Trollope’s answer, of course, would have been “Oui.” Indeed, when his family’s dire financial circumstances led to their temporary exile in Belgium, his command of the language was considered sufficient to contemplate taking up a job there. Fortunately for us, an alternative plan for Anthony to return to London and take up a position in the Post Office was preferred. The rest, as they say, “C’est l’histoire.”
However, a recent study by the bank Natixis suggests that command of French may be about to become “de rigeur”. The study found that by 2050, there will be more French speakers than any other language, leapfrogging current leader Mandarin Chinese and second placed English.
The reason for this, according to the study, is that the population growth in the 32 countries where French is the official language is growing at a faster rate than in the rest of the world.
More detailed analysis though indicates that there may be some question about the conclusions drawn. In many of the countries which are officially Francophone, there are, in fact, other languages used as their primary language by many of the population. In Senegal, for example, although the official language is French, the majority of the population speak Wolof as their mother tongue. Yet the study counts the entire population as French speaking.
Couple this with the effect of the US-centric, Anglophone hegemony of the internet and it seems that predictions of the demise of English as the world’s global language may have been greatly exaggerated.