What Languages Are Spoken in France?

The flag of France.
The flag of France.

Official Language of France

France is a country located in the western region of Europe and has a population size of approximately 64.86 million people. Additionally, France has a number of territories and regions around the world, with a total population of 2.13 million. French has been the official language of France since 1992, but has been the country's administrative language for legal documents and laws since 1539.

The French language evolved from the Vulgar Latin language, which was used during the Roman Empire. This language is believed to have originated in the northern region of present-day France and gradually evolved into Old French and Middle French, respectively. Today, Modern French is considered part of the Indo-European language family and belongs to the Romance language subgroup.

As the official language, French is the primary form of communication used by government and the education system. Additionally, the law dictates that all legal contracts and commercial advertising must be available in French, although other languages are also permitted with a French translation. This language is also one of the official languages of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United Nations, and the European Union.

Regional Languages of France

Over 25 regional languages are spoken throughout Metropolitan France and some of these are spoken in neighboring countries such as Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Belgium. The regional languages of France are divided into 5 language family subgroups: Vasconic, Italo-Dalmatian, Gallo-Romance, Germanic, and Celtic. The Gallo-Romance language subgroup is further divided into the largest number of regional languages and has the largest number of speakers.

The most widely spoken regional language in France is Occitan, a Gallo-Romance language, which can be heard throughout the southern region of the country. Linguists believe this language originated in the 10th century, when it was used to write poetry. Nearly 1,000 years later, in the late 19th century, a poet attempted to revive the language by standardizing its written form.

Today, Occitan is spoken by approximately 610,000 individuals and consists of 7 dialects: Gascon, Limousin, Nissart, Languedocien, Proven├žal, Auvergnat, and Vivaroalpenc. Most speakers of these languages belong to older generations and speak French as a first language, which means the Occitan dialects are in danger of becoming extinct.

Immigrant Languages Spoken in France

In addition to the large number of regional languages spoken in France, a wide variety of immigrant languages have also become an important part of daily life in the country. The most widely spoken immigrant languages in France include English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Maghrebi Arabic, Berber, and Vietnamese.

According to the 1999 census, Maghrebi Arabic is the most widely spoken immigrant language in this country. Approximately 940,000 individuals, or 2.05% of the population of Metropolitan France, reported speaking the Maghrebi Arabic language as their native tongue. Additionally, it is considered the most commonly spoken second language in this country, and millions of individuals report speaking it at home. Most of these second-language speakers are likely children of first-generation immigrants. Maghrebi Arabic, sometimes known as Western Arabic, originates in and is primarily spoken in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia.


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