French Language History

The French language is considered a global language. There are around 77 million native French speakers, and 300 million when counting second language speakers. Learning French is also popular among global populations, so the number of French language speakers continues to grow. With French-speaking people found on five continents and in many countries, it is easy to understand why French is such a popular choice among learners.

Some of the most popular French-speaking countries are France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, the United States, Italy, and Switzerland. There are also many French speakers in Africa and the Caribbean. In fact, the French language is the official language of 29 countries, including those listed above. It is also the official language of 36 international organisations, including the United Nations, European Union, NATO, and World Trade Organisation.

Given these statistics, it is no surprise that the French language is the 5th most spoken language in the world, the 2nd most spoken language in Europe, and the only language aside from English that is spoken on all five continents. However, the reasons why French holds such a prominent position in the modern world remain a mystery to many.

This article aims to uncover the history of the French language in detail. We look at the origins of French, why it rose to prominence in France, and how speaking French became famous worldwide. This is helpful when learning French to better understand the language’s evolutionary traits, but it is equally as fun if you’re not learning French. Let’s start by going back to where the French language first began.

French Language Origin

Latin was historically used for all literature and official documents throughout Europe. The French language descended from Latin, just like the other Romance languages. It first appeared in writing in 842 AD when used in the Strasbourg Oaths and appeared in religious writings in the 10th and 11th centuries. However, French literature didn’t take off until the late 12th century. This initial version of the language is known as Old French.

Several Old French dialects emerged among people speaking French. However, one dialect emerged dominant: Francien. This dialect was spoken in the Île-de-France region in France. This version of the French language thrived in the 14th and 15th centuries, becoming what is known as Middle French. During this period, significant changes in the spoken and written versions of the language occurred.

In 1539, the King of France announced that the French language would be used for all legal matters. This increased its popularity significantly. Another reason why French became a dominant language was due to the publication of the first French-Latin dictionary. This made it easier for people learning French to see the Latin translations and aided comprehension among the population of France.

Modern “French Language”

France had several influential leaders ruling the country in the 17th century and held significant influence over other European nations. The French language became the lingua franca of international relations. People also started speaking French in several African countries and Canada because of French colonisation during this period. French began making its way across the globe!

It was at this point that the era of Modern French emerged. The Parisian dialect of the French language was the primary language for the aristocracy in France by the 1800s. Continuing throughout the 19th century, the French Government implemented efforts to phase out minority languages, with Standardised French phasing out many regional dialects.

Towards the end of the modern period, there were no further changes in the grammatical rules of the language. In fact, this version of the language is essentially the same as the language taught at French learning schools today. This also explains why French is considered a young language; Modern Standard French has only been around for a few hundred years.

Alphabets & Writing System

The French language is written using the basic Latin script. As with the English writing system, there are 26 letters in the French alphabet. However, the French language also uses four diacritic marks on vowels, a cedilla (ç), and two ligatures (œ and æ). Nevertheless, the use of the Latin alphabet is one of the reasons why French is an easy language for English speakers to pick up.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean speaking French is easy! French spelling is largely based on the pronunciation of Old French, despite significant changes in pronunciation of the French language throughout history. This means there are many silent letters and conspicuous verbs, which are particularly hard to master when learning French.  

Nevertheless, the rules of French orthography are highly accurate, with similar combinations of consonant letters and vowels seen throughout the language. Once you get used to how different sounds convert into written French, writing French is relatively straightforward.

Regional Variants of the French language

It is important to remember that the French language wasn’t standardised until the 18th century. This makes it a modern language. As with most modern languages, speaking French varies between different countries. The primary French language dialects today are European, Canadian, and African. All versions are viable options when learning French, but with distinct differences.

The most remarkable deviations from Modern Standard French are within the Canadian province of Quebec. This is the dominant version of French spoken in Canada and uses a different vocabulary, idioms, and cultural expressions. The biggest difference, though, is in pronunciation – the two are often not mutually intelligible!

There are also French Creole speakers in Louisiana, so French is a popular choice for language students in the United States. In fact, French has gained co-official status with English in Louisiana due to the large number of French speakers. It even has its own French society, the Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane.

French Translation Services

More people are speaking and learning French than ever before! It is considered a global language used across all continents and industries. With its increase in popularity, it is easy to understand why French translation services are also in demand. As the world becomes more globalised, the French language can help businesses and governments communicate internationally.

Do you have content to translate into French? If so, Renaissance Translations can help. We have a large network of professional French linguists who can provide high-quality French translations in no time. Whether you’re looking for document translation, video subtitling, audio transcription, or other language services, our skilled experts are up for the challenge.

Contact us to discuss your specific project needs today! Alternatively, request a quote for your French translation project, and a member of our team will contact you shortly.