French Words and Phrases
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History of the French Language

One of the most popular languages spoken around the globe today is the French language. While many may assume that languages don't spread far from their native borders that is far from true in the case of many of the world's major languages. The French language is a perfect example of a dialect that defies borders and spans the globe as a first or second language for millions.

Today, French is classified under the greater Indo-European language family and is considered a member of the subset of Romance languages. The French language itself has a rich history that was developed through the socialization and combination of millions of individuals. The Romance languages, French included, are descended from Vulgar Latin which was the language spoken in the ancient Roman Empire. Modern French is a combination of the Langue’s d'oïl (oil languages), French-based Creole languages, Celtic languages from Roman controlled Gaul, and the Germanic/Frankish language of the invaders who took over post-Rome Europe.

Although English has recently passed the French language as the preeminent language of the world, the French language was at one time the most popular language on the planet. The wide-reaching colonial efforts of France and Belgium, which at the time was ruled by a French-speaking elite, in the 17th century led to the French language becoming the language of choice for diplomatic and international relations until the mid-20th century.

Today the French language is spoken heavily in a variety of regions around the globe. Aside from a strong base in France and greater Europe, the French language is spoken in large areas of the globe including:

• North & South America

Among European nations the French language is the fourth most spoken native tongue. The language has been the official language of France since 1992, although older legal texts suggest it has been the official tongue since 1539. In addition to France, there are native French speakers in Switzerland, Belgium, Monaco, Andorra, Italy, Luxembourg, and even the United Kingdom.

Outside of Europe, the spread of the French language came through colonial conquests in all corners of the globe. French, along with English, is an official language in Canada with the province of Quebec speaking French as its first tongue. Portions of the United States have French speaking communities, most notoriously in southern Louisiana in and around the city of New Orleans. Other French speaking regions in North & South America include Haiti, Brazil, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, St. Martin and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.

The French language is perhaps most widely spoken outside of Europe in several African nations. Colonial conquests by France and Belgium led to the use of French as an official language or second tongue across wide swaths of Africa. The reach of the French language extends throughout 31 African countries.

As French spread around the globe, different regions developed their own dialects for the French language that include variations from the original French language. There are currently no less than 26 French dialects around the globe.

The basics of the French language include the following details:

• 16 vowels used in every dialect
Voiced and voiceless stops
26 letter alphabet using the Latin alphabet
No Latin declensions
Two grammatical genders
Subject-Verb-Object word order

Few languages have a global reach that matches that of the French language. An estimated 110 million individuals around the globe speak French as a native tongue while another 190 million people claim French as a second language.