THE FRENCH LANGUAGE
In order to understand how the French language was born, let us plunge in the past, about 2000 years ago, in 50 BC at the end of the Gallic War. At the time, France was the largest part of Gaul, just conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar. Except a village with irreducible Gauls that you can discover through the very famous serie of films and cartoons The Adventures of Asterix... Until then, people commonly spoke Gallic, which is a Celtic language.
A Romance language
For the next five centuries, Latin (very old Italian), then rubbed shoulders with Gallic. However, Gallic could not maintain for long as it was not a written language. Nowadays, French speaking people still use about a hundred words, daily, bearing traces of their Gallic roots. The latter refer to agro farming mainly. This is how we can find the words charpente (frame), charrue (plow), chêne (oak), gaillard (lad), jambon (ham), mouton (sheep), ruche (hive), soc (ploughshare) or truite (trout). Please visit this page to get the full list of Gallic words.
With some German roots
In the 5th century, the Western Roman empire fell because of the Barbarians. The leader and 1st Frankish king Clovis finally unified them. So as to ally the great Gallo-Roman families, he adopted their language, Gallo-Roman, and their religion, Catholicism. Due to the Germanic origin of the Franks, French added new words and sounds. For instance: [œ] of "fleur" (flower) and [ø] of "nœuds (knots). Also, French still has some roots from Frankish as with some color names.
If there are two major dates to keep in mind, here they are:
- First, the year 842 marks the writing of the oldest document written in French called The Oaths of Strasbourg.
- Second, we owe the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, signed in August 1539, to the great king Francis I. This edict buried French as the official language of the country. Language is the first vector of French unity, thought and culture, and the king understood it well.
Middle Ages period
Throughout then and to the end of the 17th century, French gathered a couple of dialects which vary a lot from one region to another. Oil and Oc are the two main ones but Oil will become the very main one. The 11th century epic poem Song of Roland is one of the most iconic examples of old French. Thanks to Mr. Bédier, we can access it in an easy French. At the same time, Latin resisted and people still used it in the education, Church and legal fields. To that, we can find many traces of Greek in the etymology of French words. However, people speaking the king's language did not exceed 10 to 20% in the 16th century. That changed very slowly while French spread in European royal courts and across the Atlantic to the detriment of Latin. Finally, French has expanded through colonialism in the modern period.
We know French as very hard to learn. First, we count 18 tenses so far. Of course, and thank god, people use only some of them. Then, a very complex grammar and many accents. Finally, to make it even easier, lots of exceptions, but all with a specific reason. To that, keep in mind that we have to adapt lexicon, syntax, tone and conjugaison to the literary field or the person in front of you. Plus, do not be surprise to face to many namesakes. Thus, "vert" (green), "vers" (to), "verre" (glass) and "ver" (worn) have all the same pronunciation but a total different meaning. Also, never forget that this language requires the very formal mode "vous".
If the French is one of the hardest dialects in the world, it is also the most elaborate one and, with no doubt, one of the most beautiful. Even the sound of words often refers to their meaning. Not to mention that French speaking people can use a second, third and even more degree to convey a message. That gives poets endless ways to play with words.
Until 2015, the teaching of ancient dialects, Latin and Greek, was offered as an option from middle school. Since then, such a controversial law put an end to that. Indeed, people being proud of their roots, it was a real public scandal. Finally, Latin and Greek are still mentioned in another course but no longer taught like before.
For a few years, the French Academy has tend to simplify the French language. Plus, it has allowed grammar feminization of job names and status. These decisions have not been well received. In practice, people do not respect that and are not even aware of what is really allowed. This institution, born in 1635 under royal command, is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language.
In the daily life
If you were not born into a Latin culture, you probably ignore that you use some Latin words too. First, with the Roman numerals. Here is a part of their secret: I (1), II (2), X (10), L (50), C (100), D (500) and M (1000). And second, with a few words you use in your daily life. This is the case for PS (post scriptum), recto verso, forum, NB (nota bene), agenda, veto, visa, video, via, vice versa, and so on.
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French in the world
It is the official language of 29 countries, as well as the second most learned second language just behind English. Here is the list of these countries.
French is one of the six official, as well as one of the two working languages, of the United Nations. It is also the official language of the Olympic Games and of several international or regional organizations such as the European Union. French remains the main diplomatic language in the world. It is also the third one for business and the 4th most used online.
Depending on the source, more or less 300 million people in the world speak French in 2018. This ranks French on top 5 in the world. With English, French is the only language spoken over the 5 continents, in 106 countries. Also, if it is not the most spoken one, it is the most spread worldwide.
According to all experts, the number of French native speakers should increase up to 800 million by 2050. Here is the reason: Africa is booming. And there are many ex French colonies where people now access to education. By 2050, Africa will be 2.5 billion people and 4.3 by 2100 according to forecasts. That is why French might become the 1st language in the world by 2050, before Chinese.
In short, you can prepare your children for the future. Favoring English is the best option in the very short term. But in the fairly near future, French should become essential. Then, just think about it.