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Romance language spoken as a first language by about 72 million people in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada (mainly Quebec), and many other countries and regions formerly governed by France. French is an official language of more than 25 countries. Its earliest written materials date from the 9th century. Numerous regional dialects were eventually pushed aside by Francien, the dialect of Paris, adopted as the standard language in the mid-16th century. This largely replaced the dialects of northern and central France, known as the langue d'oïl (from oïl, the northern word for yes), and greatly reduced the use of the Occitan language of southern France, known as langue d'oc (from oc, Occitan for yes). Regional dialects survive mostly in uneducated rural speech. French grammar has been greatly simplified from Latin. Nouns do not have cases, and masculine and feminine gender are marked not in the noun but in its article or adjective. The verb is conjugated for three persons and for singular and plural; though spelled differently, several of these forms are pronounced identically.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on French language, visit Britannica.com.
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