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French language

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Native toFrance
RegionFrancophonie (French-speaking world)
(geographical distribution below)
Native speakers
300 million speakers (2019)[1]
An estimated 300 million French speakers (L1 plus L2; 2019)[1][2]
Early forms
Latin (French alphabet)
French Braille
Signed French
(français signé)
Official status
Official language in

Numerous international organisations
Regulated byAcadémie française (French Academy) (France)
Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Board of the French Language) (Quebec)
Language codes
ISO 639-1fr
ISO 639-2fre (B)
fra (T)
ISO 639-3fra
  Regions where French is the main language
  Regions where it is an official language
  Regions where it is a second language
  Regions where it is a minority language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

French (French: français, pronounced "Fronce-eh") is a Romance language that was first spoken in France. It is also spoken in Belgium (Wallonia), Luxembourg, Canada (Quebec), Switzerland (Romandy) and with many different countries in Africa (Francophone Africa). About 220 million people speak French as a native or a second language.[3] It has also been one of the roots of other languages such as the Haitian Creole language. Like the other Romance languages, its nouns have genders that are divided into masculine (masculin) and feminine (féminin) words.

History[change | change source]

In ancient times, the Celts lived in what is now France.[4] In those days, the land was called Gaul (Latin: Gallia). The Romans conquered Gallia and divided it into provinces. Because the Romans spoke Latin, the local people learned Latin and began to speak it. Their own language, Gaulish, tended to be spoken less often, although Breton is a language still spoken today in the part of France called Brittany, that came from the old Celtic language.

Francophone Africa

French pronunciation, more so than other Romance languages, became radically different from Latin. After the Roman Empire fell and Germanic peoples swarmed the countryside, Vulgar Latin was changing quickly. In medieval France it changed into two dialects or languages: langue d'oc and langue d'oïl. They both mean "language of yes", because oc was the word for "yes" in the south, and oïl meant "yes" in the north. Today, the word for yes in French is oui, pronounced like "we".

In 1635, France established the French Academy in order to standardize the French language. To this day, the academy establishes the rules for Standard French.

Langue d'oc is now called Occitan, and it is still spoken by many people in Southern France.

Letters[change | change source]

French uses the Latin alphabet, just like English. There are a few differences because vowels can have with three types of diacritics added on to them. They are the acute accent é; grave accent è and circumflex accent î. A cedilla can also be added onto a c to make ç.

Vowels[change | change source]

  • a is pronounced like in "father".
  • ai and ei are pronounced like the "ay" in "say"
  • an and en are pronounced like the "on" in "wrong", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • au and eau are pronounced like the "o" in "note".
  • In the endings er and ez, e is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
  • eu is pronounced like the "e" in "verse".
  • Otherwise, e is like the a in "about". However, it is silent if it comes on the end of a word, unless it's a short word.
  • é is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
  • è and ê are pronounced like the "e" in "bed".
  • Apart from e, the three diacritics don't really affect how other vowels are pronounced.
  • i and y are pronounced like the "ee" in "tree".
  • in is pronounced like the "an" in "bank", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • o is pronounced like in "note".
  • oi is pronounced like a "w", following by the "a" in "father".
  • oin is pronounced like the "wan" in "twang".
  • on is pronounced like the "on" in "long", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • ou is pronounced like the "oo" in "food".
  • œ is pronounced like the "e" in "verse" but with more rounded lips.
  • u is not a sound that exists in English. It is pronounced like saying the "ee" in "feed", but with your lips rounded in the way that you would say the word "food".
  • un is pronounced like the "un" in "hung", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.

Consonants[change | change source]

  • Like in English, c is pronounced as a "k" before most letters but as a soft "s" before e, i or y.
  • ç is pronounced as a soft "s".
  • ch, sh and sch are pronounced like the "sh" in "shop".
  • g is pronounced as a hard "g" before most letters. Before e, i or y, it is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
  • gn is pronounced like the "ny" in "canyon".
  • h is always silent.
  • j is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
  • l is normally (but not always) pronounced like the "y" in "yes" if it comes after the letter i; otherwise it is pronounced as an "l".
  • m and n change if they come after a vowel - see above.
  • qu is pronounced as a "k".
  • r is pronounced differently to English, being a gargling sound made at the back of your throat.
  • th is pronounced as a "t", not like in English.
  • x is pronounced "gz" or "ks".
  • b, d, f, k, p, ph, s, t, v, w and z are pronounced the same as in English.

If a word ends with a consonant, this will usually not be pronounced unless the next word starts with a vowel. However, if the word is very short or the last consonant is a c, r, l or f, this is still pronounced.

Examples[change | change source]

Spoken French

Here are some examples of French words and sentences :

French English
Oui Yes (si when used as a reply to non or negative expressions)
Non No
Bonjour Hello (formal)
Au revoir Goodbye
Salut Hi and goodbye (informal)
Merci Thank you
Merci beaucoup Thank you very much
Monsieur Sir, mister
Madame Madam, Mrs.
Homme Man
Femme Woman
Fille Girl
Garçon Boy
Poulet Chicken
Formidable Wonderful
En vacances On vacation/holiday
Eau Water
Manger To eat
Parlez-vous français? Do you speak French?
Je parle français. I speak French.
Comment allez-vous? How are you? (formal or more than one person)
Comment vas-tu? How are you? (informal)
Je t'aime. I love you.
Où sont les toilettes s'il vous plaît ? Where are the toilets, please?
Comment t'appelles-tu? What is your name?
Je m'appelle... (your name) My Name is... (your name)
Je parle l'anglais I speak English
S'il vous plaît Please (Formal)
J'ai besoin d'un taxi I need a taxi

Many French words are like English words, because English took many words from the Norman language, a dialect of French influenced by Old Norse. This is true even though scholars consider English to be a Germanic language, like German. For example, many English words ending with "tion", "sion", "ible", or "able" came from the French language.

French and English have many cognates, which are words that look and sound similar because they come from the same source. Here are some examples:

French English
Non No
Théâtre Theatre
Crème Cream
Ballon Balloon
Difficile Difficult
Dragon Dragon
Rat Rat
Cinéma Cinema
Énergie Energy
Ennemi Enemy
Oncle Uncle
Impossible Impossible
Session Session
Conversation Conversation

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Ethnologue: French". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  2. "French language is on the up, report reveals". 6 November 2014.
  3. (in French) "Les francophones dans le monde" (Francophones in the world")— Gives details from a report. Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Celtic History". Retrieved 1 August 2010.

Related pages[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]