With close to 169 million French-speakers spread over 5 continents, French is no doubt a language that counts. 3.2% of the world’s population speaks French which makes it the 9th most common language, and that’s without counting the 84 million people who are learning it. Less spoken, of course, than Hindi or Chinese, the “language of Molière” remains the only in the world, along with English, that is spoken on all of the continents.
A world language
- Europe is home to 44% of the world’s French-speaking population. Aside from France, French is spoken in Belgium (45% of the population), in Switzerland (20% of the population) and in Luxembourg. In the European Union, to which we add Switzerland, French is the second largest native language with 71 million speakers, placing it just behind German (90 million German speakers) but ahead of English (61 million).
- In North Africa, first of all, where French is a majority language, 64% of Tunsians, 57% of Algerians, and 41.5% of Moroccans speak it. Also in the Arab world, Lebanon and its 1.5 million French speakers remains a central pivot of the francophone world.
- Sub-Saharan Africa, in 1997, included close to 29.5 million French speakers, of which a third were located in equatorial West Africa, 29% in tropical Africa, a quarter in equatorial East Africa, and finally 14% in the African Sahel.
- Another large francophone community can be found in North America. The largest francophone minority in the world lives in Canada, with 9.6 of a total 27.3 inhabitants speaking the language (according to 1997 estimates). American francophones are principally concentrated in Quebec where they represent more than 80% of the population. Also, in the United States, close to 300,000 people speak French in Louisiana. Additionally, there are French speakers to be found in the extra-territorial departments (Les déptartements d'outre mer (DOM): Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana) and Haiti where nearly 7.4 million inhabitants are francophone.
- At the other end of the world, in Asia, it is in Indo-China that French speakers reside in the greatest numbers, especially in Vietnam with some 375,000 speakers. Lastly, in the Indian Ocean, a quarter of the population is francophone, or 18 million people.
An institutional language
Though renowned as a language of culture, French is also a language of work and a language of politics.
It is one of the two official working languages of the U.N. as well as the International Olympic Committee, the only universal language of postal services, and the principle language of the African Union.
The International Francophone Organization (L'Organisation internationale de la francophonie OIF) is comprised of states that share certain linguistic values revolving around the French language. 50 countries are members and 10 others states with observer status participate.
Each year, March 20 is celebrated as the “International Francophone Day” with different cultural expositions all over the world.