Monday, February 9, 2009

History of French Language

French, like its romantic counterparts Spanish and Italian, has its roots in Latin. It evolved gradually into its own language and became internationally influential.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, like the rest of Europe, France's language and culture were heavily dominated by the presence of the Catholic church. Latin was not only considered the language of communication within the Church, but it was also exclusively used within the sciences and philosophy. Latin was the language of educated individuals. Like all other romance languages, Latin words were adopted into French and contributed strongly to the evolution of the language.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, French began to emerge as a language of its own. The French of this period, called "françois," was beginning to be used more widely in place of Latin for official purposes. This lingua gallica began to compete with Latin and eventually overpowered the previously dominant language as the language of choice for administrative purposes. More and more documents began to be translated into "françois" and it was in this way that French began to evolve into its own language, separately spoken yet still similarly written to Latin.

As early as the 13th century, "françois" was already used and taught in England. French came to be considered a desired knowledge and it was sophisticated to have a knowledge of French in one's education. French was considered polite and was associated with high society. By the middle of the 14th century, French was the most widely spoken language in Europe, and one can consider this influence as the earliest beginnings of French as a diplomatic language. As a result of the Hundred Years' War, French was rejected by England, replaced by a nationalistic view that only English should be used for official affairs. However, French continued to be used despite the intentions to ban it from judiciary practices.

In 1539, François the First (François 1er) passed an important ordinance in the history of the French language: The Villers-Cotterêts Ordinance decreed that all French administrative documents must be in French. This ordinance was a crucial turning point in the French language, making it an official language and creating a sense of nationalism within the country. From 1550 onward through the 19th century, when France was the leading European power, the French language flourished and began to be spoken throughout the world. For this reason, French became known as a language of diplomacy and international relations in the 17th century. French has endeavored to maintain its place as the diplomatic language of the world, but other languages, namely English have quickly gained importance in diplomatic matters. The French Academy fought in the 20th century to keep French as the international language of diplomacy, but in present-day French has been replaced by English as the international language of communication. However, French, along with English, continues to play an important role as the language of international institutions

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