Spoken by 12% of the European Union's population, French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the EU after German, English and Italian; it is also the third-most widely known language of the Union after English and German (33% of the EU population report knowing how to speak English, 22% of Europeans understand German, 20% French).
Under the Constitution of France, French has been the official language of the Republic since 1992 (although the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts made it mandatory for legal documents in 1539). France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.
In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia (excluding a part of the East Cantons, which are German-speaking) and one of the two official languages—along with Dutch—of the Brussels-Capital Region, where it is spoken by the majority of the population often as their primary language.
French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland (along with German, Italian, and Romansh) and is spoken in the western part of Switzerland, called Romandy, of which Geneva is the largest city. The language divisions in Switzerland do not coincide with political subdivisions, and some cantons have bilingual status: for example, cities such as Biel/Bienne and cantons such as Valais, Fribourg and Berne. French is the native language of about 23% of the Swiss population, and is spoken by 50.4% of the population.
French is also an official language of Monaco and Luxembourg, as well as in the Aosta Valley region of Italy, while French dialects remain spoken by minorities on the Channel Islands. It is also spoken in Andorra and is main communication language after Catalan in El Pas de la Casa. The language is taught as the primary second language in the German land of Saarland, with French being taught from pre-school and over 43% of citizens being able to speak French.
Countries usually considered part of Francophone Africa.
Their population was 410 million in 2017,
and it is forecast to reach between 848 million
and 867 million
Countries sometimes considered as Francophone Africa
Countries that are not Francophone but are Members or Observers of the OIF
A bulk of the world's French-speaking population lives in Africa. According to the 2007 report by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone countries can speak French as either a first or a second language. This number does not include the people living in non-Francophone African countries who have learned French as a foreign language. Due to the rise of French in Africa, the total French-speaking population worldwide is expected to reach 700 million people in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent (in terms of either official or foreign languages).
French is mostly a second language in Africa, but it has become a first language in some urban areas, such as the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast and in Libreville, Gabon. There is not a single African French, but multiple forms that diverged through contact with various indigenous African languages.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand, because of the expansion of education and rapid population growth. It is also where the language has evolved the most in recent years. Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries, but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.
The "arrêt" signs
(French for "stop") are used in Canada
while the English stop,
which is also a valid French word, is used in France as well as other French-speaking countries and regions.
French is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. It is the first language of 9.5 million people or 29% and the second language for 2.07 million or 6% of the entire population of Canada. French is the sole official language in the province of Quebec, being the mother tongue for some 7 million people, or almost 80% (2006 Census) of the province. About 95% of the people of Quebec speak French as either their first or second language, and for some as their third language. Quebec is also home to the city of Montreal, which is the world's 4th-largest French-speaking city, by number of first language speakers. New Brunswick and Manitoba are the only officially bilingual provinces, though full bilingualism is enacted only in New Brunswick, where about one third of the population is Francophone. French is also an official language of all of the territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon). Out of the three, Yukon has the most French speakers, comprising just under 4% of the population. Furthermore, while French is not an official language in Ontario, the French Language Services Act ensures that provincial services are to be available in the language. The Act applies to areas of the province where there are significant Francophone communities, namely Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Elsewhere, sizable French-speaking minorities are found in southern Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the unique Newfoundland French dialect was historically spoken. Smaller pockets of French speakers exist in all other provinces. The city of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is also effectively bilingual, as it is on the other side of a river from Quebec, opposite the major city of Gatineau, and is required to offer governmental services in French as well as English.
French language spread in the United States. Counties marked in lighter pink are those where 6–12% of the population speaks French at home; medium pink, 12–18%; darker pink, over 18%. French-based creole languages
are not included.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011), French is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish, and Chinese, when all forms of French are considered together and all dialects of Chinese are similarly combined. French remains the second most-spoken language in the states of Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Louisiana is home to many distinct dialects, collectively known as Louisiana French. Cajun French has the largest number of speakers, mostly living in Acadiana. According to the 2000 United States Census, there are over 194,000 people in Louisiana who speak French at home, the most of any state if Creole French is excluded. New England French, essentially a variant of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of New England. Missouri French was historically spoken in Missouri and Illinois (formerly known as Upper Louisiana), but is nearly extinct today.
