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Guest post - Cool facts about the French language


Hi! This wonderful post was prepared by my dear colleague and friend Jehanne Henin. Jehanne is a native French speaker and a professional translator from Russian, English and Croatian into French specializing in EU affairs, environment, renewable energy and tourism. You can learn more about her if you visit her website. Jehanne is also an active Twitterer, so I am sure she will be happy to see you among her Twitter followers. You can find her Twitter profile here. So here are some great facts about the French language that Jehanne prepared for you:

  1. French is spoken by more than 220 million people worldwide, with about 80 million speaking it as their first language. French is the 9th most spoken language in the world and is, with English, one of the two languages being spoken on each of the 5 continents.
  2. French in an official language, alone or with other languages, in 32 countries.
  3. French is the second most commonly taught second language in the world, after English.
  4. French is the second most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union (16%) after German (23%) and before English (15,9%).
  5. French is a working language of many international and non-governmental organisations, such as the UN, the EU, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Labor Organization, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International and Doctors without Borders. French is also the only official language of the Universal Postal Union.
  6. With about 5% of the Internet pages written in this language, French is the third most used language on the Internet, after English (45%) and German (7%). French is also the third language on Facebook, after English and Spanish.
  7. French has more than a million words (although only 100,000 of them are included the “Grand Robert” dictionary) and 20,000 new ones are created every year.
  8. New words appearing in the recently published 2013 edition of the Petit Robert dictionary include “belgitude” (set of traits of Belgian culture), “indignés” (to design the Indignants movement), “anosognosie” (anosognosia, a condition affecting memory, which the former French President Jacques Chirac has recently been diagnosed with), “psychoter” (the fact of being paranoid about something), “comater“ (to be lethargic, as if in a coma), “agence de notation” (credit rating agency), “dette souveraine” (sovereign debt), “cyberdépendance” (Internet addiction), “billet” (blog post) and “nuage informatique” (cloud computing).
  9. The Académie française, the official authority that regulates the French language, was founded in 1635 by Cardinal de Richelieu. It was the first body of this kind. Today, most of the world’s main languages have a similar type of institution. English is the only exception.
  10.  At the time of the French Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French as a mother tongue. Each region had its own local dialect (patois).
  11. According to the dictionaries, “anticonstitutionnellement” is the longest word in the French language. However, longer words do exist – for example hexakosioihexekontahexaphobie (29 letters) which is the scientific word for the fear of the number 666.
  12. The letter ‘w’ was initially not part of the French alphabet. The 1964 “Le Robert” dictionary was the first to mention it as the 23d letter of the alphabet. The words containing this letter are all of foreign origin.
  13. “Cinq” (five) and “coq” (rooster) are the only two French words that end in “q”.
  14. “Où” (where) is the only word where the u has a grave accent. This also means that the key “ù” on the French keyboard has been created only for this word.
  15. The words “délice” (delight), “amour” (love) and “orgue” (organ) have the particularity to be masculine when singular, but feminine when plural.

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