<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
Just £2 per issue Subscribe to one of our France Magazines click here

17 facts you didn’t know about the French language

PUBLISHED: 11:53 06 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:54 06 June 2017

A collection of French language learning books © Archant

A collection of French language learning books © Archant

Archant

Did you know that French is spoken by more than 270 million people, including Bradley Cooper and Elton John, but in 1789 only 25% of French citizens actually spoke French?

1. French is the eighth most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, Malay and Russian and there are currently more than 270 million French speakers worldwide.

2. It is Europe’s third most widely spoken mother tongue with over 65 million speakers, after German and Russian with around 95 million each, and ahead of English with around 60 million.

3. It is an official language of 29 countries and is also the second most widely learned foreign language.

4. French is a Romance language descended from vernacular Latin, with influences across the centuries from the Celts, the Romans and the Vikings. In more recent times, the English language has increasingly made its presence felt, though more in terms of vocabulary than grammatical structure.

_______________________________________________________________________

Related articles

Ways you can learn French for free

Bizarre French superstitions you should know about

_______________________________________________________________________

5. During 17th-19th centuries French was the lingua franca among the educated classes across Europe and until the 19th century French was spoken more widely in Holland and Germany than in some parts of France.

6. At the time of the French Revolution 75% of French citizens did not speak French as their mother tongue, rather each region had its own dialect and patois

7. The dialects of the north of France were known as the langues d’oïl (Champenois, Lorrain, Picard are examples); in the southern half of France the dialects were known collectively as the langues d’oc (Provençal, Occitan and Catalan, etc). Most people speaking a langue d’oïl or a langue d’oc could understand each other.

8. It was during the 19th century, with the creation of the post-Revolution nation state and its notion of uniting the French people, that the government insisted that a common French language be implemented and taught in schools.

_______________________________________________________________________

Related articles

French words you can’t translate into English

61 French words and phrases to use when shopping in France

_______________________________________________________________________

9. During the 20th century, the influence of French as the international language of diplomacy waned in favour of the English language, particularly after the rise of America as a leading international power after the Second World War.

10. French is still a working language of the UN, the EU, and dozens of international organizations including the International Red Cross committee, Amnesty International, and Doctors without Borders.

11. For 300 years after William the Conqueror became king of England, French was the official language of England and it is estimated that around half of English words come from French.

12. The Académie Française was established in 1635 with a remit to “carefully and diligently work towards applying certain rules to our language and to make it pure, eloquent and able to be used in the arts and sciences”. It was the first body ever to rule over a language and since then most of the world’s main languages have a similar type of institution.

_______________________________________________________________________

Related articles

The French words we use in everyday English conversations

French words you are pronouncing incorrectly

_______________________________________________________________________

13. French has more than a million words and 20,000 new ones are created every year.

14. Accents, including acute, grave et al, were introduced in the 1500s with the arrival of the first printing press. At the time, the French language had several redundant consonants, and printers wanted to find ways to eliminate letters from words. So the cedilla (ç) was introduced in 1530 to indicate a soft ‘c’ before the vowels a, o and u, previously indicated by printers variably with ch, ss, ce. The acute accent (é) was brought in to replace consonants that were written but not heard, for example eschelle became échelle. However the circumflex (ê) was not introduced until a couple of centuries later, taking the place of internal consonants, hence beste became bête, etc.

15. The longest word in the French dictionary is anticonstitutionnellement meaning unconstitutional.

16. The shortest town name is Y in Somme, northern France

17. Celebrities who speak French include Serena Williams, Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Elton John, Bradley Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Emma Thompson, Mick Jagger, and John Travolta.

Enjoy this? You might also like:

Learning French: 6 tips for beginners

67 French words and phrases you need to talk about the weather

50 French words and phrases you need to learn if you are driving in France

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Complete France visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Complete France staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Complete France account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Language and Culture

Thursday, May 4, 2017

From Charles de Gaulle to François Hollande, how many of the post-war French presidents have you heard of?

Read more
Friday, April 7, 2017

As Paris marks 100 years since Rodin’s death, we look back at an artist who rebelled against idealised forms of art and instead introduced innovative methods that inspired the modern era

Read more
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We all know French baguettes are the best but how do you decide which boulangerie to visit? Luckily there is an official baguette competition to help you find the best baguette in Paris

Read more
Paris
Monday, November 21, 2016

Veggies, rejoice! Paris has plenty of exciting vegetarian restaurants serving delicious and healthy veggie dishes. Caroline Harrap chooses some of her favourite

Read more
Paris
Monday, June 5, 2017

Helen Skelton recently moved to Canet-Plage near Perpignan after her husband, rugby league player Richie Myler, signed with the Catalan Dragons. She reveals why it the perfect place for her and her young family to live

Read more
Expats in France
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

One of the best-known faces and voices in British broadcasting, Angela Rippon reveals why she loves having a holiday home on the French Riviera and the other celebrities who live nearby

Read more
Provence-Alpes-Cote d Azur
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Did you know that French is spoken by more than 270 million people, including Bradley Cooper and Elton John, but in 1789 only 25% of French citizens actually spoke French?

Read more
Learning French
Thursday, June 1, 2017

Save yourself from embarrassment and confusion next time you speak French by learning these common false friends

Read more
Learning French
Friday, June 16, 2017

From salads to seafood to fruit desserts, add a French twist to your summer cooking with these traditional French recipes

Read more
French recipes
Monday, June 12, 2017

As you would expect the French take picnics very seriously. Find out what to pack in your hamper so you can enjoy a traditional French picnic too

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now