Languages of France

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Languages of France [1]
Langues de la France.svg
Languages and dialects of metropolitan France
Official French
Regional Alsatian; Catalan; Basque; Corsican; Breton; Gallo; Occitan; some Walloon; West Flemish; Franco-Provençal; Lorraine Franconian; French Guiana Creole; Guadeloupean Creole; Martiniquan Creole; Oïl languages; Réunion Creole; some twenty languages of New Caledonia, Yenish, the Maroon creoles and Amerindian languages of French Guiana
Immigrant Arabic, Berber, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Turkish, German, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Russian, Dutch, English [2]
Foreign English (39%) [3]
Spanish (13%)
German (8%)
Italian (5%)
Portuguese (3%)
Signed French Sign Language
Keyboard layout

Of the languages of France, the national language, French, is the only official language according to the second article of the French Constitution, and its standardized variant is by far the most widely spoken.


Several regional languages are also spoken to varying degrees as a secondary language after French, such as German dialects (Alsatian 1.44%), Celtic languages (Breton 0.61%) and other Gallo-Romance languages (Langues d'Oïl 1.25%, Occitan 1.33%). Some of these languages have also been spoken in neighbouring countries, such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy or Spain.


The official language of the French Republic is French (art. 2 of the French Constitution) and the French government is, by law, compelled to communicate primarily in French. The government, furthermore, mandates that commercial advertising be available in French (though it can also use other languages). The French government, however, does not mandate the use of French by private individuals or corporations or in any other media.

A revision of the French constitution creating official recognition of regional languages was implemented by the Parliament in Congress at Versailles in July 2008. [4]

The 1999 Report written for the government by Bernard Cerquiglini identified 75 languages that would qualify for recognition under the government's proposed ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Of those languages, 24 are indigenous to the European territory of the state while all the others are from overseas areas of the French Republic (in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and South America).

Although ratification was blocked by the Constitutional Council as contradicting the Fifth Republic's constitutional provision enshrining French as the language of the Republic, the government continues to recognise regional and minority languages to a limited extent (i.e. without granting them official status) and the Délégation générale à la langue française has acquired the additional function of observing and studying the languages of France and has had et aux langues de France added to its title. The category of languages of France (in French: langues de France) is thus administratively recognised even if this does not go so far as to provide any official status. Following his election as President, François Hollande reasserted in 2012 his campaign platform to ratify the European Charter and ensure a clear legal framework for regional languages (within a programme of administrative decentralisation that would give competencies to the regions in language policy). [5]

The regional languages of France are sometimes called patois , but this term (roughly meaning "dialects") is often considered derogatory. Patois is used to refer to supposedly purely oral languages,[ citation needed ] but this does not, for instance, take into account that Occitan was already being written at a time when French was not and its literature has continued to thrive, with a Nobel Prize for Frédéric Mistral in 1904.

It is estimated that at the time of the French Revolution in 1789, only half of the population of France could speak French, and as late as 1871 only a quarter spoke French as their native language. [6]

Language education

The topic of the teaching of regional languages in public primary and secondary schools is controversial. Proponents of the measure state that it would be necessary for the preservation of those languages and to show respect to the local culture. Opponents contend that local languages are often non-standardised (thus making curricula difficult), of dubious practical usefulness (since most are spoken by a small number of people, without any sizable corpus of publications) and that the curriculum and funding of public schools are already too strained. The topic also leads to wider controversial questions of autonomy of the régions . Regarding other languages, English, Spanish, Italian and German are the most commonly studied foreign languages in French schools.

In April 2001, the Minister of Education, Jack Lang, [7] stated formally that for more than two centuries, the political powers of the French government had repressed regional languages[ citation needed ], and announced that bilingual education would, for the first time, be recognised, and bilingual teachers recruited in French public schools.

Cross-border languages

Some of the languages of France are also cross-border languages (for example, Basque, Catalan, Corsican, Dutch, Franc-Comtois, Franco-Provençal, Norman, Picard, Occitan and others), some of which enjoy a recognised or official status in the respective neighbouring state or territory. French itself is also a cross-border language, being spoken in neighbouring Andorra, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, and Switzerland.

