Villers-Cotterêts is in turmoil: it is at the magnificently restored royal castle of this small town in Aisne, 70km north of Paris, that this October 30, 2023, Emmanuel Macron will inaugurate with great fanfare the International City of the French Language . This institution, desired by the President of the Republic, a “major project” since the start of its first five-year term in 2017, must thus become a reference cultural center for the French-speaking world, combining creation, pedagogy and a museographic tour on history and culture. variety of French in the world. Emmanuel Macron and his Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak will therefore appreciate the efforts of imagination and humor deployed by the four curators of the permanent exhibition and the scenographer to present this “intangible heritage” in a rather playful way.
A journey in three parts
Upon arrival in the City, the visitor is invited to enter the Jeu de Paume courtyard, now covered by a large glass roof. Hanging there are around a hundred words chosen in part by the adult and child residents. They thus form a “lexical sky” of today’s French, from “ambieur” to “verlan” via “ouf” or “polyglotte” or even “fraternity”… This courtyard serves both the cafeteria, the bookstore as well as exhibitions and studios reserved for artists in residence.
On the first floor, which is accessed by the splendid “king’s staircase” built under François I, the permanent route should “make the history of our language visible”, explains Xavier North, one of the curators, alongside academician Barbara Cassin, Zeev Gourarier, former scientific director of Mucem, in Marseille and Hassane Kassi Kouyaté, director of the Francophonies festival in Limoges… in fact, the first part presents the global diffusion of French, in particular by presenting a huge French-speaking library where you can ask for reading suggestions. Then the “migratory words” are mentioned which have traveled to other languages and sometimes returned to us, such as “barbecue” an English word derived from the French expression “barb à cul” to designate the animal skewered to be roasted. It is in this first part that the French spread by colonization is discussed.
Then, the second part dissects this difficult language to learn, with its silent letters, its grammar and its conjugations, its exceptions and its absence of neutral gender which is open to debate today. Fun games are offered around dictation, dictionaries and translation choices.
The third part, entitled “An Affair of State”, looks back at the way in which language has always been a political issue, going back in time to the present day, including the role of Abbé Grégoire during the Revolution. , to achieve…. At the presentation of a printed text from the time disseminating the famous ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts! This text signed by Francis I on August 25, 1539 orders that the legal texts of the kingdom be “pronounced, recorded and delivered to the parties in the native French language and not otherwise”.
Workshops, shows and activities throughout the year
We understand the desire of the curators to end in apotheosis, however, this journey back in time seems a little difficult to understand for the young audience, who are required at school to find their bearings in the chronology!
In the end, these numerous videos, interactive terminals, light projections should still give good tools to the mediators and teachers who will bring their classes, to the families who will enjoy the game and want to visit this museum like no other. Especially since numerous workshops, shows and activities will punctuate the calendar. In its setting of Renaissance architecture, surrounded by the splendid forest of Retz, the International City of the French Language definitely has no shortage of assets to attract visitors.