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The so-called ‘language of Molière’ is spoken on five continents and has a wide variety of forms, expressions and accents. It also never stops evolving. Set off on an adventure to discover this wealth of linguistic diversity!

Who speaks French in the world?

With 300 million speakers, French is the world’s fifth-most spoken language after Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic. It is also the only language that is spoken on five continents, apart from English.

Yet we do not all use French in the same way. Depending on the country or region, French can be learned at home or at school, it can be used for work or administrative procedures, and it can be used in international discussions, the media and cultural activities. Sometimes only part of a country’s population is proficient in French and it is often used alongside other languages.

As you will have understood, French is a multi-faceted language: a world language! French is used in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the Maghreb and the Middle East. It brings diverse identities together in dialogue and reflects a wide variety of imaginations.

The French language in figures*

300 million Francophones throughout the world in 106 countries and regions
235 million people use the French language daily
132 million learners of French and people learning in French
88 states and governments are members of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF)
32 states and governments use French as an official language
French is the world’s fifth-most widespreadlanguage in numbers of speakers
French is the fourth-most widespreadlanguage on the Internet
French is the second-most learned foreign language
59% of people who speak French daily are in Africa

*Source: OIF, 2018

 

One language, a thousand flavours

When you travel through France or in other French-speaking countries, you soon notice that a multitude of particular lexical identities (called regionalisms or variants of French)enrich the French language, without preventing us from communicating in a common language. 

Each speaker therefore adapts ‘the language of Molière’ in their own way, according to their identity, cultural heritage, needs and environment. This diversity is proof of vibrancy!

Let’s take a look at a few concrete illustrations of local varieties of French. 

Here is a short list of flavoursome words and expressions from the French-speaking world – to be savoured with relish! They are divided into three themes covered in the permanent visitor circuit at the Cité internationale de la langue française, which will open its doors in autumn 2022: love, outrage and laughter.

Ten ways to ... talk about love

  • Avoir un kick (Quebec): [verb phrase] to have a crush on
  • Avoir le coup de foudre (France): [verb phrase] literally ‘to be hit by lightning’, or to fall head over heels for someone
  • Être bleu de quelqu’un (Wallonia): [verb phrase] literally ‘to be blue for someone’, or to be besotted with someone
  • Glisser pour quelqu’un (Cameroon): [verb phrase] to fall for someone 
  • Kaoter (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Niger): [transitive verb] to enthral, to make someone fall in love
  • Poser sa candidature (Côte d’Ivoire): [verb phrase] literally ‘to submit an application’, or to declare one’s love for someone
  • Avoir un coup de soleil pour quelqu'un (Haiti): [verb phrase] literally ‘to have sunburn for someone’, or to fall in love at first sight 
  • Avoir un cœur d’artichaut (France): [verb phrase] literally ‘to have a heart of artichoke’, or to be a hopeless romantic 
  • Avoir un goumin (Gabon): [verb phrase] to suffer from heartache 
  • Chéri(e)-coco (Côté d’Ivoire, Senegal, Niger): [noun] boyfriend, girlfriend, sweetheart

Ten ways to ... get angry

  • Être en rote (Wallonia): [verb phrase] literally ‘to start belching’, or to lose one’s temper 
  • Mouroutir (Côté d’Ivoire): [transitive verb] to get angry
  • Avoir la ronfle (Lyon): [verb phrase] literally ‘to roar’ or ‘grunt’, or to grumble 
  • Se pogner avec (Quebec): [verb phrase] to come to blows, to quarrel
  • Quinter (Romandy): [intransitive verb] to get angry 
  • Monter sur ses grands chevaux (France): [verb phrase] literally 'to get on your high horse’
  • Être comme lait et citron (Haiti): [verb phrase] literally ‘to be like milk and lemon’, or to fight like cat and dog
  • Avoir l’œuf (Corsica): [verb phrase] literally ‘to have an egg’, or to sulk
  • Becqueter (Burkina Faso): [transitive verb] literally ‘to peck’, or to speak sharply to someone
  • Picasse (New Brunswick): [adjective] bad-tempered 

Ten ways to ... express joy

  • Avoir le piton collé (Quebec): [verb phrase] literally ‘to have the button stuck’, or to be unable to stop laughing
  • Guindailler (Wallonia): [intransitive verb] to have a party
  • Vernousser (New Brunswick): [transitive verb] to have fun
  • Se taper sur les genoux (Quebec): [verb phrase] literally ‘to beat your knees’, or to roar with laughter 
  • Être plié en deux (France): [verb phrase] literally to double over with laughter
  • Ambiancer (Côté d’Ivoire): [intransitive verb] literally ‘to create an ambiance’, or to have fun, to have a party
  • Zwanzer (Wallonia): [intransitive verb] to joke, to fool about
  • Gaffer (Madagascar): [intransitive verb] to have fun, to fool about
  • Se fendre la poire (France): [verb phrase] literally ‘to split the pear’, or to split your sides laughing
  • Avoir du fun (Louisiana, Quebec): [transitive verb] literally to have fun

 

Did this taster make you want to find out more? Here are a few ideas where else to look.

Read the ‘Dictionnaire des francophones’ (‘Dictionary of Francophones’), which demonstrates the extraordinary wealth of the French language. 

You can also read the blog ‘Le français de nos régions’ (‘The French Language of Our Regions’), all about variations of French throughout the world’s regions.

You will soon be fluent in the words and expressions of the world’s French-speaking countries!

 

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