French language

French
Français
Pronunciation
Native to France, now worldwide
(See geographical distribution below)
Native speakers
80 million (2016)
estimated 274 million L1 plus L2 speakers (2014)
Early forms
Latin (French alphabet)
French Braille
Signed French
(français signé)
Official status
Official language in



Numerous international organisations
Regulated by Académie française (French Academy)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fr
ISO 639-2 fre (B)
fra (T)
ISO 639-3 fra
Glottolog stan1290
Linguasphere 51-AAA-i
  Regions where French is the main language
  Regions where it is an official language
  Regions where it is a second language
  Regions where it is a minority language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

French (le français or la langue française ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French has evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as "Francophone" in both English and French.

French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which are members of la francophonie, the community of French-speaking countries. It is spoken as a first language (in descending order of the highest number) in France, the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, the region of Wallonia in Belgium, western Switzerland, Monaco, certain other regions of Canada and the United States, and by various communities elsewhere. As of 2015, 40% of the francophone population (including L2 and partial speakers) is in Europe, 35% in sub-Saharan Africa, 15% in North Africa and the Middle East, 8% in the Americas, and 1% in Asia and Oceania.

French is the fourth-most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union. 1/5 of Europeans who do not have French as a mother tongue speak French as a second language. As a result of French and Belgian colonialism from the 17th and 18th century onward, French was introduced to new territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Most second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, in particular Gabon, Algeria, Mauritius, Senegal and Ivory Coast. In 2015, French was estimated to have 77 to 110 million native speakers, and 190 million secondary speakers. Approximately 274 million people are able to speak the language. According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l'Agence universitaire de la francophonie, total French speakers will number approximately 500 million people in 2025 and 650 million people by 2050. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie estimates 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa.

French has a long history as an international language of literature, and scientific some standards and is an second language of many international organisations including the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the WTO, the International Olympic Committee, and the ICRC. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked French the third most useful language for business, after English and Standard Mandarin Chinese.

Geographic distribution

Europe

Knowledge of French in the European Union and candidate countries

Spoken by 12% of the European Union's population, French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the EU after German, English and Italian; it is also the third-most widely known language of the Union after English and German (33% of the EU population report knowing how to speak English, 22% of Europeans understand German, 20% French).

Under the Constitution of France, French has been the official language of the Republic since 1992 (although the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts made it mandatory for legal documents in 1539). France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.

In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia (excluding a part of the East Cantons, which are German-speaking) and one of the two official languages—along with Dutch—of the Brussels-Capital Region, where it is spoken by the majority of the population often as their primary language.

French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland (along with German, Italian and Romansh) and is spoken in the western part of Switzerland called Romandie, of which Geneva is the largest city. The language divisions in Switzerland do not coincide with political subdivisions, and some cantons have bilingual status: for example, cities such as Biel/Bienne and cantons such as Valais, Fribourg and Berne. French is the native language of about 23% of the Swiss population, and is spoken by 50.4% of the population.

French is also an official language of Luxembourg, Monaco, and Aosta Valley (Italy), while French dialects remain spoken by minorities on the Channel Islands and in Andorra.

Africa

  Countries usually considered part of Francophone Africa.
Their population was 392 million in 2015 and it is forecast to reach 847 million in 2050.
  Countries sometimes considered as Francophone Africa
  Countries that are not Francophone but are Members or Observers of the OIF

A plurality of the world's French-speaking population lives in Africa. According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone countries can speak French as either a first or a second language. This number does not include the people living in non-Francophone African countries who have learned French as a foreign language. Due to the rise of French in Africa, the total French-speaking population worldwide is expected to reach 700 million people in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent (in terms of either official or foreign languages).

French is mostly a second language in Africa, but it has become a first language in some urban areas, such as the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast and in Libreville, Gabon. There is not a single African French, but multiple forms that diverged through contact with various indigenous African languages.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand, because of the expansion of education and rapid population growth. It is also where the language has evolved the most in recent years. Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries, but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.

North and South America

The "arrêt" signs (French for "stop") are used in Canada while the English stop, which is also a valid French word, is used in France as well as other French-speaking countries and regions.

French is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. It is the first language of 9.5 million people or 29.4% and the second language for 2.07 million or 6.4% of the entire population of Canada. French is the sole official language in the province of Quebec, being the mother tongue for some 7 million people, or almost 80.1% (2006 Census) of the province. About 95.0% of the people of Quebec speak French as either their first or second language, and for some as their third language. Quebec is also home to the city of Montreal, which is the world's 4th-largest French-speaking city, by number of first language speakers. New Brunswick and Manitoba are the only officially bilingual provinces, though full bilingualism is enacted only in New Brunswick, where about one third of the population is Francophone. French is also an official language of all of the territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon). Out of the three, Yukon has the most French speakers, comprising just under 4% of the population. Furthermore, while French is not an official language in Ontario, the French Language Services Act ensures that provincial services are to be available in the language. The Act applies to areas of the province where there are significant Francophone communities, namely Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Elsewhere, sizable French-speaking minorities are found in southern Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the unique Newfoundland French dialect was historically spoken. Smaller pockets of French speakers exist in all other provinces. The city of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is also effectively bilingual, as it is on the other side of a river from Quebec, opposite the major city of Gatineau, and is required to offer governmental services in French as well as English.

French language spread in the United States. Counties marked in lighter pink are those where 6–12% of the population speaks French at home; medium pink, 12–18%; darker pink, over 18%. French-based creole languages are not included.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011), French is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish, and Chinese, when all forms of French are considered together and all dialects of Chinese are similarly combined. French remains the second most-spoken language in the states of Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Louisiana is home to many distinct dialects, collectively known as Louisiana French. Cajun French has the largest number of speakers, mostly living in Acadiana. According to the 2000 United States Census, there are over 194,000 people in Louisiana who speak French at home, the most of any state if Creole French is excluded. New England French, essentially a variant of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of New England. Missouri French was historically spoken in Missouri and Illinois (formerly known as Upper Louisiana), but is nearly extinct today.

French is one of Haiti's two official languages. It is the principal language of writing, school instruction, and administrative use. It is spoken by all educated Haitians and is used in the business sector. It is also used in ceremonial events such as weddings, graduations and church masses. About 70–80% of the country's population have Haitian Creole as their first language; the rest speak French as a first language. The second official language is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, which virtually the entire population of Haiti speaks. Haitian Creole is one of the French-based creole languages, drawing the large majority of its vocabulary from French, with influences from West African languages, as well as several European languages. Haitian Creole is closely related to Louisiana Creole and the creole from the Lesser Antilles.

French is the official language of both French Guiana, adjacent to Brazil and Suriname in South America, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, an archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland in North America.

Asia

Southeast Asia

French was the official language of the colony of French Indochina, comprising modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It continues to be an administrative language in Laos and Cambodia, although its influence has waned in recent years. In colonial Vietnam, the elites primarily spoke French, while many servants who worked in French households spoke a French pidgin known as "Tây Bồi" (now extinct). After French rule ended, South Vietnam continued to use French in administration, education, and trade. Since the Fall of Saigon and the opening of a unified Vietnam's economy, French has gradually been effectively displaced as the main foreign language of choice by English. French nevertheless maintains its colonial legacy by being spoken as a second language by the elderly and elite populations and is presently being revived in higher education and continues to be a diplomatic language in Vietnam.

Middle East

Lebanon

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