The 2018 World Cup Final is set to be an epic showdown between France and Croatia. While the two teams prepare for the game by ensuring they are both physically and mentally ready, we’ve taken a look at their respective languages – French and Croatian – to see who the winner would be based on language statistics.
French wins hands down when it comes to number of speakers. Thanks to a history of empire-building, France has speakers around the world, with a large number of second-language speakers in Africa. In total, there are around 274 million French speakers, of whom 76 million speak the language natively.
Croatian, meanwhile, as far fewer speakers, at just 5.6 million. Even setting aside the number of people who speak French or Croatian as a second language, France would still win due to its much larger population – nearly 67 million people, versus just over 4 million in Croatia.
When it comes to the number of characters in the alphabet, Croatian comes out on top. While French has 26 letters, based on the Latin alphabet, Croatian has 30, with some notable variations to standard Latin characters. These additional Croatian characters include č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š and ž.
When it comes to the number of countries that speak one of the two languages, France wins once more. It is an official language in 29 countries, including France, Belgium, Benin, Canada, Congo, Haiti, Luxembourg, Monaco, Rwanda, Senegal, Switzerland and Vanuatu. Croatian, meanwhile, is an official language in just four countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia (in Vojvodina), Austria (in Burgenland).
French is also used as an administrative language in nine countries, from Algeria and Cambodia to Tunisia and Vietnam. Furthermore, it has 15 dependent entities, such as French Polynesia and Saint Martin. These 15 territories also include two American states: Louisiana and Maine. In both states, French is a recognised cultural language, with the state governments working to promote French-language education and the use of French in government services and commerce.
Croatian is far less widely used, though it is recognised as a minority language in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Hungary (in Baranya County), Italy (in Molise) and Romania (in Carasova, Lupac).
French has its roots in the Vulgar Latin spoken across the Roman Empire. Modern French has been widely used since the 17th century, when it became a lingua franca for international connections (replacing Latin). This remained the case until around the middle of the 20th century (when English replaced it), which is one of the reasons that French continues to be so widely spoken around the globe. With rich, powerful leaders like Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIV promoting and protecting the French language (it was Richelieu who established the Académie française), Parisian French came to be the primary language of France’s aristocracy by the early 1800s.
Croatian dates back to the 19th century in its modern form, though earlier forms of the language can be seen in the late 16th/early 17th century, when two powerful domestic dynasties – the Zrinski and the Frankopan – sought to unify the country linguistically as well as culturally. Sadly, politics got in the way when two of the main proponents of the combined Croatian linguistic standard (Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan) were executed in 1671, leading the Croatian elite to eventually abandon it.
The standardization of modern Croatian was brought about in large part by the Illlyrian movement, which sought to build a common literary language in Croatia by standardizing regional differences and orthographic inconsistences. The led to the standardization of the Latin alphabet, with Illyrian movement leader Ljudevit Gaj ultimately achieving the adoption of Neo-Shtokavian as the basis for both Croatian and Serbian. Its confirmation under the Vienna Literary Agreement of 1850 set the path for the Croatian language that we use today.
French is the older language, is spoken by more people and is recognised as an official language in a greater number of countries. If the World Cup outcome was based on language statistics, France would definitely win. However, Croatia’s win over England in the semi-final shows that size doesn’t matter when it comes to football, so both teams still have everything to play for!
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