A small history of French language
Let us start with the truth. French is not called a romance language because it is romantic. In France and in the cultures of the French speaking world, Italians have the reputation of being silver tongued ladies’ men. The French language is simply called so because it belongs to the Romance group of languages. Romance is derived from the Latin phrase “romanica loqui” which means “to speak in Roman fashion.”
The French language actually descends from Latin, the official language of the Romans. In fact, Jules Caesar, the Roman general was so successful at coming (veni), seeing (vidi) and conquering (vinci) that all the Gauls (people of Celtic origin who were the earliest inhabitants of what is known today as France. See Asterix & Obelix) had to start speaking Latin.
However, the collapse of the Empire’s frontiers during the 5th century under the thrust of Germanic tribes left Rome cut off from the provinces and the outer regions drifted apart as each modified its form of spoken Latin in unique ways.
A split occurred in Gallo Roman France between the north and the south assisted by incursions of Germanic-speaking Franks - whence the name “France” - into the north. This split produced further dialectalisation throughout the Middle Ages, resulting in multitude speech forms. The dialect of Paris gradually became the national language because of the capital’s political prestige and today is accepted as the model for the French language.
French is one of the world’s major languages, rivalled only by English, as the language of international society and diplomacy. It is also the only other language spoken as a native language in 5 continents. It is the official language of about 60% of African countries; the Canadian province of Quebec; the Swiss cantons of Vaud, Neufchatel, Geneva and Jura and the Italian province of Val d’Aosta.
In many other countries, French plays an important role as an administrative, commercial or international language. It is also widely spoken in Eastern European countries such as Romania, Poland, Albania, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Bulgaria. (more)
According to the Rapport sur l’état de la Francophonie dans le monde there are :
181 million Francophones. (those who speak it fluently on a regular basis)
82,5 million students of all ages (residing in non French speaking countries and who study it for professional / personal reasons)
250 million who consider it as a second language and who use it occasionally.