French is a Romance language spoken by about 200 million people in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, the USA, Lebanon, French Guiana, north, west and central Africa, Madagascar, a number of islands in the Indian Ocean, Haiti and other Caribbean islands, Indochina, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides and the French Pacific Territories.
The French language is descended from Latin and first appeared in writing in 842 AD when it was used in the Strasbourg Oaths. Before then Latin was the language used for literature throughout Europe. During the 10th and 11th centuries, French appeared in a number of documents and religious writings, but French literature didn't start to take off until the late 12th / early 13th century. The first great work of French literature was the 'Chanson de Roland' (Song of Roland), which was published in about 1200.