French Language Facts

Facts

Official Language:

France, Luxembourg, Haiti and more than 15 African countries. One of the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada.

Common 2nd language of:

Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Number of speakers:

Mother tongue of 75 million- many more speak it as a second language.

Origin:

A Romance language descended from Latin.

Alphabet & Scripts:

Roman alphabet.

History of the Language:

French is one of the worlds great languages, rivalled only by English as the language of international society and diplomacy.

Besides in France itself, French can be heard in several other European countries, widely throughout Africa, and also in various dependencies. In addition, it is the unofficial second language of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and many others.

It is the mother tongue of about 75 million people, with millions more familiar with it as a second language.

French is one of the romance languages, descended from Latin. A number of dialects initially emerged but history favoured the North and Parisian French gained ascendancy over the others.

In the 17th - 19th centuries French was pre-eminent as an international language, though it has been eclipsed by English in the 20th.

French writing

The French alphabet is the same as that of English, though the letter w appears only in foreign words. Grave, acute and circumflex accents are used and the cedilla appears under the letter c when preceding a, o or u to indicate a s sound rather than k.

French spelling generally reflects the language as it was spoken four or five centuries ago, and is therefore a poor guide to modern pronunciation. Silent letters abound, especially at the ends of words (e.g. hommes is pronounced um) but a normally silent final consonant is often sounded when it is followed by a word that begins with a vowel.

In this process known as liaison, the consonant becomes part of the first syllable of the following word, so that the sentence ‘il est assis’ (he is seated) is pronounced ¹e-le-ta-seŠ. Although French pronunciation is governed by fairly consistent rules, the actual sounds of the language are quite difficult for the English speaker and a good ‘French accent’ is something not easily acquired.

And finally...

As the two major languages of the Western World, English and French naturally have contributed many words to each other. Recent French contributions to English - with the French pronunciation retained as closely as possible - include such expressions as hors d’oeuvre, en route, rendezvous, carte blanche, savoir-faire, faux pas, fait accompli, par excellence, bon vivant, joie de vivre, coup d’état, nouveau riche, laissez faire, pièce de resistance, and RSVP.

In recent years, French has been virtually inundated with English words of all kinds - so much so that the resulting jargon has been dubbed Franglais, a combination of Français and Anglais. A few examples among hundreds are le hamburger, le drugstore, le week-end, le strip-tease, le tee-shirt, le chewing gum, and les blue-jeans.

Most of these have been denied official status by the Academy, but even here concessions have been made. Recently, the Academy approved the adoption into French of le pipeline and le bulldozer - with the strict proviso, of course, that they be pronounced peep-LEEN and bool-do-ZAIR.

French speaking countries:

  • France
  • Capital:

  • Paris
  • Other main cities:

  • Lyon
  • Marseille
  • Lille
  • Toulouse
  • Bordeaux
  • Area (km²):

  • 551,500
  • Population:

  • 58,375,000
  • Currency:

  • Euro
  • History of France

    The République Française comprises Metropolitan France (the famous hexagon) and Corsica, and 10 overseas territories including those in South America (French Guiana) the West Indies (Martinique) and other dependencies such as French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

    France's strongly urban population remains mainly native-born with an increasing population of Algerian, Moroccan, Italian and Turkish origin. French remains the language of the majority though some regional variations do exist, Dutch is spoken in Flanders, dialects of German in Alsace & Lorraine and regional languages like Breton in Brittany and Basque and Catalan in the Pyrénées.

    Archaeological evidence indicates that human beings have lived in what is now France for at least 100,000 years. After Greek, Celtic, Gaul and Roman domination, the Germanic Franks occupied in the 5th century AD.

    The dynasties established by Charlemagne and then Hugh Capet led to a long period of consolidation and expansion between the 8th and early 14th centuries, ended by the ‘Hundred Years’ Wars (1337 to 1453), which saw the Black Death wipe out one third of France’s population and Joan of Arc incite a French victory over the English. The French Renaissance flowered in the early 1500’s, but was followed by poverty for much of the population.

    Although the economy flourished under the reign of the Louis’, internal strife and further external conflicts eventually brought crushing hardship to the peasantry and in 1789 the French Revolution broke out. Ten chaotic years later Napoleon Bonaparte took control and the codification of French laws followed.

    France then saw empire, monarchy and republic vying for power until in 1875, following further civil and foreign struggle, the Third Republic was established. The two World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) both inflicted devastating losses, and the latter saw brief control by a pro-German Vichy Government until Charles de Gaulle paved the way for the Fourth Republic at the end of 1946.

    The social reform and economic development then begun and continued through to the restoration of de Gaulle in 1958 and the establishment of the Fifth Republic. Economic downswings, strikes and an Arab oil embargo during the 1960’s finally forced France to move toward a free-market economy in 1975. In 1981, following a Socialist victory at the polls, François Mitterrand was elected president, followed by former Prime Minister Jacques Chirac in 1995.

    About 76 percent of French residents are Roman Catholics, but Muslims, Protestants, and Jews are significant minority groups. France’s presidential republic consists of a Parliament, split into the National Assembly and the Senate, and a president, elected for a seven-year term, who designates the Prime Minister and appoints cabinet ministers.

    At the local level, France’s metropolitan departments are divided into communes, which are governed by municipal councils.