The French language is the fifth most spoken language in the world, according to the latest edition of Ethnologue. The total number of speakers worldwide is 279,821,930. Fifty-five countries in the world speak the French language, with 29 of those countries using it as their official language. It is spoken in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North America, Asia and Oceania. French is one of the most studied languages worldwide. It was a former language of international diplomacy and negotiation and remained a language of scientific standards and literature. Likewise, it is the language of fashion, haute cuisine, and ballet.
French is one of the working languages in several international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Red Cross, the European Union (EU), World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Several nonprofit organizations such as Amnesty International, Médecins du Monde and Médecins sans Frontières, use French as one of their working languages. Moreover, French is a statutory language. It is one of the official languages in regional and international courts, such as the International Court of Justice, European Court of Human Rights, International Criminal Court, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the World Trade Organization Appellate Body and the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Several English words we use today have French language origins. They are deeply entrenched in the English language that you do not notice that these are non-English words. Some of them include:
· à la mode
· RSVP (répondez s’il vous plait)
· chaise longue
· crème brûlée
· du jour
· café au lait
· carte blanche
· comme ci, comme ça
· eau de toilette
· fait accompli
· femme fatale
· film noir
· foie gras
· Grand Prix
· hors d’oeuvre
· joie de vivre
· ménage à trois
· objet d’art
· raison d’être
· faux pas
The number of French words that are in the English dictionary attests to the influence of the French language over the English language. Why is this so? It’s a fact that from the year 1066 until 1362 or for about 300 years, the official language in England was French. The use of the French language continues to be widespread. It’s all thanks to the active participation of its cultural institutes such as the Alliance Française, which has 850 centers located in 137 countries from Europe to Asia.
More Facts About the French language
The French language is not as ancient as Latin, but its evolution as a language started on the fifth century. In fact, French came from Latin, just like the Romance languages. Like other languages, the development of the French language had many phases, and so many interesting facts that are available now shows why French is an interesting and fascinating language to learn and to speak.
In the statement above, we established that several French words are in the English dictionary and around 45 percent of modern English words have French origin. But did you know that modern French has English influence as well?
If you stay in France a bit longer than the typical three days to a week’s vacation, you’ll likely to hear French people saying words like:
· une to-do liste
· le shopping
· un parking
· le hard discount
The mix of French and English in modern French is called Franglais. The ‘French purists’ do not like it but they failed to stop the use of Franglais. In some instances, they were successful, such as when the term ‘un pipeline’ came up in the 1960s. The purists prevailed in having people use the correct term: un oléoduc. However, they were unsuccessful with the term ’email’. They wanted people to use un courriel but users insisted on using email. However, official communications use the correct French term.
Here are more amazing facts you might not know about the French language. Add them to what you already know and impress your friends.
1. Several states in the U.S. speak French
It’s interesting to know that in the U.S. some states have people who natively speak a French dialect. You’ll find Francophones in Louisiana, Vermont, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, Missouri and Massachusetts. There are French speakers in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut as well. French dialects Francophones use in the U.S. include Métis French, Muskrat French, Missouri French, New England French, and Louisiana French.
2. Famous classic novels and plays were originally written in French
We mentioned that French is a language of literature. You’re probably familiar with Les Misérables. There are several more classic novels, such as Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, Madame Bovary, L’Étranger, Thérèse Raquin, Les Fleurs du mal, Bel-Ami, Tartuffe, La Cousine Bette, and La Gloire de mon père. But did you know that some of the most famous children’s fairy tales were originally written in French as well? Think La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), Cendrillon (Cinderella), La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard) La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty).
3. French was not the original language in France
Before French became the official language of France, the nation spoke Latin. It was only after the end of the French Revolution in 1799 that the French language was used by the locals. Incidentally, The French Academy (L’académie française), the council that regulates the use of the French language, was established in the 1600s, earlier than the government’s edict of using French as the country’s official language.
4. The French language has many accents and dialects
French has a variety of dialects or patois that locals in different areas speak. These dialects have regional accents as well. In some areas, the French dialects they use are not mutually intelligible. You can identify them in broad categories, such as the northern dialects, the southern dialects, and the Standard French. Paris speaks the latter variety, which is very expressive and fast. The southern dialects have a softer accent than the northern varieties. Aside from these, there are also the Canadian French (including Québécois), Franco-Ontarians and Acadian French that Canadians speak. Influences from the other languages made Belgian French, Swiss-French, Caribbean French, African French, Maghreb French, and Indian French different from one another.
5. No genuine French words start with the letters K and W
The letters K and W are in the French alphabet but you cannot find these particular letters in genuine French words. You are likely to find them in regional words and loanwords. When translating some English words into French, you will avoid using the letter W. For example, Warsaw is Varsovie in French while Wales becomes le pays de Galles. The letter K on the other hand, is common in the prefix kilo, such as in kilometre, kilogramme, kilohertz, and kilowatt.
6. Shortest and longest French words
In the French dictionary, you will find the longest French word, which is the 25-letter word anticonstitutionnellement. But this is not the longest word in French. The longest one, which is not included in the dictionary, is the French term for thiamine – aminométhylpyrimidinylhydroxyéthylméthythiazolium, which has 49 letters.
Meanwhile, the shortest French word containing all the vowels is oiseau (bird).
A French town in the Marne département has the distinction of having the longest name: Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont-Saint-Genest-et-Isson. But in Somme, which is in northern France, you will find Y, which is actually the name of the town. In 2016, its population
was 93. What do you call the people living in Y? Ypsiloniens or Ypsiloniennes, of course!
7. Anomaly on the French Azerty keyboard
The French language uses several diacritics to indicate how to pronounce the words. However, only one word in French uses the accented ù – the word où, which translates to ‘where’ in English. But get this – it has its own key on the Azerty keyboard. The Azerty keyboard is typically used by Flemish and French speakers in Europe.
8. Largest French speaking cities outside France
Several regions in the five continents of the world speak French. Outside of Paris, Kinshasa is the largest city that speaks French. It is The Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city. French is the official language in the country. In Kinshasa, 67 percent of the population can write and read French, while 68.5 percent can understand and speak the French language. Montreal and Brussels follow Kinshasa in terms of the size of the French speaking population.
9. Distinct characteristics
The French language has many distinct characteristics. It has some faux amis or false friends, such as le bras or arm, and not a woman’s undergarment. A bookstore means la librairie. Actuel means current while gentil means kind.
A few French words have three e’s in a row, such as agréée (approved) and créée (created). The only French word whose plural form starts with a different letter is oeil, meaning ‘eye.’ Its plural is yeux.
Amour is a masculine word in its singular form. But in the plural form, amours, it becomes feminine.
Did you know that ballet is a performance dance whose origin is from the Italian Renaissance? Later it became a concert dance in Russia and France. Since it was formalized in France during the reign of King Louis XIV in late 1670s, a big part of ballet’s terminology is in French. The king established the Académie Royale de Danse to develop the standards and certifications of dance instructors. When the popularity of ballet waned in France, its development continued in Russia, Italy and Denmark.
These are some of the most amazing facts about the French language that you might not know. We hope that these facts will enrich your knowledge about French and make you appreciate French culture some more.
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