Life

Same French, Different Flavors

  Which is the largest French-speaking city in the world? You may be very sure—”Paris, France, of course!” But I’m sorry, the answer is wrong, which may be unexpected to all French speakers: Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the largest French-speaking city in the world.
  One thing to note is that we use the French-speaking population as the only criterion for measuring whether it is the “largest city”. To be more rigorous, perhaps ask: Which city has the most French speakers? Well, Kinshasa deserves it.
  Congo (Kinshasa), where Kinshasa is located, welcomed the visit of French President Macron in early March this year.
  However, in Kinshasa, the city with the largest French-speaking population in the world, the French president and the Congolese (Kinshasa) president “argued”: Macron believes that France is not responsible for the turmoil in the Congo (Kinshasa) in recent years, but the Congo (Kinshasa) ) President Tshisekedi said that France must stop its “condescending” attitude towards Africa and treat African countries “like true partners”.
  In any case, the president of France had a public dispute with the president of the opposing country in the world’s largest French-speaking city. No matter how you listen to this incident, you feel a sense of “magical reality”—different cultures, different histories, and different skin colors. The two countries, from the head of state to the common people, speak the same language with different grammar and diction, and because of the cultural differences and various historical reasons between the countries in the past, those official languages ​​are displayed as “French”. The countries of different countries, on their respective soils, have endowed French with mottled and different colors and charms in the long years of time and space.
Why Kinshasa?

  Kinshasa was actually not called “Kinshasa” at first. At the end of the 19th century, it was called “Leopold City”, and it was just a simple trading post on the Congo River. In 1881, British journalist and explorer Sir Henry Stanley named this beautiful trading post “Leopold City” in order to pay tribute to King Leopold II of Belgium at the time.
  No one can clearly say when Leopold City was called “Kinshasa” by everyone. A relatively accepted statement is that in 1966, Leopold City was officially renamed Kinshasa, and this city, which has become the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was named after a city that was originally located in a nearby area before the city was established. Small village of “Kinchassa”.
  Therefore, when the small-scale trading post built along the river in those years became one of the fastest-growing megacities in the world nearly a hundred years later, with a population of 17 million, it became second only to Egypt and Lagos. , the third largest metropolitan area in Africa, Kinshasa, whose official language is French, has become the veritable number one French-speaking city in the world. One word that has to be mentioned here is “Kinshasa speed” – taking the population as an example, Kinshasa has completed an “epic” flight over the past few decades.

  Kinshasa, the capital of Congo (Kinshasa), is the largest French-speaking city in the world.

Fishermen on the Congo River, August 30, 2022

Congo (Kinshasa) President Tshisekedi

  As early as 2018, Canada’s Global Cities Institute (GCI) used data such as urban-rural ratios, urbanization rates, birth rates, and death rates in various countries to calculate and predict the size of cities around the world in the future: In 2100, the world Among the top ten most populous cities, central cities such as New York and Tokyo may no longer be on the list, replaced by Lagos in Nigeria, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Mumbai and Delhi, Khartoum in Sudan, Niamey in Niger, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kolkata in India and Kabul in Afghanistan.
  According to previously released data from the United Nations, by 2050, more than half of the global population growth will mainly come from the following eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania. By the end of the 21st century, the three most populous cities in the world will all be concentrated in Africa: Lagos in Nigeria, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
  Before being colonized by Belgium in 1881, it was just a small fishing village with only 5,000 residents. Today, Kinshasa has become the most promising “future populous city” in the global village. As predicted by the Global Urban Institute, by 2100 By 2010, Kinshasa will have a population of 83.5 million, making it the veritable “second most populous city” in the world. Some institutions also predict that it will enjoy the cake of the world’s demographic dividend in the near future.
  With strong development potential and unpredictable demographic dividend, Kinshasa, which has been in the midst of war, has become a city that has attracted the attention of the world. In the process of continuously expanding the city’s territory, it has finally relied on its ever-increasing population. In 2012, it fell behind Paris, the second largest French-speaking city in the world, and took the top spot last year, becoming the largest city in the French-speaking world.
accented french