List of languages

Mother tongues of the French population (2007 AES)

   French (87.2%)
   Arabic (3.6%)
   Portuguese (1.5%)
   Spanish (1.2%)
   Italian (1.0%)
   German (0.7%)
   Turkish (0.5%)
   English (0.4%)
  Other languages (3.9%)

According to the 2007 Adult Education survey, part of a project by the European Union and carried in France by the Insee and based on a sample of 15,350 people, French was the mother tongue of 87.2% of the total population, or roughly 55.81 million people, followed by Arabic (3.6%, 2.3 million), Portuguese (1.5%, 960,000), Spanish (1.2%, 770,000) and Italian (1.0%, 640,000). People who spoke other languages natively made up the remaining 5.2% of the population. [8]

National language

Regional languages

The regional languages of Metropolitan France include:






Overseas languages

There are also several languages spoken in France's overseas areas (see Administrative divisions of France for details):

Sign language

French Sign Language is also recognised as a language of France (with at least one regional variant in Provence).

Immigrant languages

[9] A large number of immigrant languages are spoken in France, with a handful having a significant number of home speakers. (Figures as of 2000) [2]

Main immigrant languages


At the 1999 census, INSEE sampled 380,000 adult people all across Metropolitan France, and asked them questions about their family situation. One of the questions was about the languages that their parents spoke with them before the age of 5. This is the first time serious statistics were computed about the proportion of mother tongues in France. The results were published in Enquête familiale, Insee, 1999. [15] [ citation needed ]

Here is a list of the nine most prominent mother tongues in France based on Enquête familiale.[ citation needed ]

RankLanguageMother tonguePercentage of adult population
1 French 39,360,00086% (note that this figure is an underestimate because people under 18 years of age were not surveyed; see note #2 below the table)
2 German dialects (Alsatian, Lorraine Franconian, etc.)970,000 (of whom Alsatian: 660,000; standard German: 210,000; Lorraine Franconian: 100,000)2.12% (of whom Alsatian: 1.44%; standard German: 0.46%; Lorraine Franconian: 0.22%)
3 Maghrebi Arabic 940,0002.05%
4 Occitan language (Languedocian, Gascon, Provençal, etc.)610,000 (another 1,060,000 had some exposure)1.33% (another 2.32% had some exposure, see notes)
5 Portuguese 580,0001.27%
6 Oïl languages (Picard, Gallo, Poitevin, Saintongeais, etc.)570,000 (another 850,000 had some exposure)1.25% (another 1.86% had some exposure, see notes)
7 Italian, Corsican and Ligurian (Monegasque)540,0001.19%
8 Spanish 485,0001.06%
9 Breton 280,000 (another 405,000 had some exposure)0.61% (another 0.87% had some exposure, see notes)
10About 400 other languages: Polish, Berber languages, East Asian languages, Catalan, Franco-Provençal, Basque, West Flemish, etc., as well as those who gave no response2,350,000 (of whom English: 115,000)5.12% (of whom English: 0.25% of total adult population)
Total45,762,000 (46,680,000 including those with two mother tongues who were counted twice)102% (2% of people have both French and another language as their mother tongue, thus, they are counted twice)

When the people with mother tongue and people with some exposure to the language before the age of 5 (see note #3 below) are added together, the five most widely spoken languages in metropolitan France are (note that the percentages add up to more than 100, because many bilingual people are now counted twice):

Notes on the table

  1. The data in the table are about mother tongues , and not about actual language practice. It states that 14% of the adult people living in France in 1999 were born and raised up to the age of 5 in families that spoke only (or predominantly) some other languages than French. It does not mean that 14% of adult people in France spoke some other languages than French in 1999.
  2. Only adults (i.e. 18 years and older) were surveyed. This means that French people born between 1981 and 1999 are not included in the survey. The mother tongue of the younger generations is more predominantly French than is the case with the older generations because, as the Enquête familiale survey explains, regional and immigrant language transmission decreases dramatically with each new generation, as French replaces the regional and immigrant languages. In the Enquête familiale survey, only 35% of parents whose mother tongue was a regional or immigrant language reported that they spoke that language to their children. Thus, the 86% figure of people with French as their mother tongue is an underestimate because the younger generations whose predominant mother tongue is French are not counted.
  3. The concept of "mother tongue" may not give a complete idea of the phenomenon of minority languages in France. This is because there are many people who were born and raised in families in which parents spoke to them only (or predominantly) French, but in which some regional or immigration languages were also occasionally used. One example: while the data shows that 610,000 adults in 1999 had one of the Occitan dialects as their mother tongue, the survey also found out that another 1,060,000 adults were born and raised in families in which one of the Occitan dialects was occasionally spoken. Some of these 1,060,000 people may speak Occitan as fluently as the 610,000 people who have it as a mother tongue, while some other (the majority, probably) have only a limited knowledge of Occitan. That 1,670,000 adults are speakers of Occitan cannot be corroborated, but it may be the case that the total number of people with some form of exposure to Occitan is higher than the 610,000 figure, though some of may have stopped using the language altogether since then.

