The term "francophonie" refers to the entire French-speaking world - a community of almost 274 million people spread over five continents, and a fascinating research topic for linguists such as Ursula Reutner. In her recently published Manuel des francophonies, this Professor of Romance Linguistics at the University of Passau in Germany takes an innovative look at the French-speaking communities worldwide.
As a specialist for multilingualism, language planning and policy, Reutner consciously chose to use "francophonie" in plural in the title of her book, in order to emphasize its geographical and neutral meaning. Among the 29 French-speaking areas - from Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and a number of island countries - covered in the handbook, France is treated on an equal footing with the others. While this is consistent with Reutner's approach, it tackles the still widespread assumption that France prototypically defines the entire "francophonie".
This attempt to break down linguistic hierarchies also benefits the typological ambition of the handbook. Together with a team of 35 researchers from 12 francophone regions, Reutner has made an impressive effort toward a homogeneous description of the francophonies, by analyzing systematically, for each of them, 5 key aspects: language demography, language history, internal and external language planning, as well as the phonetic, morphosyntaxic and lexical characteristics of the local French variety.
The result is a "multidimensional typology" of francophonies worldwide, which aims at becoming a reference work for specialists of French, Variation and Comparative Linguistics, but also for teachers of French as a Foreign Language as well as language planners.