Most French Speakers Don't Live in France

60% of those who use the language are in Africa
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2023 4:20 PM CST
Most French Speakers Don't Live in France
A crowd in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.   (

The New York Times has a story detailing how the French language is evolving in a relatively fast manner, with the twist being that most of this evolution isn't actually happening in France. The story has some surprising stats on the subject, starting with this one: Most speakers of French—60% of them—actually live in Africa. What's more, the vast majority of children (80%) who are learning French are also in Africa. Given demographic trends on both continents, it all adds up to the remarkable estimate that 85% of French speakers will live in Africa by 2060.

The focus of the story, however, is how young Africans, particularly in West and Central Africa, are changing traditional French. "We've tried to rap in pure French, but nobody was listening to us," is how a 24-year-old Ivory Coast rapper who goes by Dofy puts it. "So we create words from our own realities, and then they spread." They're infusing the traditional language with newer terms, including those from Nouchi, a type of slang once used by criminals that has gone mainstream. The story includes the anecdote of an Ivory Coast priest who inadvertently made his flock laugh when he encouraged them to share their bread with others, not realizing the French word for bread, "pain" had become co-opted to mean boyfriend.

The huge number of French speakers in Africa is a holdover from the days of colonization, and previous stories have chronicled related modern-day tensions. Mali, for instance, took the significant, if symbolic, step of ditching French as an official language earlier this year, notes the Washington Post. And in an essay at Politico, Michael Shurkin observes that "ties with France have now become a kiss of death for African governments." He advises France to more aggressively cut its formal ties with the continent, though as the Times story makes clear, the French language will have a life of its own there. (More French stories.)

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