The Evolution Of French

Have you ever asked yourself where modern French originates from? Non? Pas de problème! You can always use this extra knowledge at a party. 

Photo of Las leys d’Amors, a grammar and rhetoric treaty written in the 14th century.

Last week, I wrote about the influence of Latin and French in the English language. This week, I'd like to take a look at the evolution of the French language throughout history!

As we know, "la Gaule"— which encompassed most of Western Europe — was part of the Roman Empire where Latin was the official language used in political and administrative life. When the Roman Empire fell in the West at the end of the 5th century, Western Europe became very compartmentalized: different versions of what is called "vulgarized Latin" started to appear during the Dark Ages. 

The North of Western Europe was subject to Germanic influence and therefore used a Germanic version of Latin. The Wisigoths and the Burgondes had their own sociolect (a different form of colloquial Latin), so did the Bretons. Clovis I was crowned the first King of the Franks in Tournai and later baptised in Reims. He had the ambition to unify La Gaule: his strategic and well thought-out conquest started when he was only 20 years old, in the year 486. During this time, Christianity was rising in popularity, and Clovis' wife Clotilde, was a devoted Christian. She convinced him to conquer the Burgundian and Visigoth territories to expand the reach of Christianity but also to avenge her family. Though Frankish was to be the new spoken language, Latin remained in religious ceremonies and official texts. 

After Clovis' death, western Europe was partitioned once again. However, Christianity continued to expand its reach. When Charlemagne came to power in the year 800, he and the Clergy decided to bring Christianity to the masses by ordering the sermons to be in vernacular Roman, meaning the vulgarized form of Latin commonly spoken among the people. 

In the 12th century, almost every feudal territory had it's own dialect (see map). The dialects were non-codified and non-normalized. A version of French, called "le françois" (pronounced "le frans-way") was spoken in the King's court and in the armed forces. Here is an extract of "françois:"  
Bons fut li secles al tens ancïenur Quer feit iert e justise et amur, Si ert creance, dunt ore n'i at nul prut; Tut est müez, perdut ad sa colur: Ja mais n'iert tel cum fut as anceisurs.
(source: taken from a text written in 1040 "La vie de saint Alexis")
Can you try to make out the meaning?

François  was also spoken in the English royal court during the reign of Guillaume le Conquérant. Speaking françois was a symbol of high society throughout what is today the UK. 

The 13th century marked the spread of françois in other territories including Germany, Italy (Marco Polo wrote his travel journals in françois), and the Netherlands.

In France, Louis IX had the ambition to centralize royal power and sent ambassadors to different territories to expand the use of françois in administrative life. The masses became more exposed to françois with the apparition and popularization of printing in 1470.

It wasn't until François I came to power that French became the official language of the royal court, as well as administrative, political and litterary life (read more about the "Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts") At the end of the 19th century during the third Republic, the national language of France was very similar to the version of French we use today. The use of "patois" dialects was increasingly prohibited as France went through a sort of "cultural genocide" in a scheme to educate and unify France (see more about the "loi Ferry" on education in French).    

"L'Histoire de France pour les NULS" - Jean-Joseph Julaud'emploie%20souvent,servait%20de%20langue%20liturgique%20v%C3%A9hiculaire.,western%20imperial%20regalia%20to%20Constantinople.,%C5%93uvre%20de%20son%20p%C3%A8re%20Child%C3%A9ric.



Lir M.

I'd like to start this off by thanking you for teaching me so much French. You were a great teacher and you helped me learn so many new things. I'd also like to apologize for missing a lot of lessons, although I'm sure that I would've rather gone to them. Again, you are the best teacher I've ever had, and it's sad to say goodbye to you.

Lir M.

Stephen G.

Alliance Française de Denver created a wonderful virtual environment where I spent my Summer vacation; visiting the winemaking area of Bouzy; celebrating Bastille Day; learning how to cook with flowers; touring historic châteaux and beautiful villages; all in the safety and comfort of my home.

A real treat for any Francophone person; especially having a daily place for French chat to try out and maintain colloquial skills.

Stephen G.

Sue T.

Anne is fantastic! The material is fast paced for this "old dog" to learn new tricks, but we could not go slower. It has been very helpful to prepare me for my trip to France.

Sue T.

Cristina G.

A great place to learn and practice French while getting acquainted with French culture and interesting people. I definitely recommend AFD and their events. Je parle français! Et vous?

Cristina G.


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