French is one of the Romance languages (along with Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish), which evolved from Latin, and were spread with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The Gallo-Roman dialect that developed in the northern regions of France was the precursor of modern-day French. French officially replaced Latin as the language of the French government in 1539. Today, 29 countries across the globe have French as their official language, and it is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. It is the procedural language of the European Union, and one of the recognized languages of the United Nations.
In Europe alone, there are about 80 million people who speak French at home. Let’s have a look at the European countries that speak French, or Francophone countries, as they are known.
European Francophone Countries
France has the highest number of native French speakers in the world – about 60 million. There are more populous countries with French as an official language, but in these, it is spoken as a second or third language by a majority of the population. Conversely, there are several immigrant languages spoken in France. After French itself, the largest home language in France is Maghrebi Arabic, which originates from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya (the first three of which are ex-colonies of France.) There are also several different French dialects, including such as Alsacian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, and Occitan. The Académie Française was officially recognized by Louis XIII in 1635, to protect the French language. And since 1996, the media regulator, Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel (CSA), requires that 40% of all music played on private radio stations be French.
France has consistently ranked as the most visited country in the world as compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, with 89,5 million international tourist arrivals in 2019. It is the biggest country in the European Union, and its language is not the only thing it takes seriously. French gastronomy has been included on the list of ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’ with UNESCO and was awarded World Heritage status in 2010.
Next country in Europe that speak French is Belgium, which is bordered by France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany. It shares North Sea maritime borders with the United Kingdom. Belgium has about 4 million native French speakers, nearly half its population. It is a three-region federation, with four language areas established by the Second Gilson Act of 1963. The Belgium Constitution of 1970 allows for federal, regional, and community governments as a means to minimize linguistic and cultural tensions. In the north of the country is Flanders, which is predominantly Dutch-speaking. The francophone region of Wallonia lies in the south and includes a German-speaking minority in the east. The capital, Brussels, is bilingual, with French and Dutch both being official languages.
Switzerland in central Europe is landlocked by Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Liechtenstein. It has about 2 million native French speakers, roughly 20% of the population, making Switzerland one of the European countries whose official language is French. The other languages spoken in Switzerland are Italian, German and Romansh. All four are regarded as official national languages but are confined to specific regions. Swiss-German has evolved from local dialects no longer spoken in either Germany or Austria, and standard German speakers struggle to understand it. This is not true of Swiss-French or Swiss-Italian, though. Romansh is most similar to German and was only recognized as an official language in 1997. About 37,000 people speak it.
Unlike other multilinguistic countries in Europe, Switzerland has not been plagued by internal, culturally-based strife. And it consistently ranks near the top in happiness ratings. This is perhaps attributable to its maintained stance of neutrality. (Switzerland did not participate in either of the two World Wars.) It could also be because the Swiss eat more chocolate than anyone else, averaging 24,25lbs each per year.
Luxembourg, in western Europe, is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and France. About 16% of its population of almost 600,000 people speak French as their home language. Luxembourg is only 999 sm2 but has three official languages, Luxembourgish, German and French. The country achieved independence in 1890. Before that, it switched multiple times between French and German rule, and once was even ruled by the Netherlands. Luxembourgish is considered by many to be just a dialect of standard German. Seeing as there are no commonly agreed on criteria to distinguish between dialects and languages, it seems a pointless argument. The challenge for Luxembourgish is most evident in written language requirements, however. As recently as 1999, changes were still being made to writing conventions. French is the predominant language in education from secondary school level and in business.
Luxembourg has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world and was one of the founding six members of the European Economic Community in 1958, the precursor to the European Union.
We end our list of countries in Europe which speak English with Monaco. The principality of Monaco is an enclave within France on the French Riviera, close to the Italian border. After the Vatican, it is the smallest sovereign state, and its official language is French. There are approximately 38,000 residents in Monaco, but the Monégasque are a minority consisting of only 21,6%. French nationals are the biggest group, at 28.4%. The country’s lack of income or corporate tax attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy from across the globe. At prestigious events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and annual Monaco Yacht Show, one will hear a cacophony of different languages. This is especially true in the Monte Carlo Casino and others, where the native Monégasque are barred from entering due to anti-gambling legislation.
French is one of the fastest-growing languages and is taught in every country in the world.
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