Language Trivia

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Did you know this about... French?

01The nation historically has been divided into two linguistic regions: that of the langue d'oïl to the north and that of the langue d'oc to the south.
The two dialect groups were named after their respective words for "yes," oc having been the form of "yes" in the south and oïl (now oui ) having been used for "yes" in the north. Langue d'oc developed into Occitan, and included Provençal, a dialect that became the language of the troubadours in the south of France. Of the langue d'oïl dialects, that of the Paris region gradually supplanted all others as the standard idiom and developed into modern French. Both langue d'oïl and langue d'oc dialects persisted, however, in some rural areas as patois, or popular, provincial speech.

02The Toubon law of 1994 mandates that French be spoken in all official, public spheres of life.

03In 1830 French was adopted as the official language in Belgium. French was introduced to Belgium as the language of the political elite by feudal lords of French origin, particularly the dukes of Burgundy, who chose Brussels as their main city of residence.

04The French counting system is partially vigesimal: twenty (vingt) is used as a base number in the names of numbers from 60 to 99.The French word for 80 is quatre-vingts, literally "four twenties", and the word for 75 is soixante-quinze, literally "sixty-fifteen". This reform arose after the French Revolution to unify the different counting systems (mostly vigesimal near the coast, because of Celtic (via Breton) and Viking influences).

05 The French refer to several things in terms of the number thirty-six:

  • j’ai trente-six choses à faire I have many things to do
  • tous les trente-six du mois once in a blue moon (literally, each thirty-sixth of the month)
  • faire les trente-six volontés de quelqu’un to be at someone’s beck and call (literally, to do the thirty six wills of someone)
  • voir trente-six chandelles to see stars : after getting hit on the head (literally, to see thirty six candles)
Other examples : être au 36e dessous, il n’y a pas 36 solutions There doesn’t seem to be conclusive agreement on why the number is given such significance but we would be happy to hear your ideas.

According to the Petit Robert, 36 is a "number used colloquially to refer to a large indefinite number." Multiple of six (6 * 6) and 12 (used as a unit in "a dozen eggs") 36 dates back (according to the Maison de la Francité) to the duodecimal system (by = 12) of Babylonian civilization around the time of 4000 BC.
First to observe the movement of the stars, to name them, they were also the first to cut the ecliptic into 12 equal parts (= zodiac signs) and day 12 hours under their way of counting by 12. We know they also counted on the basis of their 10 fingers, but the duodecimal system was more practical, dividing 10 by 2 and 5, while 12 is divided by 2, 3, 4 and 6.

06French is also the only language, with English, that is taught in every country of the world, with 100 million students and 2 million teachers – 20 % of whom are outside of Francophone countries.

07French is second only to English for the number of countries where it has official status – 28 as opposed to 58. But, with 57 members, La Francophonie is now larger than the Commonwealth, which has 53.

08Kinshasa is the world’s second largest French speaking city, after Paris, and before Montreal and Brussels.

09At the time of the French Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French as a mother tongue. Until the 19th century, French was spoken more widely in Holland and Germany than in some parts of France.

10The Académie française (French pronunciation: ​[akademi fʁɑ̃ˈsɛz]), also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII.

What does French sound like? Listen to a French radio station here