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Language: Spoken Languages

French is the official language of France, and is spoken by 88 percent of the population. Dialects vary throughout the country; Parisienne, spoken in Paris, is considered to be standard. Numerous regional languages coexist with French in their respective regions, including Breton, Alsatian, and Corsican, as well as a variety of Gallo-Romance languages such as Provençal, Catalan, Basque, Norman, Walloon, and Gallo.

Increased immigration during the late 20th century and early 21st century dramatically swelled the number of Arabic speakers, as well as speakers of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English, German, Polish, Turkish, and Vietnamese. Select communities speak a variety of other Asian, African, and European languages. 

French / Français


( Good morning, Hello )

History and Evolution

The French language originated when Latin encountered the languages of pre-Roman Celtic tribes when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, an area covering much of modern-day France, between 58 and 52 BCE. Gaulish words retained from this time mostly pertain to agriculture and rural life; examples include bourdaine (black alder), boue (mud), and cervoise (ale).

Germanic influences affected the language from approximately 200 CE, when the Franks and other Germanic tribes invaded Gaul. Words from Frankish often pertain to military vocabulary and feudal social structure; examples include attaquer (to attack), féodal (feudal), and gagner (to win).

Scandinavian words entered the language in 1204, when the Kingdom of France absorbed the Duchy of Normandy. Many of these words are related to seafaring, including flotte (fleet) and vague (wave).

Words from Arabic entered French during the Middle Ages. Many relate to mathematics and science, such as algèbre (algebra) and alchimie (alchemy), as well as luxury items, such as élixir (elixir).


( Excuse me )

Geographic Distribution

From the 1600s to the 1800s, France was one of the world’s major colonial powers. As a result, French is the second most widely spoken language in the world, and the official language in 29 countries.

Approximately 40 percent of French speakers live in Europe, while 35 percent come from sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent from North Africa and the Middle East, 8 percent from the Americas, and 1 percent from Asia and Oceania. The community of French-speaking countries is known as “La Francophonie.”

S'il vous plaît

( Please )

Prominence in Society

During the Enlightenment, French established itself as the language of literature, diplomacy, and the arts throughout Europe. It was common as a court language even in Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia. 

After World War II, English became the diplomatic lingua franca. However, French is the second most common native language in the European Union, and is an official language of NATO, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the ICRC, and the International Olympic Committee.

Comment allez-vous?

( How are you? )

Unique Characteristics

French has no gender-neutral “it” pronoun and all inanimate objects have a gender, which is reflected in sentence elements such as pronouns, adjectives, and some verb endings.

French has two levels of formality, characterized by tu (informal you) and vous (formal you). Verb tenses change to reflect formal or informal address. The language’s phonology includes nasal vowels and a uvular r. Final consonants are often silent (arrêt), as are the s or x placed at the end of nouns to indicate a plural (Les doigts, les berceaux).

The French numerical system advances in increments of twenty; for example, 70 is soixante-dix, or “sixty-ten,” and 80 is quatre-vingts, or “four twenties.”


( Thank you )

Loanwords in English

Approximately 28 to 45 percent of all English words come from French. From 1066, when the Normans conquered England, Anglo-Norman French became the language of government, nobility, and commerce. Examples of loanwords in English include justice (fair treatment under the law); hors-d'œuvre (literally “outside of the main work,” meaning "appetizers"); and liqueur (a sweet, flavored alcoholic beverage).


( Good evening, Good night )

Say Whaaat?

More people speak French in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, than in Brussels or Montreal. Kinshasa is the second largest French-speaking city in the world.

Cardinal Richelieu founded the Académie Française in 1634 to regulate and protect the French language. The Académie strenuously resists Anglicization, often inventing its own French words to replace borrowed English words relevant to modern technology. For example, courriel (email) is a conflation of courier (mail) and électronique (electronic).

