French (français), is a Romance language spoken originally in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, and today by about 300 million people around the world as a mother tongue.
It is an official language in 41 countries, most of which form what is called in French La Francophonie, the community of French-speaking nations. French as a foreign language is the second most frequently taught language in the world after English. Along with English, it is perhaps the most used language in the European Commission.
Descended from the Latin of the Roman Empire, along with Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Romanian and Portuguese languages, its development was influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul, and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. This is one of the reasons why certain French sounds and spellings are distinctly different from those of Spanish and Italian, for example, and why Spanish and Italian sound more similar to one another than French does to either one of them.
French pronunciation follows strict rules based on spelling, but French spelling is often based more on history than phonology.
French is written using 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, plus five diacritics: three accents over the vowels, the acute (´) over e, the grave (`) over a and e, and the circumflex (ˆ) over a, e, i, o, and u, and two ligatures (æ, œ). A cedilla placed below the letter c (ç) signals that the c is to be pronounced as s. Ordinarily, c is pronounced as k before a, o, u, or a consonant and as s before e and i.
Accents are used sometimes for pronunciation, sometimes to distinguish similar words, and sometimes for etymology alone.
French grammar shares several notable features with most other Romance languages, including:
- the loss of Latin’s declensions
- only two grammatical genders
- the development of grammatical articles from Latin demonstratives
- new tenses formed from auxiliaries
French word order is Subject Verb Object, except when the object is a pronoun, in which case the word order is Subject Object Verb. Some rare archaisms allow for different word orders.
The majority of French words derive from Vulgar Latin or were constructed from Latin or Greek roots. There are often pairs of words, one form being popular (noun) and the other one savant (adjective), both originating from Latin.
- brother: frère / fraternel < from Latin FRATER
- finger: doigt / digital < from Latin DIGITVS
- faith: foi / fidèle < from Latin FIDES
- cold: froid / frigide < from Latin FRIGIDVS
- eye: œil / oculaire < from Latin OCVLVS
The French words which have developed from Latin are usually less recognisable than Italian words of Latin origin because as French developed into a separate language from Vulgar Latin, the unstressed final syllable of many words was dropped or elided into the following word.
The language has changed little since the Middle French period. Standardization of the language has been aided in modern times by more widespread education and by the mass media. You will notice there are some differences in a dialect such as “Canadian French”, which is spoken in the Quebec area of Canada.
Source: Wikipedia. (This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable”)