Overview: The French language is spoken by more than four hundred million people around the world as their mother tongue. In addition to European countries such as France, Switzerland, and Belgium, French is spoken in the American continent, precisely in Canada and in the former French colonies in Africa, chief among them: Mali, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal ……
Today, French is among the official languages in UNO, the second just after English.
The Birth of The French Language
Historically, France of today used to be a part of the Roman Empire. This latter declined around 395 BC. At that time, Europe saw many waves of massive migrations of different tribes, most were Barbare people speaking various dialects. The Gaule became then a melting pot. Those invasions gained more terrain up to the sixth century. Latin, the church language, was transformed and then gave birth to some of the present European languages: Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese ……
The birth date of the French language
It can be traced back to 842 BC, the date of the « Strasbourg Oaths » ( les Serments de Strasbourg) considered by linguists as the birth certificate of the French language. Some other linguists think that French came to the world as a result of the mixture of Latin and, the Germanic language and the Francique. It was then called « Le François ». At that time, French was spoken only in Paris and its surroundings ( Orléans). While high-class people spoke French, the other classes used their own dialects (patois) such as le Wallon, le Norman, le Picard, le Catalan …. to communicate among themselves. Progressively, the French became more and more important in European society. By the twelfth century, people started using it in the official documents of the kingdom. During that period, it was so hard to govern a country whose inhabitants could not understand each other because of linguistic diversity.
French as an official language
In 1539, King François 1 signed the « Villers Cotterets document » which was part of a series of rules. The document included a very important linguistic measure that concerned the use of the French language in three principal domains: finance, justice, and security. Thus French became the official language of the state. Nevertheless, local dialects were still used in several regions of the country.
Creation of institutions
Cardinal Jean De Richelieu played a considerable role to consolidate the French language. Indeed, Richelieu hoped to see French used by all the people of the country. To achieve his aim, he financed a lot of artists, writers, and journalists. As a result, in 1531, Renandot created the first newspaper in French that he called « la Gazette ». The first newspaper was published for the first time in Paris. Richelieu, consequently, made a profit and used la Gazette as an instrument for political propaganda.
Principal dates of French development :
842, The Strasbourg Oaths were signed and then considered as the birth certificate of the French.
12th century, the first poetic production in ancient French (langue d’Oil of northern France) in the middle age.
1539, Villers Cotterets Ordinance, the official text of the French language foundation, signed by King François 1.
1549, Joakhim Du Belley defended the French language in his book entitled « La défense et l’illustration de la langue française ».
1935, Creation of « L’académie française » by Jean De Richelieu with nine scientists whom he called « Les Immortels ».
1694, The « Immortels » elaborated the first dictionary of French.
1784, Antoine De Rivarol made a long speech about the French language universality and its use in European courses.
1794, Abbé Grégoire decided to abolish the local dialects after he had imposed French to unify the nation.
1882, The public instruction French minister, Jules Ferry imposed the French language in primary schools of the country.
The Main Spelling Changes in French.
The twenty-two Latin letters (alphabet) were not sufficient for the various language sounds in French. Therefore, adding other letters was necessary to distinguish the sounds and the spelling. For instance, just the letter « u » was used for the sounds « u and i ». As a result, four letters were used « K , J , V, W » in addition to « les accents aigu et grave » to make the difference , for example, between « a » (verbe avoir au présent) and « à » (préposition). Moreover, the doubling of some letters took place as well during the same period of the Renaissance; for instance: « année – comme – appeler …. ».
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the French language knew its heyday since it became the language of the educated elite in all of Europe, mainly in political and cultural domains.