Monday, 4 February 2013

History of the French Language

While this longer than some other posts, I was required to  assembled this Language Profile for  a course I was completing. If the development of language interests you, take some time to read this...it will surprise you how long it took for Modern French to develop.


French Language Profile

History and Geography

As a language goes, the evolution of French is not a simple or direct one. Starting in the 5th Century B.C.E. the Celts populated Spain, Northern Italy and Western Europe (what is now modern France). In Western Europe the Celts became known as the Gauls, who had no central authority and were a mixture of hundreds of city states. The Gauls spoke a vast variety of Celtics languages. There would continue to be no centralized language until the Romans began occupying of mainland Europe between 58 and 50 B.C.E. Julius Caesar conquered all of the Gaul territory and ignored all the “barbaric” (as the Romans saw them) Celtics languages and made it so that Latin was essential.
To enjoy a simpler life under the Roman occupation, Gauls began to seek Roman citizenship, which meant adopting Latin as their main language. Like the Romans with their continuous marching armies, the Gauls, a militaristic people, used their armies to continue the spread of Latin throughout Europe. With the implementation of schools with Latin traditions have a boost to the Roman alphabet, and created a written tradition in Europe, where there previously had been none. This resulted in the oral Gaulish tradition as obsolete.
The Latin that spread throughout Europe was not that of Caesar, but the broke Latin of servants, soldiers and Roman settlers. This spoken Latin was very distinct from the classical Latin. This Latin has become known as “Vulgar Latin.”
By 375 C.E., the Germanic invasion had begun in Europe, and the fall of the Roman Empire was in its final stage. The Germanic Franks took control of the Gaul territory and what is modern northern Germany. By the end of the 5th Century C.E. Europe was divided into hundreds of Germanic Kingdoms with still no centralized language.
The Franks began to centralize under Charles I (known as Charlemagne) who imposed Catholicism, but “Vulgar Latin” was still used and was being fragmented constantly. As “Vulgar Latin” became too complex, a central Germanic language of Romanic began to form around those in political office and the various monarchs. The Franks who choose to undergo their own transition, began speaking Frankish, but it was only used by the aristocracy.
During the time of Charlemagne, the Franks went through a period of bilingualism with Romanic. This continued for several centuries before the Franks were forced to adopt the Romanic language due to the surrounding nations acceptance of Romanic. Even today, only 544 Frankish words have survived to modern French, according to French linguist Henriette Walter.
The transition from Frankish to Romanic resulted in massive changes to phonetics, morphology and syntax. The Germanic [w] was treated like the Latin [v]. Latin words that began with [h] owned their new pronunciation to the new Germanic traditions. Syntax, such as placing the subject after the verb when an object or adverb proceeded it was developed during this transition. However, despite these changes to the Romanic language, Latin continued to dominate as a written language. This would remain the case until the 10th Century C.E.
Over time, what would become the French language, divided into three Romanic groups that are still largely visible today in France:
·         In the north – Langues D’Oil
·         In the south – Langues D’Oc
·         French Switzerland – Franche-Comtmé
Modern French is most often associated with Langues D’Oil, as it included the highest echelons of society in Paris. Yet oddly enough the Kings of Franks still continued to speak Frankish.
In 987 C.E., Hugues Capet was elected and crowned King of the Franks, and was the first sovereign to speak the Romanic vernacular that would later become known as French. It was not however, until 1119 C.E. when Louis VI proclaimed in a letter to Pope Calistuss II that he was the new King of France (not the King of the Franks). This was the first written reference made to France, from which the word Français is derived.
The word at the time was François (pronounced Franswè). The aristocracy, clerks, jurist and middle class began to use this form of French, however unification would not occur until Louis IX ascended to the throne in 1226 C.E.  Louis IX achieved a first stage of French centralization, but only enough to secure the survival of French through centuries of turmoil. This was accomplished through Louis IX’s numerous Royal Military victories, where French made headway in all major cities, and the language became associated with France.
In terms of phonetics, the French of this period was very complex. This was expecially true with its vowels. 13th Century C.E. French included some 33 vowels (9 oral, 5 nasal, 11 oral diphthongs, 5 nasal diphthongs, and 3 triphthongs). Consonants had three strict modifiers making French a very difficult to understand and learn.
For anyone who speaks French today, they would have a great deal of difficulty with 13th Century French, as all the letters were pronounced, including those that we understand as silent today.
In terms of grammar, 13th Century French, it remained very backwards, as word order was free in sentences. This form of French became known as “Old French.” This form of French was a mix of Romanic, Occitan, Germanic, and Arabic words, and used Latin for its phonetics.
Despite its far reaching roots, French was still not recognized as an official language. It was grounded as a vehicular language. This was because it was in use throughout the upper levels of society and was used by the Royal Army which carried French to Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Syria and Jerusalem through the Crusades. As the language expanded around the world, the written form began to catch up. The only problem was the coming centuries would not be easy for the French language.
Between the 14th-16th century French underwent a number of changes from the globally spread “Old French” to “Middle French” to “Modern French” as we know it today.
When Philip IV was King of France, he began using French for all official documents and was required it to be used in all regional parliaments. By 1300 C.E. French was rivaling Latin, and Roman and Greek philosophers were being translated into French to allow for a wider audience.  As a result, written French went through a Latinization.
In 1328 C.E. Charles IV died without an heir to his throne, and the English asserted its claim to the French throne. Edward III of England was French and Philippe VI ( a French Prince) began the long fight, known as the 100 Years’ War.
The conflict not only created a rift among the French monarchy, it also divided the French provinces. It would not be until 1453 C.E., under Charles VII that France would prevail, and regain control of all its former provinces.
The French victory cost the French language dearly. England replaced French in the Parliament of London earlier in 1363 C.E., and Henry V of England began to use English in his official documents.
It was argued by linguist Walter, that, if it were not for the intervention of Joan of Arc, the English would have fully adopted the French language. Forever altering the world as we know it today. Canada, the U.S. and all of the former British Empire might have been French.
Following the 100 Years’ War, France remained very unstable. This instability, led to a simplification of the entire “Old French” system. The numerous diphthongs and triphthongs were eliminated, turning to simple vowels in spoken French. In a reaction to this change, scholars looked to preserve the complex written rules. This resulted in the remaining pronunciation rules, on various words, like “oiseau” (pronounced wazo).
Due to the Latinization of the French written system, scholarly Latin continued to invade France and began to appear in the French vocabulary. This is very similar to the Anglicisation of French seem today.  This caused doublets to appear in the French language, the words like hötel and hôpital are examples of these doublets. They are both derived from the Latin word hospitalis, which evolved as a short form (hötel) and a long form (hôpital) into different meanings. The first, means hotel, while the second, hospital.

