French is a Romance language and for many, the language of romance. Together with English, French is spoken in five continents. It’s a language spoken in 53 countries, with 76.1 million people speaking it as their first language.
Across the globe, French speakers number around 220 million, with 72 million of them claiming that they speak French partially. Many of them are located in Europe and Africa. Due to the increase in population, it is estimated that by 2050, there would be more than 700 million French speakers, 80% of them coming from Africa.
In translation services, French is among the top 10 most in demand languages for standard translation and for business translation. After all, French is a working language of the UN and a procedural language of the EU. It is the only official language of UPU or the Universal Postal Union. Moreover, French is one of the working languages of many international organizations, including sporting bodies such as the FIFA and the Olympics Committee.
When learning a language, it is important to know more about it than just grammar and pronunciation. It helps you to understand the language better. Knowing some of the facts, particularly the unusual ones, is also a good way to impress your friends.
1. Longest and shortest French names and terms
In the French dictionary, the longest entry is the 25-letter anticonstitutionnellement. In French medical terms, the longest is the full chemical name of thiamine — aminométhylpyrimidinylhydroxyéthylméthythiazolium, which contains 49 letters.
The shortest name for a place is Y, which is a town located in Somme, a region of Hauts-de-France. Residents of the area call themselves Ypsilonien(ne)s.
Not to be outdone, the town of Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont-Saint-Genest-et-Isson holds the distinction of having the longest name. The town in located in northeastern France, in the department of Marne.
Meanwhile, the shortest word with all five vowels in it is oiseau, meaning bird. The plural of this word, oiseaux (birds) is considered the longest word in which not all the letters are pronounced individually.
In the French language, some accented letters are counted as words, such as the c’ in c’est (this is, it is) and j’ in j’aime (I like it).
2. Unique French keyboard feature
Most French writers located in Europe use the “AZERTY” keyboard, with has a different layout than the QWERTY keyboard that is widely used by English writers. But what makes the French Azerty keyboard unique is the addition of the grave-accented letter ù key. However, there is only one French word that uses this letter – the word où that means “where.”
3. There are words that don’t rhyme with anything
If you’re a French language learner and you want to write a poem, remember that there are words in French that do not rhyme with any other word in the language. Examples are monstre, quinze, quatorze and simple.
4. Three e’s in a row
About 17 words in French have three successive e’s, such as agréée (approved), créée (created) and énucléée (remove).
5. Difference between singular and plural forms
The word for eye in French is oeil. It’s distinct because it is the only word wherein the plural form begins with a different letter. The plural form of oeil is yeux.
Amour is another peculiar word. In the singular form it is masculine, such as in amour fou (obsessive or uncontrollable passion). It becomes feminine in its plural form, though, such as in belles amours.
6. Least-used letter
The “trema” or the letter ï is the least common letter, used only by about 0.005% of French words. It is used in some words such as maïs, aïoli and naïve.
7. French also has a phrase that contains all the letters of the alphabet
English typists have “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” as a phrase to use all the letters of the alphabet. The French has an equivalent to this phrase — Allez porter cevieux whisky au juge blond qui fume un havane. It means, ”Take this old whiskey to the blond judge who is smoking a cigar.”
8. Biggest French-speaking cities
Paris is the city with the biggest number of French speakers. Coming at second place is not a city in France, but a city in Congo, Africa. About 40% of the population of Kinshasa, or 24 million people, are French speakers.
9. Astérix is still very popular
Astérix is a popular French comic book character. Its latest edition printed 7 million copies in the national language. It has been translated from French into 23 other languages.
10. French is a global language
Many countries around the world speak French as a second language such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Haiti, Tunisia and Morocco. Thirty-two countries recognize French as an official language.
The centres of the French language in the United States are New England, Louisiana, California, Florida and New York.
Now you have more facts about the French language to impress your friends. How about trying these French tongue twisters?
“Un chasseur sachantchassersaitchasser sans son chien de chasse.“
Translation: A hunter who knows how to hunt knows how to hunt without his hunting dog.
“Si six sciesscient six cyprès, six cents sciesscient six cent cypress.“
Translation: If six saws saw six cypresses, six hundred saws saw six hundred cypresses.
“Les chaussettes de l’archiduchessesont-ellessèches, archi-sèches?“
Translation: Are the Archduchess’ socks dry, very dry?
Sean Patrick Hopwood is a language polyglot and a language enthusiast. His goal in life is to bring world peace through education, tolerance and cultural awareness. He is also the President and Founder at Day Translations, Inc., a global translation company that offers French translation services.