• French Language History

The Language of Love

French is ranked sixteenth in the world’s league table of languages. French is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It’s a Romance language spoken by about 136 million people in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, the US, Lebanon, French Guiana, North, West and Central Africa, Madagascar, Haiti and other Caribbean islands. It is estimated that a total of 250 million speak it as either a first or second language.

As one of the most popular languages in the world, French is spoken by people on nearly every continent. Being one of the official languages of more than 22 countries, the French language was only standardised in the 16th century, making it a relatively modern language.

As with most modern languages, different regions and countries greatly influence the way in which the French language is spoken. In fact, the French language is also written in quite a number of different ways. One of the most remarkable differences, however, is seen in the written French language in the Canadian province of Quebec when compared to standard French.

Origins & Roots of the French Language

French 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.

Even though French is known as a modern language, there are several centuries of history associated with it. Having descended from the Indo-European family of languages, French has influences from quite a number of different languages that act as proof of its resilience and show how far the language has come.

Old French

Old French refers to the period when the different regional dialects of the language developed into a comparatively more standardised form, with separate grammar. The oldest written material of this time period dates back to the year 842 AD.

Middle French

This period of the French language dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Middle French refers to a time when significant changes in the spoken and written versions of the language were seen. Another significant development in favour of the French language at this time was the fact that texts of the public administration were being written in French, instead of Latin.

Early and Classical Modern French

Even though French had already started replacing Latin in public institutions, there was still a long way to go for the language’s evolution. Poets and authors of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries took it upon themselves to promote and encourage the proliferation of the language with their texts. The primary aim was to help French reach the level or status that Latin held.

Towards the end of this period, there were also significant changes in the grammatical rules of the language – conventions that set the tone for the form of French that we know today. This was also the time period during which the language spread to countries like the United States and Canada.

Modern French

This period of the French language started in the 19th century. Pronunciation of the French language was standardised in this period and French started becoming the official language of several African states, due to French colonisation. While slight changes are understandable, there haven’t been any significant changes to the language since the end of the 18th century.

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