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File:Francophone Africa.png
Francophone Africa. The countries colored dark blue had a population of 321 million in 2007.<ref name=2007_data_sheet>Template:Cite web</ref> Their population is forecasted to reach 733 million in 2050.<ref name=2007_data_sheet />

French in Africa is present and spoken by many people. As of 2006 an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 francophone African countries can speak French either as a first or second language, making Africa the continent with the most French speakers in the world.<ref name=2007_report>Template:Fr icon La Francophonie dans le monde 2006-2007 published by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Nathan, Paris, 2007</ref> French arrived in Africa with colonisation from France and Belgium. These African French speakers are now an important part of the Francophonie.

French is mostly a second language in Africa, but in some areas it has become a first language, such as in Réunion or in the region of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.<ref>Template:Fr icon Le français à Abidjan : Pour une approche syntaxique du non-standard by Katja Ploog, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2002</ref> In some countries it is a first language among some classes of the population, such as in Tunisia and Morocco where French is a first language among the upper classes (many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals Arabic/French), but only a second language among the general population.

In each of the francophone African countries French is spoken with local specificities in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.

French African varieties

There are many different varieties of African French, but they can be broadly grouped in three categories:

All the African French varieties differ from standard French both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary.


Supermarket sign in French in Dakar, Senegal.

Differences in pronunciation between varieties of African French can be quite important (e.g. pronunciation of French in Morocco is quite different from the pronunciation of French in Senegal). Despite these significant regional variations, there exist some trends among African French speakers, such as the pronunciation of the letter R which tends to be pronounced like a trilled r instead of the guttural R of standard French (although some African speakers also pronounce R as a guttural R).

In most cases, however, it is not possible to make general rules about the pronunciation of French in Africa, each local pronunciation of French being influenced by the African languages spoken locally.


In terms of vocabulary, there exist three phenomena in African French. First, the presence of words which do not exist in standard French. These words were either coined locally or borrowed from local African languages. As a consequence, each regional variety of African French has its own local words that are not the same as in other varieties of African French, although this local vocabulary only constitutes a small part of the overall vocabulary which for the most part is identical to standard French. When talking to people from other regions or countries, African French speakers often switch to a more standard form of French avoiding this local vocabulary. However, there also exist some African French words that are found across many African countries (see for example chicotter in the Abidjan French vocabulary section below).

A second phenomenon is the use of some words with a meaning different from standard French. For example, the word présentement (which means "at the moment" in standard French) is used a lot in sub-Saharan Africa (but not in the Maghreb) with the meaning of "as a matter of fact", "as it were" and not "at the moment".

A third phenomenon is hypercorrection, which is found especially among the educated and upper classes of sub-Saharan Africa. Educated people there tend to speak a very formal sort of French which may sound a bit old fashioned and conservative to European and North American French speakers. This is somewhat similar to the way English is spoken by people of the upper class in India.

The local African French vocabulary not found in standard French ranges from slang frowned upon by educated people, to colloquial usage, to words that have entered the formal usage (such as chicotter). The French spoken in Abidjan, the largest city of Côte d'Ivoire, offers a good example of these contrasting registers.

Abidjan French vocabulary

Freeway in the centre of Abidjan

According to some estimates, French is spoken by 75% to 99% of Abidjan's population,<ref>Template:Fr icon Template:Cite web</ref> either alone or alongside indigenous African languages. There are three sorts of French spoken in Abidjan. A formal French is spoken by the educated classes. Most of the population, however, speaks a colloquial form of French known as français de Treichville (after a working-class district of Abidjan) or français de Moussa (after a character in chronicles published by the magazine Ivoire Dimanche which are written in this colloquial Abidjan French). Finally, an Abidjan French slang called nouchi is spoken by people in gangs and also by young people copying them. New words usually appear in nouchi and then make their way into colloquial Abidjan French after some time. <ref name=Abidjan_varieties>Template:Fr icon Template:Cite web</ref>

Here are some examples of words used in the African French variety spoken in Abidjan (the spelling used here conforms to French orthography, except ô which should be read as -aw in the English word "law"):<ref>Template:Fr icon Template:Cite web</ref>

  • une go is a slang word meaning a girl or a girlfriend. It is a loanword either from the Mandinka language or from English ("girl").
  • un maquis is a colloquial word meaning a street-side eating joint, a working-class restaurant serving African food. This word exists in standard French too but its meaning is "maquis shrubland", and by extension "guerilla", see Maquis (World War II). It is not known exactly how this word came to mean street-side restaurant in Cote d'Ivoire.
  • un bra-môgô is a slang word meaning a bloke or a dude. It is a loanword from the Mandika language.
  • chicotter is a word meaning to whip, to beat, or to chastise (children). It is a loanword from Brazilian Portuguese where it meant "to whip (the black slaves)". It has now entered the formal language of the educated classes.
  • un braiseur is a colloquial word meaning an arsonist or someone who kills a person by burning that person alive (usually during a lynching). This word exists in standard French too but its meaning is "someone who grills or roasts meat". The local meaning proper to Ivory Coast was first recorded in 1993.
  • le pia is a slang word meaning money. It comes perhaps from the standard French word pièce ("coin") or pierre ("stone").

