World Status of the French Language

Linguistic affiliation

French belongs to the Indo-European family like most languages spoken in Europe and northern India, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

French belongs to the Gallo-Roman group of Romance languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Romanian, and many other languages.



Castilian or Spanish (off.), Asturian, Leonese, Andalusian, Aragonese, Extremaduran, Ladino
Portuguese (off.), Galician, Mirandese, Açoriano, Algarvio, Alentejano, Minho dialect, Beirão dialect, Madeira dialect, Upper Vouga and Mondego dialect, Castelo Branco and Portalegre dialect, Trás-os-Montes dialect
Catalan (and Valencian), Roussillonese, and Aranese
Limousin, Auvergnat, Provençal, Languedoc, Gascon, etc.
Italian /Florentine (off.), Piedmontese, Lombard, Ligurian, Emilian-Romagnol, Venitian, Istrian, Tuscan, Corsican, Sicilian, Calabrian, Lucanian, Abruzzese, Marchigiano, Apulian, etc.; Sardinian (Campidanese, Logudorese, Gallurese)


French (off.), Walloon, Picard, Norman, Berrichon, Champenois, Franc-Comtois, Burgundian, Bourbonnais, Tourangeau, Angevin, Poitevin, Saintongeais, Gallo, Orléanais, Creusois, etc.; Franco-Provençal


Rhaeto-Romance Romanche, Ladin, Friulian
Daco-Romanian (off.), Megleno-Romanian, Macedo-Romanian, Istrio-Romanian; Dalmatian (extinct)

Note that regardless of subgroup (Ibero-Romance, Italo-Romance, Gallo-Romance, etc.), the many languages listed in this table are descended from popular Latin by way of Romance (or lingua romana rustica) like prestigious languages including Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian.

The table below briefly illustrates the similarities between certain Romance languages:









clave clé chiave llave clau clau chave cheie
nocte nuit notte noche nuèit/nuèch nit noite noapte
cantare chanter cantare cantar cantar cantar cantar cînta
capra chèvre capra cabra cabra cabra cabra capra
lingua langue lingua lengua lenga llengua lingua limbǎ
platea place piazza plaza plaça plaça praça piaţǎ
pons pont ponte puente pònt pont ponte pod
ecclesia église chiesa iglesia glèisa església igreja bisericǎ
hospitalis hôpital ospedale hospital espitau hospital hospital spital
caseus fromage formaggio queso formatge formatge queijo fromaĝo

While not all words in Romance languages resemble each other, similarities are relatively normal. Still, many words differ from one Romance language to the next, especially French due to its Franconian influence.

French Speakers

French is the mother tongue of an estimated 80 million people and the second language of 128 million. It is the official language in some thirty countries, including over 50 states:

States: 53
Countries: 31
Bilingual: (*)


(in millions)

Official Language(s)

Belgium*  Europe 10,1 M French, Dutch, German
Benin Africa 5,7 M French
Berne* (Switzerland) Europe 947,000 French, German
Burkina Faso Africa 11,3  M French
Burundi* Africa 6,4 M French, Kirundi
Cameroon* Africa 14,3 M French, English
Canada* America 29,6 M English, French
Central African Republic Africa 3,6 M French, Sango
Comoros* Africa 600,000 French, Arabic
Congo-Brazzaville Africa 2,6 M French
Congo-Kinshasa Africa 49,1 M French
Ivory Coast Africa 15,3 M French
Djibouti* Africa 588,100 Arabic, French
France Europe 57,2 M French
Fribourg* (Switzerland) Europe 239,100 French, German
Gabon Africa 1,3 M French
Geneva (Switzerland) Europe 398,900 French
Guadeloupe (F) America 421,632 French
Guinea Africa 7,8 M French
Equatorial Guinea Africa 465,746 Spanish, French
French Guyana America 150,000 French
Haïti America 7,1 M French, Creole
Jura (Switzerland) Europe 690,000 French
Luxembourg Europe 441,100 French
Madagascar* Africa 14,6 M Malagasy (French)
Mali Africa 11,0 M French
Martinique (F) America 381,467 French
Mauritania* Africa 2,3 M Arabic, French
Mayotte Island (France) Africa 135,000 French
Monaco Europe 30,000 French
Neuchâtel (Switzerland) Europe 166,500 French
Niger Africa 9,2 M French
New Brunswick * (CND) America 719,710 English, French
New Caledonia (F) Pacific 196,000 French
Nunavut* (CND) America 26,675 English, French, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun
French Polynesia (F) Pacific 219,521 French
Pondichéry* (India) Asie 40,000 Hindi/French
Quebec (CND) America 7,1 M French
Réunion (F) Africa 675,000 French
Rwanda* Africa 7,7 M Kinyarwanda, French, English
Saint Pierre and Miquelon (F) America 6,316 French
Senegal Africa 8,4 M French
Seychelles Africa 79,000 English, French, Creole
Federal Republic of Switzerland Europe 6,5 M German, French, Italian
Chad Africa 8,7 M Arabic, French
Northwest Territories * (CND) America 37,105 English, French
Togo Africa 5,2 M French
Val-d'Aoste* (Italy) Europe 117,000 Italian, French
Valais* (Switzerland) Europe 278,200 French, German
Vanuatu* Pacific 200,000 English, French, Beach-la-Mar
Vaud (Switzerland) Europe 626,200 French
Wallis and Futuna (F) Pacific 14,166 French

Below is a map of French-speaking countries in the world:

Source: Map reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. Mikael Parkvall
of Institutionen för lingvistik, University of Stockholm

French in Canada

French is the official language of Canadian federal bodies, together with English. According to the 2001 census, it is also the mother tongue of 22.7% of the population. Out of 29.6 million Canadians, 6.7 million are native French speakers, while anglophones form 59.3% of the population and 17.6% speak a mother tongue other than French or English. French is thus a minority language in Canada.

Source: For more information, please see the Library and Archives Canada website at