Modern Languages Professor Leads International French Professional Organization

From the July 2022 Desktop NewsDr. Cheryl Toman, professor of French and chair of the Department of Modern Languages at UA, recently led the Biennale de la langue française, an international meeting of French speakers and scholars. Every two years, this professional organization of researchers meets to discuss a number of issues and topics, facilitate diplomatic relations, and enjoy the study of the French language together. 

“This group does include academics, but also includes linguists, literature scholars, cultural studies scholars, government employees, and even people in business,” said Toman. “It’s a really tight-knit organization, and we spend a lot of time getting to know one another and recruiting people we think would enjoy and benefit from the biennale.” 

This year’s biennale, which occurred in May, took place in Berlin, Germany. Although French is not the national language of Germany, Toman, who is the president of the biennale, was able to work with officials to make connections with Humboldt University of Berlin’s French program, the French consulate in Germany, and other French speakers in Germany to arrange a conference that focused on French and German relations. 

“I think people are surprised by how many connections there are between French and German, especially because they’re not in the same family of languages,” said Toman. “But with the history in Europe and the way the European Union is set up, France and Germany are two of the largest powers there and cooperate a lot. There’s also a connection between how the two countries interacted in Africa.” 

The Berlin biennale focused on multiculturalism and interculturality in action, citing countries around the world that use French as one of their many frequently-spoken languages. But, according to Toman, not everyone agrees on the benefits and consequences of these. 

“This subject was a bit controversial because not everyone holds the same positive opinions about these things,” said Toman. “In most cases, it is. However, there are areas in Africa and the Arab world that had French imposed on them. They’ve been independent for 60 years, but, especially in Sub-Saharan African countries, French has remained because there is no common local language and choosing just one often leads to political conflict. There’s always this haunting of colonialism around this issue, which makes it an interesting topic.” 

Over the course of three days, members of the biennale discussed these topics, and worked through a variety of other French-related issues and questions, including Franco-German relations, French in literature, and the teaching of French. 

For more information about the biennale, contact Dr. Cheryl Toman.