When speaking in a formal context, or when meeting French speakers from outside Ivory Coast, Abidjan speakers would replace these local words with the French standard words une fille, un restaurant or une cantine, un copain, battre, un incendiaire, and l'argent respectively. Note that some local words are used across several African countries. For example chicotter is attested not only in Ivory Coast but also in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.<ref name=Abidjan_varieties />

As already mentioned, these local words range from slang to formal usage, and their use therefore vary depending on the context. In Abidjan, this is how the sentence "The girl stole my money." is constructed depending on the register:<ref name=Abidjan_varieties />

  • formal Abidjan French of the educated people: La fille m'a subtilisé mon argent.
  • colloquial Abidjan French (français de Moussa): Fille-là a prend mon l'argent. (in standard French, the grammatically correct sentence should be "La fille a pris mon argent.")
  • Abidjan French slang (nouchi): La go a momo mon pia. (momo is an Abidjan slang word meaning "to steal")

Kinshasa French vocabulary

File:Kinshasa downtown.jpg
Boulevard du 30 Juin in the commercial heart of Kinshasa

With more than 7 million inhabitants, Kinshasa is the largest francophone city in the world after Paris. It is the capital of the second most populated francophone country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 24 million people (40% of the total population) can speak French (essentially as a second language).<ref name=2007_report /> Contrary to Abidjan where French is the first language of a large part of the population, in Kinshasa French is only a second language, and its status of lingua franca is shared with Lingala. People of different African mother tongues living in Kinshasa usually speak Lingala to communicate with each other in the street, but French is the language of businesses, administrations, schools, newspapers and televisions. French is also the predominant written language.

Due to its widespread presence in Kinshasa, French has become a local language with its own pronunciation and some local words borrowed for the most part from Lingala. Depending on their social status, some people may mix French and Lingala, or code switch between the two depending on the context. Here are examples of words particular to Kinshasa French. As in Abidjan, there exist various registers and the most educated people may frown upon the use of slangish/lingala terms.

  • cadavéré means broken, worn out, exhausted, or dead. It is the local pronunciation of the standard French word cadavre whose meaning in standard French is "corpse". The word cadavéré has now spread to other African countries due to the popularity of Congolese music in Africa.
  • makasi means strong, resistant. It is a loanword from Lingala.
  • anti-nuit are sunglasses worn by partiers at night. It is a word coined locally and whose literal meaning in standard French is "anti-night". It is one of the many Kinshasa slang words related to nightlife and partying. A reveler is known locally as un ambianceur, from standard French ambiance which means atmosphere.
  • casser le bic, literally "to break the Bic", means to stop going to school.
  • merci mingi means "thank you very much". It comes from standard French merci ("thank you") and Lingala mingi ("a lot").
  • un zibolateur is a bottle opener. It comes from the Lingala verb kozibola which means "to open something that is blocked up or bottled", to which was added the standard French ending -ateur.
  • un tétanos is a rickety old taxi. In standard French tétanos means "tetanus".
  • moyen tê vraiment means "absolutely impossible". It comes from moyen tê ("there's no way"), itself made up of standard French moyen ("way") and Lingala ("not", "no"), to which was added standard French vraiment ("really").

African member states of La Francophonie

File:Illizi nature.jpg
Street sign in Arabic and French in Illizi, Algeria. The French text means: "I am fond of nature, I protect it."

Membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie does not require or imply that the French language is a primary language, or even a widely understood language, in a particular country. The names of countries that were never ruled by a Francophone colonial power are italicised. Note that Algeria, a former part of metropolitan France and the second largest francophone country in Africa, has so far refused to join the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie due to political tensions with France.

African countries with the largest numbers of French speakers

According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie,<ref name=2007_report /> the African countries with more than 5 million French speakers are:

African countries with the largest percentages of French speakers

According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie,<ref name=2007_report /> the African countries where more than 50% of the population can speak French are:

See also


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External links