French language in the United States

For French people in the United States, see French American.
French language in the United States. Click for color legend. The census response "Cajun" and French-based creole languages are not included

French language in the United States is spoken as a minority language. Roughly 2.07 million Americans over the age of five reported speaking the language at home in a federal 2010 estimate,[1][2] making French the fourth most-spoken language in the nation behind English, Spanish, and Chinese (when Cajun, Haitian Creole and all other forms of French are included, and when Cantonese, Mandarin and other varieties of Chinese are similarly combined).[3]

Several varieties of French evolved in what is now the United States:

More recently, French has also been carried to various parts of the nation via immigration from Francophone regions. Today, French is the second-most spoken language in the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.[2][4]

French ancestry

A total of 10,804,304 people claimed French ancestry in the 2010 census[5] although other sources have recorded as many as 13 million people claiming this ancestry. Most French-speaking Americans are of this heritage, but there are also significant populations not of French descent who speak it as well, including those from Belgium, Switzerland, Haiti and numerous Francophone African countries.

Dialects and varieties

Bilingual road sign in Louisiana

There are three major groups of French dialects that emerged in what is now the United States: Louisiana French, Missouri French, and New England French (essentially a variant of Canadian French).[6]

Louisiana French is traditionally divided into three dialects, Colonial French, Louisiana Creole French, and Cajun French.[7][8] Colonial French is traditionally said to have been the form of French spoken in the early days of settlement in the lower Mississippi River valley, and was once the language of the educated land-owning classes. Cajun French, derived from Acadian French, is said to have been introduced with the arrival of Acadian exiles in the 18th century. The Acadians, the francophone inhabitants of Acadia (modern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and northern Maine), were expelled from their homeland between 1755 and 1763 by the British. Many Acadians settled in lower Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns (a corruption of "Acadians"). Their dialect was regarded as the typical language of white lower classes, while Louisiana Creole French developed as the language of the black community. Today, most linguists regard Colonial French to have largely merged with Cajun, while Louisiana Creole remains a distinct variety.[8]

Missouri French was spoken by the descendants of 17th-century French settlers in the Illinois Country, especially in the area of Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, and in Washington County. In the 1930s there were said to be about 600 French-speaking families in the Old Mines region between De Soto and Potosi.[9] By the late 20th century the dialect was nearly extinct, with only a few elderly speakers able to use it.[7]

Similarly, Muskrat French is spoken in southeastern Michigan by descendants of habitants, voyageurs and coureurs des bois who settled in the Pays d'en Haut.[10]

Métis French is spoken by some Métis people in North Dakota.

New England French, essentially a local variety of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of the New England states. This area has a legacy of significant immigration from Canada, especially during the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Some Americans of French heritage who have lost the language are currently attempting to revive it.[11][12]

Ernest F. Haden identifies the French of Frenchville, Pennsylvania (Covington Township) as a distinct dialect of North American French.[13] "While the French enclave of Frenchville, Pennsylvania first received attention in the late 1960s, the variety of French spoken has not been the subject of systematic linguistic study. Haden reports that the geographical origin of its settlers is central France, as was also the case of New Orleans, but with settlement being more recent (1830–1840). He also reports that in the 1960s French seemed to be on the verge of extinction in the state community."[14][15][16]

Newer Francophone immigrants

Bilingual exit sign on Interstate 87 in Clinton County, New York

In Florida, the city of Miami is home to a large Francophone community, consisting of French expatriates, Haitians (who may also speak Haitian Creole, a separate language which is derived partially from French), and French Canadians; there is also a growing community of Francophone Africans in and around Orlando and Tampa. A small but sustaining French community that originated in San Francisco during the Gold Rush and was supplemented by French wine-making immigrants to the Bay Area is centered culturally around that city's French Quarter.

Francophone tourists and retirees

Many retired individuals from Quebec have moved either to Florida or Hawaii, or at least spend the winter there. Also, the many Canadians who travel to the Southeastern states in the winter and spring include a number of Francophones, mostly from Quebec but also from New Brunswick and Ontario. Quebecers and Acadians also tend to visit Louisiana, as Quebec and New Brunswick share a number of cultural ties with Louisiana.

