French Language Facts

French Language Facts

1. The Origins

French is a Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin. Both Gaulish, a Celtic language which was spoken in ancient Gaul before the Roman invasion, and Old Frankish also left their mark on the French language. In 1539, Francis I of France made French the official language for the administration.
French started to be standardised from the 17th century onwards, with the creation of the Académie française in 1634, and its structure has little changed since then. During the 17th century, French became the lingua franca of Europe and spread worldwide as France expanded its colonial empire, influencing many other European languages on the same occasion.

2. The Speakers

There are around 220 million French speakers worldwide, including 80 million native speakers. French is an official language in 29 countries, such as France, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Congo, Mali, Senegal, and it is spoken on every continent. It is the European Union’s fourth most widely spoken mother tongue. The number of French speakers is expected to reach 700 million by 2050, mostly in Africa.

3. The Tongue Twisters

French has a great number of homophones, that is, words sharing the same pronunciation but with different spellings and meanings. This makes it easier to create tongue twisters. Some of the most famous examples include:

  • Si mon tonton tond ton tonton, ton tonton sera tondu. – If my uncle shaves your uncle, your uncle will be shaved.
  • Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse, sont-elles sèches ? Archi-sèches. – The archduchesses socks, are they dry? Very dry.
  • Cinq chiens chassent six chats. – Five dogs hunt six cats.
  • As-tu vu le vert ver allant vers le verre en verre vert ? – Did you see the green worm going towards the green glass glass?
  • Ces six saucissons-secs-ci sont si secs qu’on ne sait si s’en sont. – These six dried sausages are so dry that we don’t know if they are.

4. The Loanwords

About 45% of modern English words are of French origin. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, French became the language of the aristocracy and administration, which resulted in a great number of French words and expressions being incorporated into English. Over the centuries, French remained a major language influencing modern English.

5. The Institutions

Along with English, French remains an influential language in the diplomatic world. Many international institutions have French as one of their official languages, including the United Nations, the European Union, the International Olympic Committee, the Red Cross, and Médecins sans Frontières. Many international courts also use French as an official language.


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