In 1793, the year of the French revolution, approximately 75 percent of French people were not native French speakers. People in different regions of France spoke many different dialects and languages, among them Breton, Gallo, Gascon, and Provençal.

Au revoir

( Good-bye )

Writer: Jennifer Williamson

French Quick Facts



Native Speakers

80–82 million

Second-language Speakers

70–73 million

Official Language



 Burkina Faso




 Central African Republic


 Comoros Islands

 Côte d'Ivoire

 Democratic Republic of Congo


 Equatorial Guinea


 French Guiana












 Republic of the Congo








Recognized Language

 Antarctic Lands

 Aosta Valley

 French Polynesia



 New Caledonia



 Saint-Pierre & Miquelon

 Wallis & Futuna

Language Family


  • Italic
    • Romance
      • Western Romance
        • Gallo-Romance
          • Oïl
            • French

Standard Form

Parisian French


Acadian French

African French

Aostan French

Belgian French

Cambodian French

Maghreb (North African) French

Canadian French

Guianese French

Haitian French

Indian French

Jersey Legal French

Lao French

Meridional French

Metropolitan French

Missouri French

New Caledonian French

Newfoundland French

New England French

Quebec French

Southeast Asian French

Swiss French

Vietnamese French


Latin script


French alphabet

Regulated by

L’Academie Française

ISO Codes

ISO 639-1 (fr)

ISO 639-2 (fre)

ISO 639-2 (fra)

ISO 639-3 (fra)

Arabic / al-ʻArabiyyah / ʻarabī  /‎ العَرَبِية /عربي


( Hello )

History and Evolution

Arabic is a Central Semitic language, the only surviving language from the Ancient North Arabian dialect group. Combined, all the modern dialects of Arabic account for an estimated 420 million speakers worldwide, making Arabic the sixth most commonly native spoken language in the modern world.

Arabic is closely related to the ancient languages Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Ugaritic. The oldest Arabic dialects, known as Safaitic and Hismaic, were written and spoken in the 1st century CE.

Arabic spread throughout North Africa, Spain, and Persia as a result of Islamic conquests in the 8th century. Among the languages influenced by Arabic during this period are Berber, Kurdish, Malay, Persian, Swahili, and Urdu.

Modern Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic, is sometimes referred to as “MSA” (فُصْحَى , fuṣḥá). MSA is the only official form of the language, although there are many Arabic dialects. MSA is closely based on the Arabic used in the text of the Koran (القرآن).

لا مؤاخذة

( Excuse me )

Geographic Distribution

Arabic is spoken in Western Asia, the Middle East, and the North and Horn of Africa. Considered as a single language, Arabic is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. Egyptian Arabic, the most numerically significant Arabic dialect, alone has more speakers than any other Afroasiatic language.

There are many Arabic dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. Groups of dialects are mainly found in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Middle East. Egyptian Arabic is one of the most widely understood dialects, with 55 million speakers worldwide and a flourishing film industry to promote continued dispersal. The Levantine Arabic dialects are spoken by 21 million in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, and Turkey. Maghrebi Arabic (الدارجةDarija), the dialect spoken by around 70 million people in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Malta, is not mutually intelligible with the Mesopotamian Arabic (العامية `āmmiyya) dialects spoken by 7 million people in Iraq, eastern Syria, and southwestern Iran. Sudanese Arabic is spoken by 17 million people in Sudan and southern Egypt, but is distinct from Egyptian Arabic. Yemeni Arabic, a dialect similar to Gulf Arabic, is spoken by 15 million in Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, and southern Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Arabic dialect is spoken by 4 million in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar.  Najdi Arabic is spoken by 10 million in Najd, central and norther Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Other Arabic dialects include Hejazi Arabic, spoken by 6 million people in western Saudi Arabia; Hassaniya Arabic, spoken by 3 million in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Mali, Morocco, and Algeria; Bahrani Arabic, spoken by 600,000 in Bahrain and Oman, and Maltese, spoken on the island of Malta.

