French is a member of the Gallo-Romance branch of the Romance language family. It is spoken by about 267 million people in as a native language about by about 79 million people, as a second language by about 187 million people, and as a foreign language by many more people. It is the third most spoken language in Europe, after German and English, and is also spoken in parts of Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Oceania.
French is an official language in Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, and Vanuatu.
There are also French speakers in Algeria, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritius, Mauritania, Tunisia, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Jersey, Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Vietnam, Wallis and Futuna, and in parts of the USA, particularly Louisiana.
French was widely used as a diplomatic language from the 17th century until the middle of the 20th century, when English replaced it in that role. It is still used in many international organisations, such as NATO, the UN, EU institutions, and the World Trade Organisation.
French first appeared in writing in 842 AD, when it was used in the Strasbourg Oaths. Before then, Latin was the language used for literature throughout Europe. During the 10th and 11th centuries, French appeared in a number of documents and religious writings. However, French literature didn't start to take off until the late 12th / early 13th century. The first great work of French literature was the 'Chanson de Roland' (Song of Roland), which was published in about 1200.
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Here are some of the differences in the pronunciation of Canadian French.
Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
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Page last modified: 07.06.23
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