French belongs to the Indo-European family, Romance group, and is the official language of nearly 200 million people. It is spoken by over 124 million people, including second language users in all countries. It is widely understood in the rest of the world, especially those countries which had or have close political or economic ties with France, such as Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tahiti and the Maldives.
Significantly, forty-seven countries attended the 6th Francophonie Summit (Le VIe Sommet francophone) that was held in Cotonou, Benin, in December, 1995. French is one of the Romance languages, descended from Latin. The appearance of Latin in France (then called Gaul) dates from Caesar's conquest of the region in the period 58-51 B.C. Gaul became one of the richest and most important provinces of the Roman Empire and Latin superseded the various Celtic (Gaulish) tongues as the language of the domain. A number of dialects emerged but history favored the northern dialect called "la langue d'oïl," distinguished from "Occitan" or "la langue d'oc," the language of the south. Paris became the capital of France in the 12th century and Parisian French gained ascendancy over the others. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries French was preeminent as an international language.
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