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African French
français africain
A private pharmacy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Native speakers
200 million (mostly non-native speakers) (2024)[1][2][3]
Early forms
  • West African French
  • Maghreb French
  • Djiboutian French
  • Indian Ocean French
  • Eastern African French
Latin (French alphabet)
French Braille
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Francophone Africa. The countries coloured dark blue had a population of 487.6 million in 2023.[4] In 2050 their population is forecast to reach between 870.1 million[5] and 878.5 million.[4]
2024 situation in Africa of the French Language as Official Language, and Native Language regions.
A man from Labé, Guinea, speaking Pular and West African French

African French (French: français africain) is the generic name of the varieties of the French language spoken by an estimated 167 million people in Africa in 2023 or 51% of the French-speaking population of the world[6][7][8] spread across 34 countries and territories.[Note 1] This includes those who speak French as a first or second language in these 34 African countries and territories (some of which are not Francophone, but merely non-Francophone members or observers of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie or OIF), but it does not include French speakers living in other African countries. Africa is thus the continent with the most French speakers in the world,[9][10] and African French speakers now form a large and integral part of the Francophonie.

In Africa, French is often spoken alongside Indigenous languages, but in a number of urban areas (in particular in Central Africa and in the ports located on the Gulf of Guinea) it has become a first language, such as in the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast,[11] in the urban areas of Douala, Yaoundé in Cameroon, in Libreville, Gabon, and Antananarivo[12]

In some countries, it is a first language among some social classes of the population, such as in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania, where French is a first language among the upper classes along with Arabic (many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals in Arabic/French), but only a second language among the general population.[13]

In each of the Francophone African countries, French is spoken with local variations in pronunciation and vocabulary.

List of countries in Africa by French proficiency

French proficiency in African countries according to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).[14][15][a]

Countries Total population French speaking population Percentage of the population that speaks French Year
 Algeria 45,350,141 14,903,789 32.86% 2022
 Benin 12,784,728 4,306,099 33.68% 2022
 Burkina Faso 22,102,838 5,403,610 24.45% 2022
 Burundi 12,624,845 1,073,506 8.50% 2022
 Cabo Verde 567,676 61,461 10.83% 2022
 Cameroon 27,911,544 11,490,652 41.17% 2022
 Central African Republic 5,016,678 1,435,061 28.61% 2022
 Chad 17,413,574 2,249,023 12.92% 2022
 Comoros 907,411 237,140 26.13% 2022
 Congo 5,797,801 3,518,464 60.69% 2022
 Côte d'Ivoire 27,742,301 9,324,605 33.61% 2022
 Djibouti 1,016,098 508,049 50% 2022
 DR Congo 95,240,782 72,110,821 74%[16] 2022
 Egypt 106,156,692 3,204,706 3.02% 2022
 Equatorial Guinea 1,496,673 432,705 28.91% 2022
 Gabon 2,331,532 1,865,225 80%[17] 2023
 Gambia 2,558,493 511,699 20.00% 2022
 Ghana 32,395,454 273,795 0.85% 2022
 Guinea 13,865,692 3,776,660 27.24% 2022
 Guinea-Bissau 2,063,361 317,351 15.38% 2022
 Madagascar 29,178,075 7,729,277 26.49% 2022
 Mali 21,473,776 3,702,660 17.24% 2022
 Mauritania 4,901,979 655,948 13.38% 2022
 Mauritius 1,274,720 926,053 72.65% 2022
 Morocco 37,772,757 13,456,845 35.63% 2022
 Mozambique 33,089,463 98,822 0.30% 2022
 Niger 26,083,660 3,362,988 12.89% 2022
 Rwanda 13,600,466 792,815 5.83% 2022
 Sao Tome and Principe 227,679 45,984 20.20% 2022
 Senegal 17,653,669 4,640,365 26.29% 2022
 Seychelles 99,433 52,699 53.00% 2022
 Togo 8,680,832 3,554,266 40.94% 2022
 Tunisia 12,046,656 6,321,391 52.47% 2022


There are many different varieties of African French, but they can be broadly grouped into five categories:[18]

  1. The French variety spoken in Central Africa and West Africa – spoken altogether by about 97 million people in 2018, as either a first or second language.[19]
  2. The French variety spoken by Berbers and Maghrebis in North-west Africa (see Maghreb French), which has about 33 million first and second language speakers in 2018.[19]
  3. The French variety spoken in the Comoro Islands (the Comoros and Mayotte) and Madagascar, which have 5.6 million first and second language speakers in 2018.[19]
  4. The French variety spoken by Creoles in the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius and Réunion) and Seychelles, which has around 1.75 million first and second language speakers in 2018.[19] The French spoken in this region is not to be confused with the French-based creole languages, which are also spoken in the area.
  5. The French variety spoken in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, which has about 0.5 million first and second language speakers in 2018.[19]

All the African French varieties differ from Standard French, both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, but the formal African French used in education, media and legal documents is based on standard French vocabulary.

