Are you curious about the French language? Learning about its captivating history is sure to pique your interest. French is one of the five main romance languages that have evolved from Latin, alongside Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. Despite French’s association with romance, the term “romance language” originates from “romanica loqui,” meaning “to speak in Roman fashion.”
Let’s explore the origins of the official language of France, which has a rich and complex history. Modern-day France and Belgium were once part of the ancient region of Gaul, where the Gaulish language, a Celtic language, was spoken. After the Romans conquered Gaul in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Latin replaced Gaulish as the dominant language in the region. To advance in society, citizens were required to learn and adopt Latin.
Although the Gaulish dialects vanished, they left behind around 150 words that were absorbed by Latin. Some of these words survived in modern French, such as “artuas” (ardoise, slate) and “battu” (battre, to beat). However, Latin also underwent significant transformations, largely due to the lower classes, who influenced it with their own vernacular. This transformed version of Latin became known as Vulgar Latin and was spoken by the people.
While French has been considered a distinct language since the 9th century, it has retained many Latin roots. As a result, English speakers may find it easier to learn French. In fact, French is the second most commonly taught language worldwide, after English.
The Germanic invasions of France, following the fall of the Roman Empire, had a significant impact on the development of the French language. The Franks, who established their rule over Gaul, imposed their stress patterns and usage on Vulgar Latin, further modifying the language.
French is one of the official languages of 33 countries and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. As with any language, French has been influenced by other languages, including Greek, Italian, and English. Today, French dialects exist in various regions, but Parisian French has become the “model” for the language.