What Makes French Unique?
French grows increasingly popular every day. It’s one of the most regularly taught languages in the world and brings to mind images of love, the Eiffel Tower, and Monet. From Astérix to French cinema, there are plenty of reasons to study French. And if you’re interested in how to study French, a great way to begin is by familiarizing yourself with facts about the language before starting one of the best language learning programs. Here are ten incredible facts you may not know about the French language to get you started.
French is a Romance language, descended from the Vulgar (nonstandard) Latin. Vulgar Latin was essentially informal Latin, whereas traditional Latin is what scholars and academics tend to study. All of the romance languages are descended from Vulgar Latin. And through French’s existence, the language has transformed from Old French, to Middle, and now to Modern French.
The literary integrity of the French language has been preserved by the Académie française since its creation in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu. The Academy consists of 40 members who oversee the language, adding new words and contemplating changes to modernize the language. Many languages have similar types of academies except for English.
The academy recently announced there would be significant changes in the French language in 2016. The Academy voted to remove the use of the circumflex over both the “i” and “u,” changing the spelling of many words. They also voted to change the spellings of some words like “oignon” to “ognon.” They believe removing some silent letters will make it easier to learn the language.
With nearly 80 million native speakers and over 274 million speakers worldwide, French is one of the most popular languages in the world. In fact, French is an official language of 29 countries and is the sixth most spoken language in the world.
There is also an organization that promotes the global speaking of French known as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). A francophone is a French-speaking person.
Part of the widespread use of French is a result of Belgian and French colonialism that spread the language around the world. While roughly 40 percent of French speakers reside in Europe, there are also significant populations of speakers in Africa, Canada, and many other countries.
Since the end of World War 2, the number of French speakers has tripled. Interestingly enough, the language’s popularity continues to increase as French-speaking countries in Africa continue to grow and develop. Current projections show that the population of French speakers around the world could increase to over 750 million by 2050. This number isn’t too surprising when you take into account that there are currently 500,000 French teachers instructing over 120 million students worldwide.
In the United Nations, French sits next to Arabic, Chinese, English, Russian, and Spanish as one of the five working Languages of the United Nations. And in the European Union, it’s one of three procedural languages, the other two being German and English. The list doesn’t end there. French is also a working language for many international organizations such as UNESCO, WHO, NATO, and others.
As strange as it may sound, the French language wasn’t widely used across France until after the French Revolution. Before this period, France had pockets where various dialects were used. In fact, until the 19th Century, French was used more in Germany and Holland.
English is indeed a collage of other languages. And while it shares strong similarities to German, its French influence cannot be denied. This is a result of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 A.D. As a result of a successful invasion of England, William the Conqueror placed french nobles in power who ruled over the English.
Anglo-Norman French was the result of this lengthy infusion of the French language into the English language that had been mostly Germanic up until that time. The French ruled England for 300 years, and over that span, the English language changed.
Presently, roughly 28 percent of the English language is French. In addition to this influence, there are many French loanwords as well. A few examples of these are “café,” “déjà vu,” “décor,” “naïve,” and “restaurant.”
Every language approaches counting in their own, unique way, but with French, it can be seen as strange at times. Nowhere is clearer than between the numbers 80 and 99. While in English you would say “eighty-three,” in French, you would say, “quatre-vingts, or “four twenties. It gets really interesting when you reach 99. Instead of saying, ninety-nine, you would say, “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” or “four twenties, ten, nine.”
This partial vigesimal system or system of counting by twenty came about after the French Revolution as a way of unifying the counting system. You can see a similar relation in the use of “score” in the English system, though its no longer practiced.
French food is renown. The wine, the bread, the cheese, the very cuisine served in French restaurants around the world makes people’s mouths salivate. And the impact of French food on the culinary world brings the French language with it. Words like foie gras, brie, baguette, and crème brûlée are a few examples of popular cuisine many have tried. Wines like Champagne, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc are only a few of the many popular examples.
And it isn’t only with food and drink, but with cooking techniques such as Julienne, blanching, and sautéing. Of course, no chef would even think about beginning to cook without the proper “mise en place” or the essentials.
France boasts some of the most popular films and books around the world. The French comic, Astérix, showcasing the adventures of a short Gallic warrior is a popular French cartoon. It has sold millions of copies, been widely translated, and made into at least 13 feature films. Antoine Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince or the Little Prince is the translated, non-religious book in the world. Its popularity has led to 300 different translations. And French cinema is second only to Hollywood with over 200 films made each year. France also hosts one of the most prestigious film festival, the Cannes Film Festival.
If you are intrigued by the information on this list and want to know more about French, there are many ways to expand your knowledge. You can experience French cinema or head down to your local French Quarter and try some famous French cuisine. But perhaps the best option is to choose a French language program that will help develop your French skills.
Reading into a culture and their language is a great way to learn more about a country and its people. However, if you’re genuinely interested in French, then there is no better way than learning the language. Finding an excellent language program is the next step to learning even more about the French language.