French (le français) is a member of the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family, and as such, was originally derived from Vulgar Latin. As a result of France’s long history of overseas expansion from the 16th century onward, French is currently the official language of 29 countries across multiple continents and has also influenced the development of numerous French-based creole languages, such as Haitian-Creole. French is one of the primary languages of the United Nations as well as the European Union and was ranked by Bloomberg as one of the most useful languages for business after English and Mandarin Chinese.
Today, French has the 18th most native speakers in the world, totaling approximately 77 million speakers, with approximately 274 million total speakers, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world. In Europe, 12% of the population speaks French, mainly in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The largest number of French speakers are found in Africa, where France maintained a large colonial presence through the 20th century. Based on an analysis conducted by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, there are approximately 115 million total speakers in Africa who can speak French as either a first or second language.
In the Americas, French is the native language of approximately 9.5 million people in Canada, mainly in Quebec (where Montreal is the city with the fourth largest number of French speakers in the world), and with smaller populations in New Brunswick and Manitoba. In the United States, French is also the fourth most spoken language, after English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is also one of the official languages of the island nation of Haiti in the Caribbean and the territory of French Guiana in South America. And, while its popularity has waned significantly in Southeast Asia, older generations and elites in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam still retain some French ability, where it was the colonial language and language of administration for many decades during the French colonial period.
The main dialect of French in France is known as Metropolitan French, although there are a number of regional dialects and varieties spoken as well. Belgian and Swiss French are the other two main varieties spoken in Europe. In Canada, the two main dialects spoken are Quebec French (Québécois) and Acadian French. In Africa, the Maghreb dialect of French is commonly used in the Maghreb states of Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are numerous varieties of French spoken, of which the common features include the use of the alveolar trill and numerous lexical borrowings from indigenous African languages.
Like other Romance languages, French is an inflected language. Nouns and pronouns are inflected for number (singular or plural); adjectives, for number and gender of the corresponding nouns; pronouns, for person, number, gender, and case; and verbs, for tense, aspect, mood, and the person and number of their subjects. French also uses the subject-verb-object word order, although pronoun objects precede the verb.
In terms of vocabulary, the majority of French words are derived from Vulgar Latin. A number of English or Anglicized words have been introduced to the French language over the years, although the main governing bodies for French in France and Canada – the Académie française and the Office québécois de la langue française, respectively – have attempted to replace foreign loanwords with French equivalents in order to preserve the purity of the language. French orthography, like English, tends to preserve archaic pronunciation rules, wherein letters (and words) are often not pronounced as they are written (such as is the case in Spanish).
FUN FACTS: Approximately 45% of English vocabulary (roughly 50,000 total words) are derived from French, owing in part to the influence of French in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Also, there are approximately 150,000 speakers of French in parts of Louisiana, owing to French influence in the region before the Louisiana Purchase and migration of large numbers of Acadian French from Canada in the mid-18th century, and which has been passed down over generations. While largely mutually intelligible with other varieties of French, Louisiana French has a number of distinct features and has incorporated borrowings from English, Native American, and African languages. As an endangered language, the state government of Louisiana has been making significant efforts to help preserve the language and distinct culture.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in French, including Metropolitan French, Canadian French, Maghreb French, Levantine French (Lebanon), and numerous varieties of African French. Whether you need to translate marketing brochures into Metropolitan French for an advertising campaign in Paris, a Canadian French interpreter for a legal deposition, or want to localize your website into Maghreb French to market your products or services in North Africa, PGLS is here to help with all of your French language needs.