French Language: Origins, History, and Speakers

French is the official language of more than 25 countries, and as such, it is spoken by almost 300 million people as their native language or as a second language up to this date. Until the 20th century the French was the language of diplomacy, and one of the two main languages of international negotiation. Today along with English, it is the official language of the International Postal Union, of the International Olympic Committee, and the International Red Cross.

History and Origins

The French belongs to the Indo-European family and is a Romance language descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. More specifically, French has evolved from spoken Latin in Northern Gaul – Gallo-Romance. Before this, the French language was part of the Francien dialect – a north-central dialect with some northern features.

The oldest ever recorded document written in this language is the “Serments de Strasbourg”, in the year 842. However, it was in 1539 when this language was established as the only official language as opposed to both Latin and other dialects of the time after it proved to be the most popular written form.

Standard Language and Dialects

Linguists have discovered that almost two-thirds of the French language is, in fact, derived from Latin. Today’s standard language is based on the dialect of Île de France also knows as Francien. There are 5 groups of dialects that classify the French language today:

  • Central: Francien, Orléanais, Bourbonnais, Champenois;
  • Northern: Picard, Northern Norman, Walloon (usually considered a separate language);
  • Eastern: Lorrain, Bourguignon (Burgundian), Franc-Comtois;
  • Western: Norman, Gallo (around the Celtic Breton area), Angevin, Maine;
  • Southwestern: Poitevin, Saintongeais, Angoumois.

Speakers of French in The World

As previously mentioned, French is spoken by almost 300 million people whether is their first, native language, or the second official of their country. If we divide the French speakers geographically, the language usage would be something like this:

  • In France and Corsica, there are 60 million speakers of the language as their first
  • Canada has about 7.3 million French speakers
  • In Belgium more than 3.9 million individuals who speak French
  • In Switzerland, there are more than 1.8 million French speakers
  • Monaco around 80,000
  • And in the US there are about 1.3 million French-speaking individuals
  • Other countries that use this language as their official or second are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

ULS Services in French

At United Language Services we work with a wide array of certified professional translators and interpreters that have mastered the French language in all its forms. So if you need translation, interpretation, localization, or transcription of the language, please do not hesitate to contact us.