According to linguist Pierre Escudé in his monumental work, “Histoire sociale des langues de France” (PUR 2013), the French State has built itself on the supremacy of French monolingualism from absolutism to the Third Republic, passing through the two empires. In 1539, François Ier eliminated Latin from legal acts in favor of the sacred French language, or “françoys” (pronounced [franswè]). In 1635, Louis XIII created the Académie française, with the use of “good French” being defended by official poets such as Malherbe or Maynard. “From this time on, mastery of the language was essential for access to the main positions and careers,” writes linguist Jean-Marie Woehrling in the same collective work.
During the Revolution, French was elevated to the status of the “one and indivisible” language of the Republic. This spirit was reflected in the Ferry laws of the 1880s, and the law of 27 brumaire year III already imposed that “education would be in the French language.” In the 19th century, French was adorned with all the qualities of clarity and scientificity of a “high language” required by any modern state. As the philosopher and philologist Ernest Renan (1823-1892) put it, “science and philosophy can never be done in dialects.” Even today, Article 2 of the French Constitution recognizes only one official language: French.
The French State’s preference for French monolingualism has had a significant impact on the country’s linguistic landscape. The promotion of French as the only official language has led to the decline and even disappearance of many regional languages in France. It has also created a social hierarchy that has privileged those who speak French over those who do not. The French government has made some efforts to promote linguistic diversity in recent years, but the dominant position of French in society remains unchanged.