Alcohol seller in Kara, Togo, with sign in French; she uses the phrase Soyez les bienvenus ("Be welcome"), considered an archaic phrase in Metropolitan France; some terms and words persist in use in Africa after falling out of use in France.

In the colonial period, a vernacular form of creole French known as Petit nègre ("little negro") was also present in West Africa. The term has since, however, become a pejorative term for "poorly spoken" African French.

The difficulty linguists have in describing African French comes from variations, such as the "pure" language used by many African intellectuals and writers versus the mixtures between French and African languages. For this, the term "creolization" is used, often in a pejorative way, and especially in the areas where French is on the same level with one or more local languages. According to Gabriel Manessy, "The consequences of this concurrency may vary according to the social status of the speakers, to their occupations, to their degree of acculturation and thus to the level of their French knowledge."[20]

Code-switching, or the alternation of languages within a single conversation, takes place in both DR Congo and Senegal, the former having four "national" languages – Ciluba, Kikongo, Lingala, and Swahili – which are in a permanent opposition to French. Code-switching has been studied since colonial times by different institutions of linguistics. One of these, located in Dakar, Senegal, already spoke of the creolization[inconsistent] of French in 1968, naming the result "franlof": a mix of French and Wolof (the language most spoken in Senegal) which spreads by its use in urban areas and through schools, where teachers often speak Wolof in the classroom despite official instructions.[21]

The omnipresence of local languages in Francophone African countries – along with insufficiencies in education – has given birth to a new linguistic concept: le petit français.[20] Le petit français is the result of a superposition of the structure of a local language with a narrowed lexical knowledge of French. The specific structures, though very different, are juxtaposed, marking the beginning of the creolization process.

Français populaire africain

In the urban areas of Francophone Africa, another type of French has emerged: Français populaire africain ("Popular African French") or FPA. It is used in the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa, but especially in cities such as Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire; Cotonou, Benin; Dakar, Senegal; Lomé, Togo; and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. At its emergence, it was marginalized and associated with the ghetto; Angèle Bassolé-Ouedraogo describes the reaction of the scholars:

Administration and professors do not want to hear that funny-sounding and barbarian language that seems to despise articles and distorts the sense of words. They see in it a harmful influence to the mastery of good French.[22]

However, FPA has begun to emerge as a second language among the upper class. It has also become a symbol of social acceptance.[citation needed]

FPA can be seen as a progressive evolution of Ivorian French. After diffusing out of Ivory Coast, it became Africanized under the influence of young Africans (often students) and cinema, drama, and dance.[citation needed]

FPA has its own grammatical rules and lexicon. For example, "Il ou elle peut me tuer!" or "Il ou elle peut me dja!" can either mean "This person annoys me very much (literally he or she is annoying me to death)" or "I'm dying (out of love) for him/her" depending on the circumstances. "Il ou elle commence à me plaire" signifies a feeling of exasperation (whereupon it actually means "he or she starts to appeal to me"), and friendship can be expressed with "c'est mon môgô sûr" or "c'est mon bramôgo."[22]

FPA is mainly composed of metaphors and images taken from African languages. For example, the upper social class is called "les en-haut d'en-haut" (the above from above) or "les môgôs puissants" (the powerful môgôs).


Pronunciation in the many varieties of African French can be quite varied. There are nonetheless some trends among African French speakers; for instance, ⟨r⟩ tends to be pronounced as the historic alveolar trill of pre-20th Century French instead of the now standard uvular trill or 'guttural R.' The voiced velar fricative, the sound represented by ⟨غ⟩ in the Arabic word مغرب Maghrib, is another common alternative. Pronunciation of the letters ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩, ⟨l⟩ and ⟨l⟩ may also vary, and intonation may differ from standard French.[citation needed]

Abidjan French

According to some estimates, French is spoken by 75 to 99 percent of Abidjan's population,[23] 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 has evolved from an ethnically neutral lingua franca among uneducated youth into a creole language with a distinct grammar.[24] New words often appear in Nouchi and then make their way into colloquial Abidjan French after some time.[25] As of 2012, a crowdsourced dictionary of Nouchi was being written using mobile phones.[26]

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 is pronounced [ɔ]):[27]