Other examples of these doublets are:

·         acer > aigre/âcre
·         masticare > mâcher/mastiquer
·         senior > sieur/seigneur
·         capsa > châsse/caisse
·         ministerium > métier/ministère
·         scala > échelle/escale
·         causa > chose/cause
·         porticus > porche/portique
·         simulare > sembler/simuler
·         operare > oeuvrer/opérer
·         strictum > étroit/strict
·         potionem > poison/potion
·         frictionem > frisson/friction
·         tractatum > traité/tract
·         pedestrem > piètre, pitre/ pédestre

·         rigidus > raide/rigide
·         parabola > parole/parabole
·         fragilis > frêle/fragile
·         pendere > peser/penser
·         integer > entier/intègre
·         legalis > loyal/légal
·         liberare > livrer/libérer
·         fabrica > forge/fabrique
·         auscultare > écouter/ausculter
·         absolutum > absous/absolu
·         capitalem > cheptel/capitale
·         captivum > chétif/captif
·         claviculum > cheville/clavicule
·         advocatum > avoué/avocat
·         singularis > sanglier/singulier
Source: UOttawa Language Management Canada http://www.slmc.uottawa.ca/

The Renaissance also had a dramatic impact on the French language. During this period 99% of the French population did not speak French, they continued to speak a number of regional dialects. French was only spoken in and around Paris, where the upper members of society lived. Just as Frances 13th Century military helped spread French around the world, the Italian domination during the Renaissance (the 16th Century) lead to more Latin entering France. The Italian Wars, which took place between 1494-1559 C.E. led to a strong relationship between France and Italy. This relationship, and the influx of Latin, brought more refinement to the French language.
By 1510 C.E., Louis XII decreed that all judicial proceeding conducted in France, so that the official language in France would become more centralized. In 1539 C.E., the Royal degree of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts required every Paris in the Kingdom to keep all birth and marriage records in French instead of Latin. This made French the official state language. Although Rome did not agree, by 1520 C.E. the Bible and Gospel were being translated into French, and Calvinists in both France and Switzerland, continued to spread French throughout Europe.
The French written language became overly complicated again during the 16th century. This was because printers were paid by the length of a document. Scholars and leading minds were unsure about the rules and complications of the language, so they left it up to the typographers to decide what was right and wrong. As a result they added the cedillia, the apostrophes, and the numerous accents that appear on all vowels in the French language, each that change the vowels pronunciation. Written French became as complicated as was spoken French in the 13th Century. The upper echelons of society could ignore these changes, but specialists were now obligated to follow the obscure rules.  This resulted in the same difficult rules with modern French writing.
Louis XIII tasked Cardinal Richelieu to keep watch over the French language and its development. Richelieu created the Acadèmie Françias in 1635 C.E. which would later create the French dictionary, grammar rules, rhetoric, and poetics.
This centralization resulted in French becoming an international legal language. It would be used for the first time internationally in the Treaty of Rastdatt in 1714  C.E. (which ended the Wars of the Spanish Succession) and would remain the official diplomatic language on treaties until World War One.
Despite its international status, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution would weaken the French language development. Even with the numerous centralization efforts, by the late 17th and early 18th Century C.E. only 3 million of the 25 million living in France could speak and understand French. A high number still spoke varied forms of Patois, which had existed since the Romanic times. The French language also lost ground internationally after it lost Canada to Britain in 1760 C.E. and the American War of Independence, which isolated Louisiana.
By the mid-18th century C.E. the language began to make headway in France itself. As factories became more centralized as a result of the Industrial Revolution, workers were required to travel into Paris and other major city centres and required French to work. However, workers would be one of the main culprits of the French Revolution, which would cause more turmoil in the evolution of the French language.
