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History of Languages in France

The bond of the French-speaking community is the recognition of an
intangible sovereign: the French language, which shines, splendid, on a
throne of words. It does not dispense justice: it dispenses accuracy.

—  Maurice Druon, Doyen of the Académie Française, 1987.

57,188,000 (1995). Literacy rate 99%. Also includes Algerian Arabic 660,000, Moroccan Arabic 492,700 (1984), Tunisian Arabic 212,900 (1984), Armenian 70,000; Western Cham 1,000; Hmong Daw 10,000, Iu Mien 2,000, Kabyle 537,000 (1984), Kurmanji, Lesser Antillean Creole French 150,000 (1974 MARC), Mandyak, Turkish 135,000 (1984), 10,000 Vietnamese, 34,500 Wolof (1984). French Republic, République Francaise. Literacy rate 99% (1991 WA). Data accuracy estimate: A2, B. Christian, secular, Muslim, Jewish. Blind population 43,000 (1982 WCE). Deaf institutions: 99. The number of languages listed for France is 27. Of those, 25 are living languages and 2 are extinct.

ALSATIAN (Allemannisch, Schwyzerdütsch)

1,500,000 in France (J.A. Hawkins in B. Comrie 1988); 4,225,000 in Switzerland (1986); 300,000 in Austria (1991 A. Schmid). Southeastern France, Alsace-Lorraine. Also in southern Germany. Indo-European, Germanic, West, Continental, High. No standard form of Alsatian, but a variety of village dialects. All speakers do not necessarily understand or read Standard German, but most are bilingual in French. Bilingualism in Standard French varies from 79% to 90% of the population in the different regions. German is taught in primary schools. Called 'Schwyzerdütsch' in Switzerland and 'Allemannisch' in Austria and parts of Germany. NT 1984. Bible portions 1936-1986.

AUVERGNAT (Auvernhas, Auverne, Occitan)

Auvergne; Haut-Auvergnat in Cantal and south of Haute-Loire; Bas-Auvergnat in the north of Haute-Loire and in Puy-de-Dome. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Dialects: HAUT-AUVERGNAT, BAS-AUVERGNAT. Highly fragmented dialect situation, with limited intelligibility between northern and southern varieties. Language use is more vigorous in the south. Bible portions 1831. Survey needed.


67,500 speakers (1991), including 45,000 Labourdin, 22,500 Lower Navarro. Total Basque speakers in France estimated at 80,000 (1991 L. Trask, U. of Sussex). Reported to be 730,000 ethnic Basque in France (1993 Johnstone). French-Spanish border, 800 square miles surrounding Bayonne, Labourd and Basse-Navarre departments. Basque. Dialects: LABOURDIN (LAPURDIERA), EASTERN LOW NAVARRESE (BENAFFARERA, BAJO NAVARRO ORIENTAL), WESTERN LOW NAVARRESE (BAJO NAVARRO OCCIDENTAL). Lafitte states that Navarro-Labourdin is the literary dialect used in writing by the majority of Basque writers in France. Navarro-Labourdin is diverse from other Basque dialects, and needs separate literature. Speakers use French as second language. Dictionary. Grammar. Christian. Bible 1856. Bible portions 1856. Work in progress.

BASQUE, SOULETIN (Souletin, Souletino, Suletino, Xiberoera, Zuberoera, Suberoan)

8,700 (1991). French-Spanish border, 800 square miles surrounding Bayonne, Soule, Pyrénées Atlantiques Province. Basque. Souletin is more diverse and speakers have difficulty understanding other dialects, especially for complex and abstract discourse. Separate literature desired and needed, Dictionary. Grammar. Christian. Bible portions 1856-1888. Work in progress.

