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10 facts you didn’t know about the French language

Posted on 26th July 2017Language & Culture

Did you know that French is spoken by more than 270 million people but in 1789 only 25% of French citizens actually spoke French?

1. French is the eighth most widely spoken language worldwide 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. 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.

5. 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

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

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

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

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