Two strong linguistic ideologies, which could at first seem to be irreconcilable, inform the French language as an ideological notion: French as a universal language, and French as the language of the nation. Late 19th-century linguistic policy reflects this paradoxical conception as the dissemination of the national language, the medium of the ‘mission civilisatrice’, became the object of political consensus, but locally French was scarcely taught, and its actual presence in the colonies was limited and not aimed at widespread political and cultural assimilation. The overseas exportation of the French language is a legacy of French colonial expansion, but that legacy is shared unequally. Often claimed by African writers as a war booty (‘butin de guerre’, Kateb Yacine), French has become a postcolonial issue and realm of memory.
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