BRETON (Brezhoneg)

500,000 speakers for whom it is the daily language in France (1989 ICDBL); 1,200,000 know Breton who do not regularly use it; 32,722 in USA (1970 census). Western Brittany, but also dispersed in Eastern Brittany and Breton emigrant communities throughout the world. Indo-European, Celtic, Insular, Brythonic. Dialects: LEONAIS, TREGORROIS, VANNETAIS, CORNOUAILLAIS. No official status. 18,000 speakers are children under 14 years; 56,250 between 15 and 24; 423,000 between 25 and 64; 168,000 over 65 (1974). 25% can read and write Breton. Some claim to be monolingual in Breton. Strong nationalistic movement demanding recognition, a place in the schools, media, and public life. There are some radio and television programs. Bible 1866-1985. NT 1827-1971. Bible portions 1820-1985.

CALÓ (Calo, Gitano, Iberian Romani)

10,000 to 20,000 in France; 40,000 to 140,000 in Spain; 5,000 in Portugal; 10,000 in Latin America; 65,000 to 175,000 in all countries. 100,000 Gypsies in France speak a variety of Romani as first or second language (1985 Gunnemark and Kenrick). Southern France. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Central. Dialects: BASQUE CALO, CATALONIAN CALO, SPANISH CALO. A Gypsy language with an Iberian base. Christian. Bible portions 1837-1872.


260,000 in France; 4,000,000 in Spain (1994); 31,300 in Andorra (1990); 40,000 in USA; 22,000 in Italy; 4,353,000 or more in all countries. Catalonian France. Also Latin America, western Europe, Algeria. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Bible 1478-1993. NT 1832-1988. Bible portions 1928-1985.

CORSICAN (Corsu, Corso, Corse, Corsi)

281,000 in Corsica (1993 Johnstone); 60,000 in Western Hemisphere (1968 H. Kloss); the in all countries in France's former colonies and USA is greater than on Corsica (1976 Stephens); 341,000 or more in all countries. Corsica, Paris, Marseilles. Also in Canada, Puerto Rico, USA, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Uruguay, Italy. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Southern, Corsican. Dialects: SARTENAIS, VICO-AJACCIO, NORTHERN CORSICAN (CAPE CORS, BASTIA), VENACO. Corsican is in the Tuscan group of Italian dialects. Southern Corsican is closer to northern Sardinian or Gallurese than other Corsican dialects (R. A. Hall, Jr.). Dialects of Bastia, Venaco, Vico, and Sartene have 79% to 89% lexical similarity. Bonifacio on the southern tip of Island has 78% lexical similarity (highest) with Bastia at extreme north. Ajaccio dialect is central and prestigious. Corsican has been recognized as a separate language by the French government. Speakers are bilingual in French but many are not fluent in it. There is a movement for bilingual education. Bible portions 1861-1994. Work in progress.

DUTCH (Flemish)

90,000 in Westhoek (1976 Stephens); 20,000,000 to 21,000,000 in all countries. Westhoek in the northeast corner of France between the Artois Hills and the Belgium border. Also Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Belgium, Surinam, USA. Indo-European, Germanic, West, Continental, Low, Dutch. Not used in schools. Flemish is a co-dialect with Dutch, but not a separate language. Bible 1522-1988. NT 1480-1992. Bible portions 1477-1986.


(70,000 in Italy; 1971). Near the Italian border. Also in Canton de Vaud, Switzerland. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Romance, North. Dialects: DAUPHINOIS, LYONNAIS, NEUCATELAIS, SAVOYARD, VALAISIEN, VAUDOIS, FAETO, CELLE S. VITO. Structurally separate language from Provençal, French, Piemontese, and Lombard (F. B. Agard). Bible portions 1830. Survey needed.

FRENCH (Français)

51,000,000 first language speakers in France; 6,000,000 in Canada (1988); 1,100,000 in USA (1989); 40,000 in Israel; 72,000,000 in all countries, mother tongue (1995 WA); 124,000,000 in all countries including second language speakers (1995 WA). Also in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Haiti, French Guiana, Monaco, Austria, Africa, Southwest Asia, French Polynesia, other former colonies. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Romance, North. Dialects: STANDARD FRENCH, NORMAN, PICARD (ROUCHI, CHTIMI), WALLON, ANGEVIN, BERRICHON, BOURBONNAIS, BOURGIGNON, FRANC-COMTOIS, GALLOT, LORRAINE, POITEVIN, SANTONGEAIS. 89% lexical similarity with Italian, 80% with Sardinian, 78% with Rheto-Romance, 75% with Portuguese, Rumanian, and Spanish, 29% with German, 27% with English. National language. Typology: SVO. Christian. Braille Bible. Braille Scripture in progress. Bible 1530-1995. NT 1474-1990. Bible portions 1483-1989.

