With a history dating back to the Latin language of the Roman Empire, French is one of the most popular of the Romance languages. Today, more than 274 million people embrace the French language as their native tongue (212 million) or second language. Originally spoken in the regions of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, the language has since spread to parts of Africa, Vietnam, and many islands nations.
The French language originated from Vulgar Latin, which is much different from the literary type of Latin. During the times of ancient Gaul, which is now known as France, the Romans conquered the land during the 1st century BC. At the time, all inhabitants spoke Gaulish (a Celtic language), which was quickly replaced by the Latin of Roman soldiers. During the 5th century, the Franks (Germanic tribes) started to infiltrate Gaul, eventually adapting the Roman language.
The French language began to slowly develop, taking several hundred words from the Celtic and Germanic language, but the basis of the vocabulary was mostly Latin. By the 9th century, the language spoken in France had diverted from Latin and was dubbed “Old French.” This kind of speech lasted from the 9th to the 13th century. Between the 14th and 16th century, French was known as Middle French and continued to borrow words and expressions from the Latin, Greek, and Italian language.
There are 54 countries that possess a significant population of French-speaking residents, reaching parts of the Pacific, South America, North America, Europe, and isolated locations in Asia. Across the globe, there are 29 countries that claim French as their official language.
In regards to the French overseas territories, French Guinea, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, and Saint-Pierre highlight French as their official language. French is the official language of the Walloon Region in Belgium with the exception of the East Cantons, which is German-speaking. It is also one of two official languages (joining Dutch) of the Brussels-Capital Region. In the province of Aosta Valley in Italy, French joins Italian as the official language. Throughout the land, an assortment of Franco-Provencal dialects is spoken about the province.
In Haiti, the official language is French, which is mostly spoke by the well educated and members of the upper class. The French-based Creole language, known as Haitian Creole, is also widely spoken throughout Haiti, as well as parts of Louisiana. Joining German, Italian, and Romansh, French is one of four official languages of Switzerland. It is estimated that 20% of all Swiss claim French as their native language.
Additional French-speaking countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, and Vanuatu.