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French (French: 'Français'), is a Romance language spoken as a first language by most people from France, French-speaking Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, and Quebec in Canada, as well as minorities elsewhere. Second language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts of the world, the largest numbers of which reside in Francophone Africa,[1] and the highest proportions being situated in Gabon (80%)[1] Mauritius (72.7%)[1] and Côte d'Ivoire (70%).[1] French is estimated as having 110 million[2] native speakers and 190 million second language speakers.[3] Additionally, French is studied as a foreign language by some 200 million people, making it the second-most studied foreign language in the world, after English.[4]

French is a descendant of the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Sardinian and Catalan. Its closest relatives however are the other langues d'oïl and French-based creole languages. Its development was also influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders.

It is an official language in 30 countries, most of which form what is called, in French, La Francophonie, the community of French-speaking countries. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organizations. According to the European Union, 129 million (or 26% of the Union's total population), in 27 member states speak French, of which 65 million are native speakers and 69 million claim to speak French either as a second language or as a foreign language, making it the third-most spoken second language in the European Union, after English and German. Twenty-percent of non-Francophone Europeans know how to speak French, totaling roughly 145.6 million people.[5]

From the 17th century to the mid-20th century, French served as the pre-eminent international language of diplomacy and international affairs, as well as a lingua franca among the educated classes of Europe. The dominant position of the French language has only recently been overshadowed by English.[6][7][8] As a result of extensive colonial ambitions of France and Belgium (at that time governed by a French-speaking elite), between the 17th and 20th centuries, French was introduced to the Americas, Africa, Polynesia, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.

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