The French language is spoken as a minority language in the United States. Roughly 2.10 million Americans over the age of five reported speaking the language at home in a federal 2010 estimate, making French the fourth most-spoken language in the nation behind English, Spanish, and Chinese (when Louisiana French, Haitian Creole and all other French dialects and French-derived creoles are included, and when Cantonese, Mandarin and other varieties of Chinese are similarly combined).
Several varieties of French evolved in what is now the United States:
More recently, French has also been carried to various parts of the nation via immigration from Francophone regions. Today, French is the second most spoken language (after English) in the states of Maine and Vermont. In Louisiana, it is tied with Spanish for second most spoken if Louisiana French and all creoles such as Haitian are included. French is the third most spoken language (after English and Spanish) in the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
As a second language, French is the second most widely taught foreign language (after Spanish) in American schools, colleges and universities. While the overwhelming majority of Americans of French ancestry grew up speaking only English, some enroll their children in French heritage language classes.
Louisiana French is traditionally divided into three dialects, Colonial French, Louisiana Creole French, and Cajun French. Colonial French is traditionally said to have been the form of French spoken in the early days of settlement in the lower Mississippi River valley, and was once the language of the educated land-owning classes. Cajun French, derived from Acadian French, is said to have been introduced with the arrival of Acadian exiles in the 18th century. The Acadians, the francophone inhabitants of Acadia (modern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and northern Maine), were expelled from their homeland between 1755 and 1763 by the British. Many Acadians settled in lower Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns (a corruption of "Acadians"). Their dialect was regarded as the typical language of white lower classes, while Louisiana Creole French developed as the language of the black community. Today, most linguists regard Colonial French to have largely merged with Cajun, while Louisiana Creole remains a distinct variety.
Missouri French was spoken by the descendants of 17th-century French settlers in the Illinois Country, especially in the area of Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, and in Washington County. In the 1930s there were said to be about 600 French-speaking families in the Old Mines region between De Soto and Potosi. By the late 20th century the dialect was nearly extinct, with only a few elderly speakers able to use it. Similarly, Muskrat French is spoken in southeastern Michigan by descendants of habitants, voyageurs and coureurs des bois who settled in the Pays d'en Haut.
New England French, essentially a local variety of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of the New England states. This area has a legacy of significant immigration from Canada, especially during the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Some Americans of French heritage who have lost the language are currently attempting to revive it. Acadian French is also spoken by Acadians in Maine in the Saint John Valley.
Ernest F. Haden identifies the French of Frenchville, Pennsylvania as a distinct dialect of North American French. "While the French enclave of Frenchville, Pennsylvania first received attention in the late 1960s, the variety of French spoken has not been the subject of systematic linguistic study. Haden reports that the geographical origin of its settlers is central France, as was also the case of New Orleans, but with settlement being more recent (1830–1840). He also reports that in the 1960s French seemed to be on the verge of extinction in the state community."
Brayon French is spoken in the Beauce of Quebec; Edmundston, New Brunswick; and Madawaska, Maine mostly in Aroostook County, Maine. Although superficially a phonological descendant of Acadian French, analysis reveals it is morphosyntactically identical to Quebec French. It is believed to have resulted from a localized levelling of contact dialects between Québécois and Acadian settlers. Some of the Brayons view themselves as neither Acadian nor Québécois, affirming that they are a distinctive culture with a history and heritage linked to farming and forestry in the Madawaska area.
Canadian French spoken by French Canadian immigrants is also spoken by Canadian Americans and French Canadian Americans in United States across Little Canadas and in many cities of New England. French Canadians living in Canada express their cultural identity using a number of terms. The Ethnic Diversity Survey of the 2006 Canadian census found that French-speaking Canadians identified their ethnicity most often as French, French Canadians, Québécois, and Acadian. The latter three were grouped together by Jantzen (2006) as "French New World" ancestries because they originate in Canada. All these ancestries are represented among French Canadian Americans. Franco-Newfoundlanders speaking Newfoundland French, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, Fransaskois, Franco-Albertans, Franco-Columbians, Franco-Ténois, Franco-Yukonnais, Franco-Nunavois are part of the French Canadian Americans population and speaks their own form of French.
A total of 10,804,304 people claimed French ancestry in the 2010 census although other sources have recorded as many as 13 million people claiming this ancestry. Most French-speaking Americans are of this heritage, but there are also significant populations not of French descent who speak it as well, including those from Belgium, Switzerland, Haiti and numerous Francophone African countries.
In Florida, the city of Miami is home to a large Francophone community, consisting of French expatriates, Haitians (who may also speak Haitian Creole, a separate language which is derived partially from French), and French Canadians; there is also a growing community of Francophone Africans in and around Orlando and Tampa. A small but sustaining French community that originated in San Francisco during the Gold Rush and was supplemented by French wine-making immigrants to the Bay Area is centered culturally around that city's French Quarter.
Many retired individuals from Quebec have moved to Florida, or at least spend the winter there. Also, the many Canadians who travel to the Southeastern states in the winter and spring include a number of Francophones, mostly from Quebec but also from New Brunswick and Ontario. Quebecers and Acadians also tend to visit Louisiana, as Quebec and New Brunswick share a number of cultural ties with Louisiana.
Florida, California, New York, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Hawaii, and a few other popular resort regions (most notably Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Maine and Cape May, New Jersey) are visited in large numbers by Québécois, during winter and summer vacations.
French has traditionally been the foreign language of choice for English-speakers across the globe. However, after 1968, French has ranked as the second-most-studied foreign language in the United States, behind Spanish. Some 1.2 million students from the elementary grades through high school were enrolled in French language courses in 2007-2008, or 14% of all students enrolled in foreign languages.
Many American universities offer French-language courses, and degree programs in the language are common. In the fall of 2016, 175,667 American university students were enrolled in French courses, or 12.4% of all foreign-language students and the second-highest total of any language (behind Spanish, with 712,240 students, or 50.2%).
French teaching is more important in private schools, but it is difficult to obtain accurate data because the optional status of languages. Indeed, the study of a foreign language is not required in all states for American students. Some states, however, including New York, Virginia and Georgia, require a minimum of two years of study of a foreign language.
|Town||State||Total population||% Francophone||Francophone population|
|Town||State||Total population||% Francophone||Francophone population|
|Saint John Plantation||ME||282||60%||169|
Note: speakers of French-based creole languages are not included in percentages.
|Parish/county||State||Total population||% Francophone||No. Francophones|
|St. Martin Parish||LA||48,583||27.4%||13,312|
|St. Landry Parish||LA||87,700||16.7%||14,646|
|Jefferson Davis Parish||LA||31,435||16.2%||5,092|
The survey, based on interviews, asked the following questions: "1) I would now like to ask you about your ethnic ancestry, heritage or background. What were the ethnic or cultural origins of your ancestors? 2) In addition to "Canadian", what were the other ethnic or cultural origins of your ancestors on first coming to North America?