The French Revolution saw a simplification of the language.  During the outbreak, 80% of the population still did not speak French. This simplification was as a result of revolutionaries looking for more national sentiment, including language. For the first time there was a direct correlation between language and nation. The motto of the revolution was “Fraternité, Liberté, Egalité” (Fraternity, Freedom, Equality) For this to be possible, everyone needed the same language. If the language was made easier, more people could learn it. However, with the end result of the revolution resulting in the execution of Louis XVI in July of 1789 C.E., this left France open to new political ideologies.
Three major political periods remained before modern French would appear. The first was under the rule of Charles-Maurice Talleyrand, who imposed language laws, requiring French to be taught in schools and spoken in Church. This period has become known as the “Linguistic Terror,” and the laws remained until the execution of Robespierre in July of 1794 C.E.
The next period of political change was under Napoleon Bonaparte. He kept France in an eternal state of war throughout his reign, which required as much financing as possible. As a result of this, Napoleon allowed schools to return to teaching Latin, as it was cheaper and easier, meaning it required less resources. Unlike every French leader before him, he was from the lower nobility, and spoke Corsican (an Italian dialect) and put an end to all French promotion efforts.
Napoleon’s opinion of the French language came at the turn of the 19th century. The world began to look to science more closely, and Napoleon wanted France at the centre of the stage. Napoleon reopened the Acadèmie Françias, and it returned to its work on preserving the French language.
Despite new French research, the world still revered the French and its language because of Napoleon’s continuous expansion on Europe. Europe developed a very anti-French sentiment. Napoleon also decided to sell Louisiana to the U.S. in 1803 C.E., ending the last France French outpost in North America.
After Napoleon’s death, the new government made major strides in establishing the French language. In 1830 C.E. they created the national elementary education system, while at the same time had the intention of simplifying the French language. As a result of this effort, Parisian middle class pronunciation spread through France, resulting in what is modern French today.
With continued political division, the rise of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (commonly known as Napoleon III) promoted himself as the protector of the lower class, who were still struggling with the adaptation of the French language. Napoleon III returned France to a short period of Latin domination. For the benefit of France, this period lasted between 1851-1871 C.E. when Napoleon III was forced to surrender in his war with Prussia, resulting in the end of his rule.
By the 19th Century C.E. French was basically as it is today. They biggest change would continually be the increasing number of English words entering the language. The bloodiest war in history (World War One) would combine men from all over France. This destructive war solidified the survival of French, as it was the last stage of centralization. Men from the various regions were forced to modify their understanding of French to understand their comrades. Up until this period in history, French had never borrowed from the English language. In the 17th Century, only 8 English words were in the French vocabulary. By the 20th Century, more than 2,500 English words were present. As a result of this borrowing, French one again became an international language, borrowing words from more than 120 languages, including more than 1,000 from Italian and hundreds from Spanish. This allowed French to reach all levels of society.
In Canada, the ESL learners we will most likely encounter will be students from Quebec. This causes its own issues as Quebec French and French French are extremely different. The same can be said for African and Asian French.
There are similarities, such as the grammar rules, but there are vernacular changes. This is as a result of Frances rocky history. The French that we know in Canada is closer to 17th-18th Century French. This is because when New France was established from people from various French regions (which all spoke a different level and type of French). After the British conquest, Quebec was sheltered form the continued modifications to the French language in France. There is also a reason for the varied French in Quebec, from the French in New Brunswick. Those who settled in Quebec where predominantly from northern France, while those who settled in Acadia (NB) where from Southern France.   The French spoken in Canada, has been subject to the English spoken surrounding it for nearly 5 centuries. The most common pronunciation differences in Quebec are “moé” (supposed to be moi) and “toé” (supposed to be toi). With the development of social media and the internet the gap between Quebec French and France French, the same can be said for many of the former French colonies.