French is spoken by an estimated 274 million people in the world! It’s an official first or second language of 29 countries across several continents. French is one of the main languages of international communication and it has been for centuries. It is important to note that for 300 years French remained the official language in England following the victory of William the Conqueror in 1066!. As it is such a major language worldwide with such a wide sphere of influence, we thought that it would be worth looking at its origins and history, to help us better understand, “ all things French!”.
The location of modern-day France used to be part of a larger region occupied by Gauls, who spoke a type of Celtic language. The Romans conquered the Gauls in 121 BC and brought with them Latin. (Yes you can think Asterix and Obelix!)
Then in the 5th century AD the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes, began their invasion of Gaul, but they too were Romanised and as a result the people began to speak “Vulgar Latin”. Although modern French has several hundred words of Celtic origin and from Germanic, it does owe its structure and most of its vocabulary to Latin.
By the 9th century the language spoken in what is now France was sufficiently different from Latin to be a distinct language. It is called Old French spoken from the 9th to the 13th century. The earliest text in Old French is the Oaths of Strasbourg, dated 842, the document was the sworn oaths of two grandsons of Charlemagne.
In medieval France the language changed into two dialects or languages: langue d’oc and langue d’oïl. They both mean “language of yes”, because oc was the word for “yes” in the south, and oïl meant “yes” in the north. The latter of these two dialects (the north-central dialect spoken in Paris and the region around it) in time became the standard form of the language because of the increasing political and cultural importance of Paris.
As we highlighted in our introduction the French language had over 300 years of influence on the English language with more than 50% of the English words are of French origin!. Interestingly an act was passed in England in 1362,The Pleading in English Act obliging the British Parliament to conduct proceedings only in English. Even despite it, English officials continued to use exclusively French until 1423. The motto of the Great Britain monarchy, written on the coat of arms is also in French – “Dieu et Mon Droit” (“God and My Right“).
French from the 14th through the 16th cent. is known as Middle French. During this period many words and expressions were borrowed from Latin, Greek, and Italian, and a group of French poets, the “Pléiade”, encouraged the French to develop and improve their language and literature in French.
The modern period of French began in the 17th century. In 1635, founded by Cardinal Richelieu, France established the French Academy in order to standardise the French language. To this day, the academy establishes the rules for Standard French.
While the vocabulary and style of Modern French have been influenced by movements such as romanticim structurally French has not really changed since the Middle French period.
From the 17th century until the middle of the 20th century, French was the most important language of diplomacy and international relations, literature and the arts. However, it lost its status to English after WWII, when the United States a superpower.
Although French lost its premiere status as the language of diplomacy, it still remains a major language of influence and is still one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is the working language of the United Nations, In the European Union’s Court of Justice, French is the only language used in deliberations. And while the language can seem daunting with its genders, dialects and pronunciations we promise you that you too can become fluent in French very easily with French – Access!