. Spoken in Bretagne, France’s westernmost peninsula, le Breton has similarities with Ireland’s Gaelic.
  5. “Creating, innovating and undertaking or entrepreneurship in French.” It is interesting to note that “entrepreneur” is a French word.

4 Responses to “Known in the whole world”

  1. Charles Gargiulo says:

    Louise, thanks for your continued efforts to keep the important history and legacy of Lowell’s French-Canadian community alive.

    Sadly, since the trauma of my Italian father’s abandonment, which I detail in my “Legends of Little Canada” memoir, led me to tragically and stupidly rebel against speaking French as a child, despite my French-Canadian heritage on my mother’s side, because psychologically it felt like the only way I could stay connected to my abandoned dad was to insist, in my French speaking school St. Joseph’s, that I wouldn’t speak French because “I was Italian,’ I never learned the language and I regret that I am unable to translate my book about Little Canada into French as well as English. (I’m the king of run-on sentences because I’m too lazy to edit:-)

    However, I remain committed to doing my mother’s family and my old Little Canada community justice by working to find a way to get the book translated. Is it possible for a non-French speaking member of a Francophone family and community to be accepted into the Francophone community and find friends and allies who might help me find a way to get “Legends of Little Canada” properly translated in French so that French-only speakers can read about an important part of Francophone history that seeks to insure that the memories and history of the people and places of Lowell’s Little Canada community are never forgotten and that what was done to them is never forgotten? (Did I say something about run-on sentences, damn you Jack Kerouac and your influence on me:-)?

  2. Danièle Bourdais says:

    Thank you Louise for your post on Francophonie. We first met when I was doing some research for my first job for a UK based educational publisher, all those years ago. You were THE expert on Francophonie and I was in awe!
    Thank you for all you’ve done for the French-speaking community around the world. Your passion was catching : I too have dedicated my work to make the Francosphere (as I now prefer to call the French-speaking world) known to young learners. So thank you again!
    Brilliant posts. With friendship and appreciation, Danie

  3. Louise says:

    Your “Legends of Little Canada” is a gem.
    I’ve been translating for years and will continue to do so with L’Etoile and my own publications in French. Would that make me a valid candidate for the job?

  4. Charles Gargiulo says:

    Thank you so much Louise for your kind words and your wonderful offer to help me translate Legends of Little Canada. It would be an honor to work with you on this. We also need to find out how to get your amazing “Boarding School Blues” book, that was such a serial sensation on this Dick Howe blog, into book form.