French is a Romance language originally spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, and today by about 350 million people around the world as either a native or a second language, with significant populations in 54 countries.
French is a descendant of the Latin of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Romanian, and Portuguese. Its development was also influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders.
It is an official language in 31 countries, most of which form what is called in French La Francophonie, the community of French-speaking nations. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organisations.
Per the Constitution of France, French has been the official language since 1992 (although previous legal texts have made it official since 1539, see ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts). France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education outside of specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.
In addition to French, there are also a variety of regional languages. France has signed the European Charter for Regional Languages but has not ratified it since that would go against the 1958 Constitution.
The majority of French words derive from Vulgar Latin or were constructed from Latin or Greek roots. There are often pairs of words, one form being popular (noun) and the other one savant (adjective), both originating from Latin. Example:
* brother: frère / fraternel < from Latin FRATER
* finger: doigt / digital < from Latin DIGITVS
* faith: foi / fidèle < from Latin FIDES
* cold: froid / frigide < from Latin FRIGIDVS
* eye: œil / oculaire < from Latin OCVLVS
* inhabitants of the city Saint-Étienne are called Stéphanois
The last example, Saint-Étienne/Stéphanois, illustrates common practice for gentilics throughout France.
In some examples there is a common word from "vulgar" Latin and a more savant word from classical Latin or even Greek.
* Cheval—Concours équestre—Hippodrome
The French words which have developed from Latin are usually less recognisable than Italian words of Latin origin because as French developed into a separate language from Vulgar Latin, the unstressed final syllable of many words was dropped or elided into the following word.
It is estimated that 12% (4,200) of common French words found in a typical dictionary such as the Petit Larousse or Micro-Robert Plus (35,000 words) are of foreign origin. About 25% (1,054) of these foreign words come from English and are fairly recent borrowings. The others are some 707 words from Italian, 550 from ancient Germanic languages, 481 from ancient Gallo-Romance languages, 215 from Arabic, 164 from German, 160 from Celtic languages, 159 from Spanish, 153 from Dutch, 112 from Persian and Sanskrit, 101 from Native American languages, 89 from other Asian languages, 56 from Afro-Asiatic languages, 55 from Slavic languages and Baltic languages, 10 for Basque and 144 — about three percent — from other languages.