صباح الخير

( Good morning )

Prominence in Society

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, as well as the official language of the Islamic religion. Islamic liturgical services are conducted in Arabic, and the modern standard form of the language is closely based on the Classical Arabic used in the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Arabic is used by 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

Widely used in media and education in the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa, Arabic is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Arabic numerals are used throughout the world in science, mathematics, and international banking.

لو سمحت

( Please )

Unique Characteristics

The Arabic alphabet (نسخ‎ , nasḫ/nasḵ) is an “abjad” script, and formal MSA is read from right to left. Arabic recognizes 28 consonants and three vowels (a, i, u); each vowel has short and long variations.

Arabic words are based on a system of three-letter “roots” that convey basic ideas. By inserting additional letters into these “roots,” derivations of meaning are produced. For example, the root k-t-b (ك ت ب) signifies the idea of writing; the word “book”  (كتاب , kitāb,) is derived from this root. Associated words are “writing” (كِتَابَة or كتابة, kitābat); “library” or “bookshop” (مَكتَبة or مكتبة, maktabat); and “desk” or “office” (مَكتَب or مكتب, maktab).

عامل إيه؟

( How are you? )

Loanwords in English

Many Arabic words have migrated into English, particularly in mathematics and the sciences, but also in reference to foods and people. The majority of star names used in modern astronomy are taken from Arabic.

  • Aldebaran (الدبران; a red star of the first magnitude)
  • algebra (بر )
  • coffee (قهوة)
  • cotton (قطن)
  • magazine (مخازن)
  • nadir (نظير; the worst or lowest point of something; the point on the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith)
  • zenith (سمت الرأس, samt ar-ra's; “direction of the head” or “path above the head”)


( Thank you )

Say Whaaat?

Arabic uses the same punctuation marks as English, but the marks are inverted (؟ and ،) because Arabic reads from right to left.

The oldest form of Arabic literature is poetry.

Arabic was an important language of science, mathematics, philosophy, and culture in Europe during the Middle Ages. For this reason, many European languages have Arabic loanwords in these subjects. Arabic also influenced ancient languages like Latin and Greek.

In the present tense, Arabic doesn't use the verb “to be”; instead of saying “the king is good,” you would say “the king good.”

Arabic verb forms are produced by altering a root. For example, from k-s-r, you can create the word كسر (kasara), meaning “he broke,” and inkasara, meaning  “it was broken up.” Care must be taken with shades of meaning; while قَاتَلَ (qātala) means “he fought,” قَتَلَ (qâtala) means “he killed."

مع السلامة

( Good-bye )

Writer: Carina Saxon

Arabic Quick Facts


Arabian Peninsula

Native Speakers

260–280 million

Second-language Speakers

20–30 million

Official Language




















 Saudi Arabia





 United Arab Emirates


Recognized Language

 Western Sahara

Language Family


  • Semitic
    • Central Semitic
      • Arabic languages
        • Arabic

Standard Form

Modern Standard Arabic


Western (Maghrebi)

Central (Egyptian, Sudanese)

Northern (Levantine, Mesopotamian)

Peninsular (Gulf, Hejazi, Najdi, Yemeni)


Arabic script

Ashuri script

Greek script

Naskh script

Latin script


Arabic alphabet

Greek alphabet

Hebrew alphabet

Syriac alphabet

Regulated by

Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo (Egypt)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Israel

Academy of the Arabic Language in Jamahiriya (Libya)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Khartoum (Sudan)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Mogadishu (Somalia)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Rabat (Morocco)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)

Arab Academy of Damascus (Syria)

Arabic Language International Council

Beit Al-Hikma Foundation (Tunisia)

Iraqi Academy of Sciences

Jordan Academy of Arabic

Supreme Council of the Arabic Language in Algeria

ISO Codes

ISO 639-1 (ar)

ISO 639-2 (ara)

ISO 639-3 (ara)