Language study

French has traditionally been the foreign language of choice for English-speakers across the globe. While remaining so in Canada, Great Britain and Ireland, the distinction has since been claimed by Spanish in the United States – probably as a consequence of heavy immigration from, and increased general interest in, Latin America. Since 1968,[17] French has ranked as the second-most-studied foreign language in the United States, behind Spanish but ahead of German and all other languages.[18] Some 1.2 million students from the elementary grades through high school were enrolled in French language courses in 2007-2008, or 14% of all students enrolled in foreign languages.[19]

Many American universities offer French-language courses, and degree programs in the language are common.[20] In the fall of 2013, 197,757 American university students were enrolled in French courses, or 12.7% of all foreign-language students and the second-highest total of any language (behind Spanish, with 790,756 students, or 50.6%).[21]

As a rule, the French taught in American classrooms is that of France, as opposed to Canadian French, despite the geographic proximity of Canada to the United States. This can cause confusion when U.S. students attempt to speak French in Canada, as there are significant dialectal differences between the two, although this is less so when using higher registers of speech, and the written forms of the two dialects are largely identical. However, most schools in Canada outside of Quebec also teach French as it is spoken in France as well.[22]

Francophone communities

More than 1,000 inhabitants

Fewer than 1,000 inhabitants

Counties and parishes with the highest proportion of French-speakers

Note: speakers of French-based creole languages are not included in percentages.

Seasonal migrations

Florida, California, New York, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Hawaii, and a few other popular resort regions (most notably Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Maine and Cape May, New Jersey) are visited in large numbers by Québécois, during winter and summer vacations.

French place-names

French Channel TV in the United States

French newspapers in the United States

French radio stations in the United States

French schools in the United States

See also


  1. U.S. Census Bureau (2003). "Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000" (PDF). U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  2. 1 2 "LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER : Universe: Population 5 years and over : 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  3. "American FactFinder".
  4. "LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER : Universe: Population 5 years and over : 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates??". Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  5. "SELECTED SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS IN THE UNITED STATES : 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  6. Ammon, Ulrich; International Sociological Association (1989). Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 306–308. ISBN 0-89925-356-3. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
  7. 1 2 Ammon, Ulrich; International Sociological Association (1989). Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties. Walter de Gruyter. p. 307. ISBN 0-89925-356-3. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
  8. 1 2 "What is Cajun French?". Department of French Studies, Louisiana State University. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
  9. "Creole Dialect of Missouri". J.-M. Carrière, American Speech, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Apr., 1939), pp. 109–119
  10. Au, Dennis. "The Mushrat French: The Survival of French Canadian Folklife on the American Side of le Détroit".
  11. "Reveil". 2006-01-30. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  12. Archived May 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Haden, Ernest F. 1973. "French dialect geography in North America." In Thomas A. Sebeok (Ed). Current trends in linguistics. The Hague: Mouton, 10.422-439.
  14. King, Ruth (2000). "The Lexical Basis of Grammatical Borrowing: A Prince Edward Island French Case Study". Amsterdam: John Benjamins: 5.
  15. Phillips, George. "French influence on the English speaking community".
  16. Archived February 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Judith W. Rosenthal, Handbook of Undergraduate Second Language Education (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000; New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 50.
  18. Ruiz, Rebecca. "By The Numbers: Most Popular Foreign Languages". Forbes.
  19. "Language study in the US" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  20. Goldberg, David; Looney, Dennis; Lusin, Natalia (February 2015). "Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2013" (PDF). Modern Language Association. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  21. "MLA Enrollment Survey Press Release" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-04-23.
  22. "Government of Ontario - Office of Francophone Affairs: June 4, 2009 news release". Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  24. "Audubon Charter School". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  25. "Home". Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  26. Archived May 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. Archived June 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. "About Us | EFIP". 1991-01-22. Retrieved 2013-04-23.
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