  Kinshasa, which has been rediscovered by the world, is actually just a microcosm of the development of French in Africa. Going out of Paris, out of France, French, a language widely used in the world, really shows all kinds of “exotic flavors”.
  Here I have to mention Montreal, a Canadian city known as the “French Center of North America”. Quebec, where Montreal is located, is the famous “French-speaking area” in Canada. The name of the largest city in the province comes from the Middle French “Mont Royal”, which means “Royal Mountain”. Montreal is probably the city in the world that respects and recognizes French culture the most, except for French cities. Strolling on the streets of Montreal, you can see French sculptures, buildings, art galleries and museums full of French style. It is no wonder that it is called “Little Paris of North America” ​​by the outside world.
  Montrealers speak French, of course with their unique accent, this unique style of French pronunciation, also known as “Quebec French”. Since it has been in the cultural and social environment of North America for nearly 400 years, Quebec French is inevitably influenced by foreign languages, such as English, which is quite strong in Canada. So when you listen to Montrealers, sometimes you hear a little bit of English in those French words. In addition, Quebec French is also deeply influenced by Indian languages. Therefore, more than 100 Indian words have been preserved in Quebec French.

  Another major feature of Quebec French is the confusion of accents. In other words, you need to pay less attention and care about their “priority” when they speak in order to understand Montrealers speaking French. I have a friend who lived in France for many years, and later went to work in Montreal. His attitude is: if speaking French in France is like our Mandarin, then French in Montreal is a bit like Sichuan dialect.
  ”You can still understand it at first, but the tone of Montrealers’ French is actually changing anytime and anywhere.”
Practice French well with Chinese?

  Random changes in pronunciation and intonation are also reflected in the country and region covered by the most extensive French language—Africa. Ten years ago, I was dispatched to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (hereinafter referred to as “Central Africa”), and found that it was a very “loose French city”—it was a French-speaking city, and almost 800,000 people in the city could speak French , but it is at the same time a “bulk French city”. Because as the capital, Bangui has gathered all the high-quality talents in China and Africa, and the accent is naturally “eclectic”.
  Give a direct example. Once I was buying mineral water in a supermarket in the center of Bangui, and I wanted to ask the supermarket staff if there were any large items packed in boxes, so as not to go to the supermarket again and again in the future (drinking water in China and Africa contains parasites, Even heating at 100°C cannot completely kill it, so most foreigners stationed in Central Africa are used to going to the supermarket to buy mineral water).

Monument to Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, Montreal, Canada

On October 16, 2022, a corner of the streets of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic

  But a simple question stumped at least two shopping guides in the supermarket, so that I doubt whether the official language of this country is really French. In desperation, a shopping guide called their department manager. After some negotiations, he barely understood my needs. The whole communication process took at least half an hour.
  Later, when I returned to the company’s residence, I asked Roger, the local driver hired by the company: “Why did it take three people in the supermarket to understand a simple French sentence?”
  Roger seemed quite confident about such questions, He pointed to his own brain, and said to me unhurriedly: “Educated and literate people, either immigrated to France or the United States, or they all blow air conditioners in high-end houses in the capital. You What you can see outside now are either migrant workers who are forced to make ends meet to support their families, or unemployed people who are doing nothing but eating and waiting to die.”

  In many African countries, your French ability is directly proportional to your economic base.

  This is a slightly bitter answer after listening to it, but the driver Roger said it very easily. Roger is an interesting Central African. He comes from Bossangoa, the third largest city in Central Africa. Since childhood, his family has spoken the local language of Central Africa: Sango. Sango is a local vernacular, which is completely different from French. Roger, who was born in poverty, did not speak French for the first time in public until he was 25 years old. “There are many other African countries, although the official language is French, but only the rich can afford language learning, so it can be said: In many African countries, your French ability is directly proportional to your economic base.”
  Ten years ago, when my company hired Roger as a driver, he was already 42 years old. He picked up Chinese employees every day and acted as a local guide for us. This inevitably required the use of French to communicate with our translators. He speaks French very slowly, and his articulation is relatively clear. He said that his French level has improved steadily over the years, all thanks to the investment of Chinese companies in Africa.
  ”After you came, my French has improved rapidly, and I can afford a nanny and a servant.” Roger once told me with a smile.
  Indeed, as he said, after we went to Africa, the driver Roger received a monthly salary of 1,500 yuan. Before being hired by us, he was just “one of the many poor people” in the local area; after we hired him as a driver, on the second day after he received his salary, he spent money to hire 3 local aunts to take care of his wife and 2 children at home . “Fortunately, I can speak French, so I can be hired by you,” Roger said.

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