French (Français, IPA: [fʁɑ̃sɛ]) is a Romance language spoken as a first language by most people from France, French-speaking Switzerland, Wallonia in Belgium and Quebec in Canada as well as minorities elsewhere. There are also second language speakers in many parts of the world, most second-language speakers of French living in Francophone Africa, where the highest proportions of French speakers are found in Gabon (80%) Mauritius (72.7%) and Côte d’Ivoire (70%). It is estimated as having 75 million native speakers and 190 million second language speakers.
French is a descendant of the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Sardinian and Catalan. Its closest relatives however are the other langues d’oïl and French-based creole languages. Its development was also influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders.
It is an official language in 30 countries, most of which form what is called, in French, La Francophonie, the community of French-speaking countries. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organizations. According to the European Union, 129 million (or 26% of the Union’s total population), in 27 member states speak French, of which 65 million are native speakers and 69 million claim to speak French either as a second language or as a foreign language, making it the third most spoken second language in the Union, after English and German. Twenty-percent of non-Francophone Europeans know how to speak French, totaling roughly 145.6 million people.
In addition, from the 17th century to the mid 20th century, French served as the pre-eminent international language of diplomacy and international affairs as well as a lingua franca among the educated classes of Europe. The dominant position of the French language has only recently been overshadowed by English, since the emergence of the USA as a major power.
As a result of extensive colonial ambitions of France and Belgium (at that time governed by a French-speaking elite), between the 17th and 20th centuries, French was introduced to America, Africa, Polynesia, South-East Asia, and the Caribbean.
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