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Vulgar Latin is the base of every Romance or Neo-Latin language, as in the case of French. It has its roots in the Gaul language, from the time of the Roman Empire, which in turn had strongly been influenced by Celtic. Examples of this influence are the phonetics of some words and parts of the vocabulary, even if in a limited form. During the centuries the language developed further, introducing some calques and loanwords from English and Arabic. Its great diffusion in Europe has increased the number of French speakers to more than 280 million (including both mother tongue and second language). This is partially due to the high number of students who learn it at school: French is the second most studied language in Europe, right after English.
French is the official language of France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Aosta Valley in Italy and, together with English, Canada. Moreover, many African countries are characterised by the presence of French. Some of them, such as Niger, Guinea, Senegal and Ivory Coast, recognise it as an official language. To explain this significant influence, we must go back to the period of French colonisation – from the 17th century France conquered a great part of the African territories, converting them into French colonies. Thanks to the interaction of cultures, there are many different dialects that define this language: similar to Italian, southern and northern French dialects present significant differences in pronunciation. What is more, some of the French vowels have an accent on them, changing their pronunciation. These are the cédille Ç, the accent aigu é, the accent circonflexe â, ê, î, ô, û, the accent grave à, è, ù and the accent tréma ë, ï, ü.
French has a significant role internationally as it is one of the official languages of the European Union and of the United Nations.