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Why a changing French language is nothing to be afraid of

With more than 320 million speakers globally, French is the world's fifth most-spoken language. But traditionalists complain that spelling, grammar and vocabulary are on the decline. On International French Language Day, one linguist tells RFI that change isn't just inevitable – it's healthy.

“French is just fine because it’s spoken on every continent, which is rare for a language,” says Christophe Benzitoun, a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Lorraine.

“There are several hundred million speakers, which shows that the language is doing well, it’s widely spoken, widely taught.

“So there’s no need to worry about its vitality in the short or medium term, about the number of speakers, its ability to adapt to new technologies or anything else.”

Some 321 million speak French worldwide, according to the French Language Observatory’s latest estimate from 2022.

With around half of those speakers in Africa, a third in Europe and others in the Americas, the Caribbean, Asia and Oceania, its footprint is broader than Chinese or Hindi – which have more total speakers but are concentrated on a single continent.

Only English and Spanish – like French, languages of European empires that colonised much of the globe – can compete for geographical spread.

So why do so many people believe that French is on the decline?

Struggles with spelling

They nonetheless remain in line with the average for other members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).