French (Français, IPA: [fʁɑ̃sɛ]) is a Romance language spoken as a first language by around 236 million people worldwide. A total of 270 million speak it as either a first or as a second language. Moreover, roughly 110 million people learn French as a second or third language. French speaking communities are present in 56 countries and territories. Most native speakers of the language live in France, the rest live essentially in Canada, particularly Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario, as well as Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, and certain places in the U.S. states of Maine and Louisiana. Most second-language speakers of French live in Francophone Africa, arguably exceeding the number of native speakers.
French is a descendant of the Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are national languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and Catalan, and minority languages ranging from Occitan to Neapolitan and many more. 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 French language has only been overshadowed recently by English.Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_language
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