French is one of Haiti's two official languages. It is the principal language of writing, school instruction, and administrative use. It is spoken by all educated Haitians and is used in the business sector. It is also used for ceremonial events such as weddings, graduations and church masses. About 70–80% of the country's population have Haitian Creole as their first language; the rest speak French as a first language. The second official language is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, which virtually the entire population of Haiti speaks. Haitian Creole is one of the French-based creole languages, drawing the large majority of its vocabulary from French, with influences from West African languages, as well as several European languages. Haitian Creole is closely related to Louisiana Creole and the creole from the Lesser Antilles.
French is the official language of both French Guiana on the South American continent, and of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, an archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland in North America.
Areas of French Colonization
French was the official language of the colony of French Indochina, comprising modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It continues to be an administrative language in Laos and Cambodia, although its influence has waned in recent years. In colonial Vietnam, the elites primarily spoke French, while many servants who worked in French households spoke a French pidgin known as "Tây Bồi" (now extinct). After French rule ended, South Vietnam continued to use French in administration, education, and trade. Since the Fall of Saigon and the opening of a unified Vietnam's economy, French has gradually been effectively displaced as the main foreign language of choice by English. French nevertheless maintains its colonial legacy by being spoken as a second language by the elderly and elite populations and is presently being revived in higher education and continues to be a diplomatic language in Vietnam. All three countries are official members of the OIF.
French is spoken in Pondicherry due to French rule in India.
A former French colony, Lebanon designates Arabic as the sole official language, while a special law regulates cases when French can be publicly used. Article 11 of Lebanon's Constitution states that "Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language is to be used". French language in Lebanon is widely used as a second language by the Lebanese people, and is taught in many schools as a secondary language along with Arabic and English. The language is also used on Lebanese pound bank notes, on road signs, on Lebanese license plates, and on official buildings (alongside Arabic).
Today, French and English are secondary languages of Lebanon, with about 40% of the population being Francophone and 40% Anglophone. The use of English is growing in the business and media environment. Out of about 900,000 students, about 500,000 are enrolled in Francophone schools, public or private, in which the teaching of mathematics and scientific subjects is provided in French. Actual usage of French varies depending on the region and social status. One third of high school students educated in French go on to pursue higher education in English-speaking institutions. English is the language of business and communication, with French being an element of social distinction, chosen for its emotional value. On social media, French was used on Facebook by just 10% of Lebanese in 2014, far behind English (78%).
Similarly to Lebanon, Syria was also a French League of Nations-mandate area until 1943, but today the French language is largely limited to some members of the elite and middle classes.
A significant French-speaking community is also present in Israel, primarily among the communities of French Jews in Israel, Moroccan Jews in Israel and Lebanese Jews. Many secondary schools offer French as a foreign language.
United Arab Emirates and Qatar
The UAE has the status in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie as an observer state, and Qatar has the status in the organization as an associate state. However, in both countries French is not spoken by almost any of the general population or migrant workers, but spoken by a small minority of those who invest in Francophone countries or have other financial or family ties. Their entrance as observer and associate states respectively into the organisation was aided a good deal by their investments into the Organisation and France itself. A country's status as an observer state in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie gives the country the right to send representatives to organization meetings and make formal requests to the organization but they do not have voting rights within the OIF. A country's status as an associate state also does not give a country voting abilities but associate states can discuss and review organization matters.
Oceania and Australasia
French is an official language of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu where 45% of the population can speak French. In the French special collectivity of New Caledonia, 97% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas only 1% have no knowledge of French. In French Polynesia, 95% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas only 1.5% have no knowledge of French. In the French collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, 78% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas 17% have no knowledge of French.