I was struck by the seeming oddness of “allophone”, too, if not for exactly the same reason as OP Tipping.
This sense of the term seems to be Canadian not only in the sense that it originated there, but also in the sense that it is very rarely used outside Canada (which isn’t too surprising, since Canada is one of the few countries that has a very large population whose first language is either English or French, and, thus, one of the few countries with a practical need for a term to describe those whose first language is neither French nor English).
I was curious if my ignorance of the above sense of term was an idiosyncrasy peculiar to me or if the term is broadly not-known in America (and, perhaps, other English-speaking countries). The “speaks something other than English or French” sense of the term does not seem to appear in many American English Dictionaries, including the Random House Dictionary (at least, as reported by Dictionary.com) or the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (although it may show up in M-W’s print dictionary, which I don’t have). This sense of the word does appear in the World English Dictionary (published by Harper Collins) as reported in dictionary.com, and it is preceded by “Canadian” in parentheses.
I was also curious as to why such a term was coined, i.e., did the term have a negative connotation of a “foreigner” who can’t speak either of the official languages, or was it neutral, or even positive?
According to Wikipedia, the term originated in Quebec, and was coined as a product of the effort by Quebecois Francophones to integrate those who speak neither French nor English into French Canadian society. (At the risk of oversimplifying, to try to ensure that some Allophones were converted into Francophones instead of, or in addition to, Anglophones). So it doesn’t seem to have a negative connotation, and, if anything, is analogous a sales term designating one’s target audience.
Here is a portion of the wiki I found interesting:
“The word “allophone” is formed from the Greek roots allos, meaning other, and phone, meaning sound or voice. The term became popularized during the Quiet Revolution as French Canadian society in Quebec sought to integrate immigrants, most of whom had traditionally integrated into the English-speaking community. As integrating immigrants was deemed essential to assure the survival of French-speaking Quebec in light of plummeting birth rates, demographers devised this category to monitor the integration of immigrants into French- and English-speaking communities. Because Allophones often adopt English, French or both languages at home or learn one language before another, they can be grouped into English or French communities based on home language or first official language learned.”
It is also interesting to me that the etymology of the term, as used above, is more or less the same as the etymology of the sense of the term as used in the study of phonetics, despite the radically different meanings of those senses of the word: in each case, the word is derived from “allos” (other) + -phone (sound), although the “speaks a language other than French or English” sense is modeled after Francophone and Anglophone, so it is arguably “derived” from the Greek term in a very loose sense of the word (although, Francophone and Anglophone were apparently derived from the Greek root -phone, so if it is modeled on those it is also at least indirectly derived from the Greek root.)
, I was also interested to see that (at least according to the wiki) the term Allophone is generally not applied to members of indigenous cultures in Canada even if such people speak neither English nor French as their first language. (Suggesting that the term DOES have an implication of “immigrant”, even if doesn’t carry it with the baggage that such terms sometimes carry).
As a final side note, and I apologize if this is a needless tangent, I found the M-W definition of “francophone” rather odd. First, it only defines the adjectival form. It notes that the word can be used as a noun, but it doesn’t give a definition of the noun sense of the word. Second, the adjective is defined as: “of, having, or belonging to a population using French as its first or sometimes second language”. I’m not entirely sure what is meant by the word “belonging” in this context: it might mean that the adjective applies to any person who “belongs” to a population that speaks French, even if that person speaks no French, which I think is an odd definition indeed of the term Francophone (and one that I think most native speakers of French would not agree with). If “belonging” means something different (i.e., that the application of the adjective to a population conveys that the property of speaking French “belong[s]” to such a population), then that seems like a needlessly confusing way of defining the term.
[edit: it occurred to me that the m-w definition might be using “belonging to a population using French” in the sense of “a French-speaking population” (a group whose members, by definition, speak French) rather than a population group (such as a country) that, among other things, has a population that primarily speaks French. But, if that is what was meant, the M-W definition is phrased confusingly.]
Conversely, the dictionary.com definition of francophone based on the Random House dictionary conforms to my sense of the word is: 1. (adjective) (Also, Fran·co·phon·ic:): speaking French, especially as a member of a French-speaking population.
2. (noun) a person who speaks French, especially a native speaker. (Note: I reformatted the definition to make it more readable, but left the text of the two definitions unchanged). This definition conforms much more closely to how I have heard and seen the word Francophone used.