FRENCH SIGN LANGUAGE (Langue des signes française, LSF, FSL)

50,000 to 100,000 primary users in France (1986 Gallaudet Univ.) 1,000 users of Marseille Sign Language (1975 Sallagoïty). Southern FSL is used in Marseille, Toulon, La Ciotat, and Salon de Provence. FSL is also in Togo. Deaf sign language. Dialect: MARSEILLE SIGN LANGUAGE (SOUTHERN FRENCH SIGN LANGUAGE). First sign language in the western world to gain recognition as a language (1830). Originated in 1752. Sign languages were known in France in the 16th century, and probably earlier. Many sign languages have been influenced by this, but are not necessarily intelligible with it. Reported to be partially intelligible with sign languages from Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Italy, at least. 43% lexical similarity with American Sign Language in an 872-word list. Distinct from Signed French and Old French Sign Language.

GASCON (Occitan)

250,000 in all countries speakers (1990 P. Blanchet); including 4,800 Aranese in Spain (1984 census). The population in the Bearn region of southern Gasconha, France, is 400,000 (1992). 51% speak the language, 70% understand it, 85% are in favor of doing something to save it. Gascogne Province, from Médoc to the Pyrénées, from the Atlantic to the Catalan area. Biarnese is spoken by a strong majority in the Biarn. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Dialects: LANDAIS, BÉARNAIS (BIARNESE), ARIÉGEOIS, ARANESE. Gascon, Occitan (Languedocien), and Limousin are structurally separate languages (F.B. Agard). Some intelligibility of Provençal; Gascon has some or limited intelligibility of Languedocien (reports differ). Inherently intelligible with Aranese in Spain, which is a dialect. Called 'Aranese Gascon' is Spain. Bible portions 1583-1983. Work in progress.


12,000,000 in all countries (1995 WA). Corsica. Also in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, Romania, Albania, Russia, USA, Canada, Australia. Indo-European, Greek, Attic. Dialect: CARGESE. There are few, if any, who do not know French (R.A. Hall, Jr., 1978 personal communication). The Greek of Italy and that of Corsica are probably separate languages (R. Zamponi 1992). Bible 1840-1994. NT 1638-1989. Bible portions 1547-1949.


1,000,000 in France (1977 Voegelin and Voegelin); 40,000,000 in all countries. Also in Italy, Ethiopia, Egypt, USA, Australia. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Italo-Romance. Few, if any, speakers of Italian dialects in France do not know French. Bible 1471-1985. NT 1530-1981. Bible portions 1531-1984.

LANGUEDOCIEN (Lengadoucian, Languedoc, Langadoc, Occitan, Occitani)

Fluent speakers are 10% of the population in the region. About 20% more have some knowledge of it. Languedoc Province, from Montpellier to Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rodez, and Albi. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Dialects: BAS-LANGUEDOCIEN, LANGUEDOCIEN MOYEN, HAUT-LANGUEDOCIEN, GUYENNAIS. A separate language from Provençal (P. Blanchet 1990). Gascon has limited intelligibility of Languedocien. Attempts to standardize Languedocien for all languages of southern France have not been accepted by speakers of those languages. Toulousse orthography is different from Ron. Mainly spoken in rural communities by people over 50. Everyone speaks French as first or second language. Bible portions 1888. Survey needed.


(1,853,578 in Italy; 1976; 5,100 in Monaco; 1980). Bonifacio, Corsica. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Romance, Ligurian. Dialect: GENOESE (GENOAN, GENOVESE). Bible portions 1860. Survey needed.

