French (français) belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. Like all Romance languages, it developed from Vulgar Latin spoken by the Roman invaders. Before the Roman invasion of what is France today, the territory was inhabited by a Celtic people whom the Romans called Gauls. The language of the Gauls had little impact on French.
From the 3rd century on, Gaul was invaded by Germanic tribes whose languages had a profound effect on the Vulgar Latin of the region, especially on its vocabulary. In 1539, King Francis I made French the official language of administration and court proceedings in France, replacing Latin as the official written language of the country. Following a period of unification and standardization, the language spoken in the 17th-18th centuries became the basis of modern French. From the 17th century on, French enjoyed the status of being the language of culture and diplomacy throughout the western world. European colonization brought French to the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.
French is spoken in 53 countries, making it one of the most wide-spread languages of the world. It is estimated that the number of first- and second-language speakers of French worldwide is between 220 and 300 million people. It is an official, co-official or de facto national of 29 countries. Countries using French as either a first or a second language are located on four continents. Four of them are in Europe: France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Two are in the Americas: Canada and Haiti. There are also two overseas departments of France: Martinique and Guadeloupe. The rest are former French colonies in Africa and in the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. French is a major second language in Arabic-speaking Algeria, Tunis, and Morocco. The dispersion of French is due to the political, economic, scientific, and cultural influence of France. Countries in which French is spoken are listed below. Please note that some of the numbers are estimates and do not clearly show the breakdown between first- and second-language speakers.
|France||66 million||official language|
|Canada||7 million||official language used in all domains, along with English|
|Belgium||4 million||official language, along with Dutch andGerman|
|Switzerland||1,5 million 1st language and 2.5 million 2nd language speakers||official language, along with German, Italian and Romansch|
|Algeria||16 million||no official status|
|Italy (Aosta Valley)||95,000||official regional language, along with Italian and Slovenian|
|French Polynesia||184,000 1st language and 2nd language speakers||official language, along with Tahitian|
|Gabon||1.24 million||official language, the only language of formal education|
|Lebanon||1.9 million 1st language speakers||official language along with Arabic|
|New Caledonia||53,000||official language|
|Réunion||2,400 1st language and 161,000 2nd language speakers||official language|
|Equatorial Guinea||75,000-100,000 2nd language speakers||official language along with Spanish; increasingly used for wider communication|
Benin, Republic of the Congo,
Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti,Luxembourg,
Madagascar, Mauritius, Monaco, Tunisia
|10,000 – 40,000||official or co-official language|
Andorra, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Guadelupe, Mali, Martinique, Niger,
|under 10,000||official or co-official language|
Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon,
Democratic Republic of the Congo,
French Guiana, Guinea
|no estimates available||official or co-official language|
In addition, there are a number of French-based Creoles spoken today mainly in the Caribbean, in the U.S., and on several islands in the Indian Ocean.They are listed below. Please note that these numbers may be actually higher.
|Guadeloupean Creole||848,000||Guadeloupe, Martinique|
|Guianese Creole||50,000||French Guiana|
|Haitian Creole||7,389,066||Haiti, U.S.|
- French is one of the official languages of the United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union (EU).
- French is one of the most studied foreign languages. In the US, French is the second most-studied foreign language in schools, after Spanish.