See also

Related Research Articles

Breton language Celtic language

Breton is a Southwestern Brittonic language of the Celtic language family spoken in Brittany.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Occitan language Romance language

Occitan, also known as lenga d'òc by its native speakers, is a Romance language spoken in Southern France, Monaco, Italy's Occitan Valleys, as well as Spain's Val d'Aran; collectively, these regions are sometimes referred to as Occitania. It is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese. Some include Catalan in Occitan, as the distance between this language and some Occitan dialects is similar to the distance among different Occitan dialects. In fact, Catalan was considered a dialect of Occitan until the end of the 19th century and still today remains its closest relative.

Alsatian dialect Low Alemannic German dialect spoken in most of Alsace, a region in eastern France

Alsatian refers to the Alemannic German dialects spoken in most of Alsace, a formerly disputed region in eastern France that has passed between French and German control five times since 1681.

Patois is speech or language that is considered nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined in linguistics. As such, patois can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars, but not commonly to jargon or slang, which are vocabulary-based forms of cant.

The Iberian Romance, Ibero-Romance or simply Iberian languages, is an areal grouping of Romance languages that developed on the Iberian Peninsula, an area consisting primarily of Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra, and in southern France which are today more commonly separated into West Iberian and Occitano-Romance language groups.

Diglossia situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community

In linguistics, diglossia is a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety, a second, highly codified lect is used in certain situations such as literature, formal education, or other specific settings, but not used normally for ordinary conversation. In most cases, the H variety has no native speakers but various degrees of fluency of the community in which the two languages exist.

Franco-Provençal language Gallo-Romance language spoken in France, Italy and Switzerland

Franco-Provençal is a dialect group within Gallo-Romance spoken in east-central France, western Switzerland, northwestern Italy, and in enclaves in the Province of Foggia in Apulia, Italy.

Langues doïl Dialect continuum that includes French and its closest relatives

The langues d'oïl are a dialect continuum that includes standard French and its closest autochthonous relatives historically spoken in the northern half of France, southern Belgium, and the Channel Islands. These belong to the larger Gallo-Romance languages, which also include the historical languages of east-central France and western Switzerland (Arpitania), southern France (Occitania), portions of northern Italy, and the Val d'Aran in Spain.

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A multitude of languages are used in Canada. According to the 2016 census, English and French are the mother tongues of 56.0% and 20.6% of Canadians respectively. In total 86.2% of Canadians have working knowledge of English while 29.8% have a working knowledge of French. Under the Official Languages Act of 1969, both English and French have official federal status throughout Canada, in respect of all government services, including the courts, and all federal legislation is enacted bilingually. New Brunswick is the only Canadian province that has both English and French as its official languages to the same extent, with constitutional entrenchment. Quebec's official language is French, although, in that province, the Constitution requires that all legislation be enacted in both French and English, and court proceedings may be conducted in either language. Similar constitutional protections are in place in Manitoba.

Language policy in France French as the sole official language

France has one official language, the French language. The French government does not regulate the choice of language in publications by individuals, but the use of French is required by law in commercial and workplace communications. In addition to mandating the use of French in the territory of the Republic, the French government tries to promote French in the European Union and globally through institutions such as La Francophonie. The perceived threat from Anglicisation has prompted efforts to safeguard the position of the French language in France.

Varieties of French Dialects

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Limonese Creole is a dialect of Jamaican Creole, an English-based creole language, spoken in Limón Province on the Caribbean Sea coast of Costa Rica. The number of native speakers is unknown, but 1986 estimates suggests that there are fewer than 60,000 native and second language speakers combined.

Lorraine Franconian dialect

Lorraine Franconian is an ambiguous designation for dialects of West Central German, a group of High German dialects spoken in the Moselle department of the former north-eastern French region of Lorraine.

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In Occitan, vergonha refers to the effects of various policies of the government of France on its minorities whose native language was deemed a patois, a Romance language spoken in the country other than Standard French, such as Occitan itself or the langues d'oïl.

Poitevin (Poetevin) is a dialect of Poitevin-Saintongeais, one of the regional languages of France, spoken in Poitou, France. It is not as commonly spoken as it once was, as the standard form of French now predominates. Poitevin is now classified as one of the langues d'oïl but is distinguished by certain features of the langue d'oc. The language is spoken on what was the border between the two language families of oïl and oc. The langue d’oïl subsequently spread south, absorbing oc features.

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