French (Langue Française) is one of the most important Romance languages, outnumbered only by Spanish and Portuguese. French is the 11th most spoken language in the world, spoken by about 77 million people as a mother tongue, and 128 million including second language speakers, in 1999. It is an official or administrative language in various communities and organizations (such as the European Union, IOC, United Nations and Universal Postal Union).
Although many Frenchmen like to refer to their descent from Gallic ancestors ("Nos ancêtres les gaulois"), very little Celtic influence seems to remain in the French of today. Most of the vocabulary is of Latin and Germanic (Frankish) origin.
Originally, many dialects and languages were spoken throughout contemporary French territory (among them were several langue d'Oïl dialects, like Picard, Valon, etc.), Occitan dialects (Gascon, Provençal, etc.), Breton, Basque, Catalan, Low German, etc., but over time the dialect of the Ile-de-France (the region around Paris), Francien, has supplanted the others and has become the basis for the official French language.
French is a first language in:
It is the official language, but actually less commonly used than the native languages, in Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Vanuatu and Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire).
French spelling is by no means phonetic. Terminal consonants have often become silent in most dialects, unless followed by a vowel sound (liaison) or silent altogether (e.g., "et" is never pronounced with the ending "t"). In many words, the "n" and "m" becomes silent and causes the preceding vowel to become nasalized (i.e. pronounced with the soft palate extended downward so as to cause the air to leave through the nostrils instead of through the mouth). Furthermore, French words tend to run together when spoken, with ending consonants often being chained to the start of the next word.
i y u
e 2 o
E 9 O
Note: /A/ is for many speakers no longer a phoneme. Whether /@/ (Schwa) is a phoneme of French is controversial. Some see it as an allophone of /9/
/m, n, n_j/ For some speakers, /n_j/ is probably /n/ + /j/
/r/ (Uvular trill)