Friday, 14 May 2010

History and influences of the French language

One cannot speak about the origins of the French language without addressing the topic of Romance languages, the family of language to which French belongs. Even though Romance languages, share certain qualities not found in contemporary Latin that is taught today, it is believed that Latin is the father of the Romance group of languages. Latin was a language used by Romans during the Roman Empire, which dated to the years before and after the birth of Christ.

Julius Caesar, an emperor of the Roman Empire, conquered Gaul, now known as present-day France in 50 BC. The Romans found these people speaking a language known as Gaulish. Little is known today about the origins of the Gaulish language, but it is known to be an ancient Celtic language dating to before 500 AD used in the western and central parts of Europe and Asia Minor. Little remains of
any vocabulary or sounds. The presence of the Roman soldiers in Gaul gradually introduced a form of vernacular Latin, a language that differed from classical Latin, which was used only by the educated classes of Romans. Yet the Latin spoken by the soldiers was not adopted verbatim.

Instead, the Gauls modified the vocabulary at will on the basis of its sound. "For example, a Gaul hearing the stressed syllables bon and ta of the word bonatitem (kindness) shortened the word to bonta. This word has become bonte in modern French" (The World Book Encyclopedia 517). The Gauls left about 350 words to modern day French.

Frankish Influence

The Franks of Germany conquered Gaul about 400 years later, giving the area the name France; their linguistic influence is seen in the approximately 1,000 Frank words and the use of dipthongs and nasal vowels seen in the French language. Frankish was a Germanic language, and most of the Frankish words adopted have to do with agriculture, war, or social organizations. The French jardin (garden), houe (hoe), guerre (war), and chambellan (chamberlain) are all traced to the Frankish.

Traces of Danish

400 years after the Frankish occupation, Northern France was invaded by Danish Vikings, and there are about 90 words in French left by the Danish. Danish, an offspring of Old Scandinavian, was one of the languages being spoken in the Scandinavian region of Europe. It is believed that it sprouted off at around 1000 AD.

Other European Contributions

Greek, Spanish, Italian, and more Latin vocabulary were also introduced into the French language during the time of the Renaissance in Europe. Vernacular Latin had changed so much by 700 AD in France that it was now considered a Romance language. The first written form of this language, Old French, is traced to the Oaths of Strasbourg, an oath signed in 842 AD by two grandsons of the French emperor Charlemagne. Another document in Old French dated shortly thereafter at about 880-882 AD was a history of the life of St. Eulalia written by a man named Prudentius. Old French has two primary groups of different dialects- the langue doc and the langue doil. The langue doc was used mainly in the south of France; the Provencal dialect was used very commonly in medieval literary language. The langue doil was based in the northern parts of France. One dialect, Francien, was the primary language of Paris. By 1200, the Francien dialect had become the dominant form used in France. The Edict of Villers-Cotterets in 1539 established Francien as the language of France, partly because it was so popular in its written form.

Dissemination of Francien

Slowly, this standard French began to diffuse from Paris throughout France, while local dialects were strongly discouraged. It was not until the 19th century that standard French became widely used and accepted throughout the country. Over time, French grammar has developed into a simple form of Latin grammar. Tenses, cases, and gender, each found in Latin to a more complex degree, are all used in a simpler, more reduced form in French. Digg It! Stumble Delicious Technorati Tweet It! Facebook

Enjoy a romp around the Aude, Languedoc

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Happy romp!!