LIMOUSIN (Lemosin, Occitan)

Spoken by 10% to 20% of the population of the region. Limousin Province. Haut-Limousin around Limoges, Guéret, and Nontron in Charente; Bas-Limousin around Corrèze and Périgord. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Dialects: HAUT-LIMOUSIN, BAS-LIMOUSIN. Limousin, Occitan, and Gascon are structurally separate languages (F.B. Agard). Partially intelligible to Provençal. People speak French as first or second language. In the north of the province people use a transition dialect with certain Oïl features. Survey needed.


Deaf sign language. 250 miles from Paris, but difficult and little intelligibility with French Sign Language. Survey needed.


750,000 in France (1989 National Geographic); 170,000,000 in all countries (1995 WA). Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Western. Illiteracy is a problem. Bible 1751, in press (1993). NT 1681-1982. Bible portions 1505-1951.

PROVENÇAL (Prouvençau, Occitan)

250,000 fluent speakers in France; 800,000 with some knowledge (1990 P. Blanchet); 100,000 speakers of all ages of Transalpin dialect in Italy (1990); 4,500 in Monaco (1988); 354,500 in all countries. Southeastern France, province of Provence, south of Dauphiné, region of Nimes in Languedoc. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. Dialects: TRANSALPIN, NIÇARD (NIÇOIS), MARITIME PROVENÇAL (MARSEILLAIS, TOULONNAIS, VAROIS), GAVOT (ALPIN, VALEIEN, GAPIAN, FORCALQUIEREN), RHODANIEN (NIMOIS), DAUPHINOIS (DROMOIS). Gascon, Occitan, and Limousin are structurally separate languages (F. Agard). Provençal and Languedocien (Occitan) are separate languages (P. Blanchet 1990). No variety is universally accepted as the standard literary form. Two orthographies in use: Ron and Toulousse. Niçard and Northern Gavot (Valeien and Gapian) are more difficult for other dialect speakers to understand. Through increased contact in army and school, most speakers are actively bilingual in French. Most speakers are above 50 years old. Literary French is sometimes difficult for speakers with less school education. Regional French has a lot of Provençal influence. There is regional pride and increasing status as a literary language. Strong demand for teaching in school and books in Provençal. Bible portions 1824-1975. Work in progress.


10,500 in France, including 10,000 Arlija, 500 Dzambazi; 1,000,000 in all countries (1980 UBS). Also Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Germany, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, Ukraine. Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Central zone, Romani, Balkan. Dialects: ARLIJA, DZAMBAZI. A Gypsy language. Muslim. Bible portions 1912-1937. Work in progress.

ROMANI, SINTE (Sinti, Rommanes, Tsigane, Manuche, Manouche)

10,000 to 30,000 in France; 200,000 in all countries (1980 Kenrick); 100,000 to 150,000 all Romani language speakers in France (1984). Also in Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan. The Manouche are mainly in France, but also in northern Italy and the Netherlands. Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Central zone, Romani, Northern. Dialect: MANOUCHE (MANUCHE, MANUSH). Not intelligible with Vlach Romani. A Gypsy language. Ethnic group: Sasítka Romá. Christian. Bible portions 1875-1930. Work in progress.

ROMANI, VLACH (Romenes, Rom, Tsigane)

10,000 in France, including 8,000 Kalderash, 2,000 Lovari; 1,500,000 in all countries (1986 estimate). Also in Romania, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovakia, Ukraine, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Sweden, England, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, USA. Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Central zone, Romani, Vlax. Dialects: KALDERASH, LOVARI. Vlach and Kalderash are understood by the Lovari. A Gypsy language. Christian. NT 1984-1995. Bible portions 1930-1986.

SHUADIT (Shuadi, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Comtadine)

Department of Vaucluse in southern France, and city of Avignon. Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Eastern. It became extinct in 1977. May still be used in Passover song. Jewish.

SPANISH (Castilian)

266,000,00 in all countries (1987 Time). Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Ibero-Romance, North, Central. Bible 1553-1979. NT 1543-1986. Bible portions 1514-1985.

ZARPHATIC (Judeo-French)

Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Romance, North. Jewish. Extinct.

Part of the Ethnologue,13th Edition, Barbara F. Grimes, Editor.
Copyright © 1996, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc. All rights reserved.

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