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French language facts

La langue française, the language of love, is the first or second language in more than 43 countries and is spoken by 125 million people around the world, on every continent. French is one of the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada, and it is considered an unofficial second language of many countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It is also one of the six main languages of the United Nations.

France has won 12 Nobel Prizes for literature, more than any other country. French is the idiom of great writers and philosophers such as Molière, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Camus, and Sartre. The country of Asterix and Obelix has the 4th largest economy in the world after the US, Japan and Germany and is the 2nd largest exporter of agricultural products.

As for French, the way its speakers pronounce and write their own language varies from one place to another and is strongly dependent on the local culture, customs and neighbouring influences. There are remarkable pronunciation differences between the French spoken in southern France, northern France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and in the many French speaking African countries in such a way people may not understand each other.

In its written form, the French spoken in the Canadian province of Québec (“Le Québécois”) differs from standard French in many ways. For example, a “small shop” would be “un petit magasin” in France and “un dépanneur” in Québec. A “bank” would render “une banque” in France and “une caisse populaire” in Québec, while a “car” would be translated as “une automobile” in France and “un char” in Québec. It is important to use professional french language services if one does not understand the above mentioned points.

Roots of French language

Gallo-Romance (5th-8th centuries)
A member of the Romance branch of the Indo-European family, French is descended from Vulgar Latin, (as distinguished from literary Latin) of the Roman Empire. When ancient Gaul, now modern France, was conquered by the Romans in the first century B.C., its inhabitants spoke Gaulish, a Celtic language, which was rapidly supplanted by the Latin of the Roman overlords.

In the 5th century A.D., the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes, began their invasion of Gaul, but they too were romanised. Although modern French thus inherited several hundred words of Celtic origin and several hundred more from Germanic, it owes its structure and the greater part of its vocabulary to Latin.

Old French (9th-13th centuries)

The dialects of Northern Gaul developed into a separate language with a grammar of their own. The first written materials in it date from the Strasbourg Oaths of 842. The Old French literature flourished since the 10th century (e.g., “chansons de geste”). In 11th-13th centuries, it was the dominant language of the English administration and the idiom of the crusaders in the Levantine countries.

Middle French (14th-15th centuries)

This period was marked by changes both in the pronunciation and in the grammar. A common literary language, based on the dialect of l’Île de France (the region of Paris), was promoted by the writers. French was replacing Latin in the texts of the public administration in France.

Early Modern French (16th century)

The aim of the writers of this period, as is the case of the poets of La Pléiade, was to elevate the French language to the level of Latin as a medium for literary expression, In 1539, a royal decree proclaimed French the official language of the public administration. Since that period, the government was always involved in the development and the standardisation of the language.

Classical Modern French (17th-18th centuries)

In this period, the main grammar conventions of the modern French were established, fuelled by the French Liberal Revolution. By then it was used as an international language throughout Europe and even in the administrative correspondence of countries like Germany. With the colonial expansion of France, the language spread to America (e.g., Canada, Louisiana, the Caribbean islands) and Africa (e.g. Morocco, Algeria, Congo).

Contemporary Modern French (since 19th century)

The contemporary pronunciation of the standard language was fixed in that period. French was established as an official language in the French and Belgian colonial possessions in Africa. While the vocabulary and style of Modern French have been influenced by movements such as romanticism and realism, structurally French has changed comparatively little since the Classic Modern period. Standardisation of the French language has been aided in modern times by more widespread education and the media.

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