When speaking in a formal context, or when meeting French speakers from outside Côte d'Ivoire, Abidjan speakers would replace these local words with the French standard words une fille, un restaurant or une cantine, un copain, battre and l'argent respectively. Note that some local words are used across several African countries. For example, chicotter is attested not only in Côte d'Ivoire but also in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Central African Republic, Benin, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[25]

As already mentioned, these local words range from slang to formal usage, and their use therefore varies depending on the context. In Abidjan, this is how the sentence "The girl stole my money." is constructed depending on the register:[25]

Another unique, identifiable feature of Ivorian French is the use of the phrase n'avoir qu'à + infinitif which, translated into English, roughly means, to have only to + infinitive.[29] The phrase is often used in linguistic contexts of expressing a wish or creating hypotheticals. This original Ivorian phrase is generally used across the Ivory Coast's population; children, uneducated adults, and educated adults all using the phrase relatively equally. Often in written speech, the phrase is written as Ils non cas essayer de voir rather than Ils n'ont qu'à essayer de voir.[29]


Many characteristics of Ivorian/Abidjan French differ from "standard" French found in France. Many of the linguistic evolutions are from the influences of native African languages spoken within the Ivory Coast and make Abidjan French a distinct dialect of French.

Some of the major phonetic and phonological variations of Abidjan French, as compared to a more "typical" French, include substituting the nasal low vowel [ɑ̃] for a non-nasal [a], especially when the sound occurs at the beginning of a word, and some difficulty with the full production of the phonemes [ʒ] and [ʃ].[30] There are also, to a certain degree, rhythmic speaking speaking patterns in Ivorian French that are influenced by native languages.[30]

Ivorian French is also unique in its grammatical differences present in spoken speech such as these:[30]

Algerian French

Without being an official language, French is frequently used in government, workplaces, and education. French is the default language for work in several sectors. In a 2007 study set in the city of Mostaganem, it was shown that French and Arabic were the two functional languages of banking. Technical work (accounting, financial analysis, management) is also frequently done in French. Documents, forms, and posters are often in both French and Arabic.

The usage of French among the Algerian population is different depending on social situations. One can find:

Beninese French

French is the sole official language in Benin. In 2014, over 4 million Beninese citizens spoke French (around 40% of the population). Fongbe is the other widely spoken language of Benin. It is natural to hear both languages blending, either through loan words or code-switching.

Few academic sources exist surrounding the particularisms of Beninese French. Nevertheless, it is evident that Beninese French has adapted the meanings of several French terms over time, such as: seconder (to have relations with a second woman, from the French second - second), doigter (to show the way, from the French doigt - finger).

Burkinabe French

French is the language of administration, education, and business in Burkina Faso and was the de jure official language until a constitutional change in 2024. While spoken fluently only by about a quarter of the population, French has progressively become a native language among urban populations since the late 20th century, notably in the cities of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and Banfora. By 2010, about 10% of Ouagadougou residents spoke French as their first language.[31]

Linguists have observed the development of a local vernacular of French in the country called français populaire burkinabè which is influenced by local languages such as Mooré and is used as a lingua franca in commerce.[32] It is largely used as a spoken language whereas speakers continue to use standard French as the written language.[33]

Kinshasa French

Boulevard du 30 Juin in the commercial heart of Kinshasa

With more than 11 million inhabitants, Kinshasa is the largest Francophone city in the world, recently passing Paris in population. It is the capital of the most populous francophone country in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an estimated 43 million people (51% of the total population) can speak French (essentially as a second language).[19][34] 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. Kinshasa French also differs from other African French variants, for it has some Belgian French influences, due to colonization. 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.


There are many linguistic differences that occur in Kinshasa French that make it a distinct dialect of French. Similarly to many other African dialects of French, many of the linguistic aspects are influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the linguistics of the local African languages. It is also essential to note that grammatical differences between local Congolese languages and the French language, such as the lack of gendered nouns in the former, result in linguistic changes when speakers of the former speak French.[35]

Here are some of the phonetic characteristics of Kinshasa French:[36]

As briefly mentioned above, many Congolese languages are ungendered languages and so there is often some mixing of the French masculine and feminine articles in speakers of Kinshasa French, such as the phrase Je veux du banane rather than the "correct" French Je veux de la banane.[35]

See also


  1. ^ 29 full members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF): Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, DR Congo, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, and Tunisia.
    One associate member of the OIF: Ghana.
    One observer of the OIF: Mozambique.
    One country not member or observer of the OIF: Algeria.
    Two French territories in Africa: Réunion and Mayotte.
  1. ^ Countries in italics indicate non-Francophone countries.


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-04-15. Retrieved 2023-04-15.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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