Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Virginie: Bonjour!
Eric: Eric here. History of the French Language.
Virginie: Okay everyone; let’s treat ourselves with some French language history today.
Eric: Wow, what a treat! Well, it’s going to be long.
Virginie: And boring. Not a bit an idea Eric, it will be so much fun you wish you took Latin in high school.
Eric: What? Oh my! So you are saying that French is related to Latin?
Virginie: Yes it is related to Latin among a lot more languages, dialects and influences.
Eric: Okay I think you are trying to confuse me here. Can we start from the beginning?
Virginie: Okay let’s start with the Roman invasion.

Lesson focus

Eric: Exciting! What happened?
Virginie: It happened in the second and first centuries BC. At the time of the invasion, France was called “la Gaule” and the name of the main language was “le gaulois”, the Gaulish.
Eric: Le gaulois.
Virginie: It was a mix of several celtic languages and one of them maybe you know it, it’s called “le breton”. It’s still spoken by some people today in this region in France called Brittany.
Eric: Okay I’ve heard of that. What does “le breton” sound like?
Virginie: “Digemer mad ! Eo ma anv Virginie.”
Eric: Wait! What did you just say?
Virginie: Bienvenue, je m’appelle Virginie. Welcome, my name is Virginie.
Eric: Wow! So you actually speak fluent breton?
Virginie: I wish. I was born in Brittany but I never learned the language. My grandma would yell at us in breton though, all day long.
Eric: Really? So it was like you were living in antiquity.
Virginie: Yes except we didn’t wear a Toga.
Eric: So what happened next?
Virginie: You mean with my grandma?
Eric: No I mean with the history of the French language after the Roman invasion.
Virginie: No more breton, no more gaulois! With the invasion, the language spoken by the Romans soon dominated.
Eric: And that’s Latin right?
Virginie: That’s Latin, that’s right or rather vulgar Latin. It was called Vulgar Latin because it was spoken by the people as opposed to written by educated people, you know what I mean.
Eric: I see, okay. So how can Vulgar Latin spread out so easily?
Virginie: Well there are several reasons to that but the main one would be that Vulgar Latin became mandatory at school and then in the administration et cetera, et cetera and it was used in business and in the army very, very soon.
Eric: Oh okay. I see. ??? thing though.
Virginie: Yes.
Eric: So why is French language called “le français”?
Virginie: Oh Eric, you are such a good student. What an excellent question! Well have you ever heard of the Franks?
Eric: I think so. Was that some kind of tribe?
Virginie: Absolutely. Tribes were very fashionable at that time. Franks were a Germanic tribe that started invading Gaule in the 5th century and they progressively melted in the Roman Gallic population and then they took advantage of the decline of the Roman empire to take over the country. Does that make sense?
Eric: I think so. Let me sum up here. As of the 5th century, France – well Gaule- had three co-existing peoples right?
Virginie: Right, three people, three languages. Gaulish with the Celtic origins remember, Roman and francique. Francique was spoken by the Franks.
Eric: Okay so how did these people communicate between each other?
Virginie: They didn’t communicate at all. They just fought all the time. That’s all they did, those tribes, you know. No actually they needed to communicate for trading and things like that. So they came up with a new language and it’s called the “francien”.
Eric: And when was that created?
Virginie: It was created during the 9th century with the king Hugues Capet. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Hugues Capet, the Capetian dynasty. It’s like the first dynasty ever in France.
Eric: A little bit familiar maybe.
Virginie: Yeah but that King Hugues Capet couldn’t speak anything but “francien” so that’s the reason why everyone ever since he was a king had to speak francien and it’s spread out very easily throughout Europe.
Eric: I see. So France’s actually always had this royal language.
Virginie: Right even though diplomacy wasn’t very popular at that time you know with all these wars and everything, but then it’s spread out through literature, poetry and therefore became one of the finest languages in the world, I mean in Europe at that time.
Eric: Oh that’s pretty good. So even today, would you consider that kind of language?
Virginie: It lost part of its prestige of course and a lot of its usage ever since English became the international language.
Eric: Does that make you sad?
Virginie: Yeah it makes me feel depressed actually. You know, I miss those old days where everyone spoke French in Russia everywhere but it’s still you know one of the UN official languages and it’s spoken on every continent. So I feel little better right now. Thank you for your concern.
Eric: Well no problem. Every continent for example?
Virginie: Well for example, Africa obviously since French used to have a lot of colonies there.
Eric: And do they still speak French now?
Virginie: They do obviously but there had been a long time of rejection after the decolonization obviously. I don’t blame them.
Eric: So what about France’s overseas departments and territories?
Virginie: Yeah of course they speak French there. French is actually their official language like in Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, ??? et cetera, et cetera. We have lots of territories.
Eric: Okay. So it sounds like French is still spoken.
Virginie: It is and do you know what the name of the some of the countries that speak French, do you know what it’s called?
Eric: I do know that, it’s la francophonie.
Virginie: Ah you are so good.
Eric: I attended the “semaine de la francophonie” in March.
Virginie: You did?
Eric: The week of francophonie.
Virginie: The semaine de la francophonie is a festival right?
Eric: It was a lot of readings, plays, movies. It felt like being in Paris. Does that exist in a lot of other countries or is it only in New York?
Virginie: It exists pretty much everywhere in the world, it’s organized by all these French organizations and they want to spread out French culture and it’s part of the French cultural politics. It’s called the cultural action, l’action culturelle.
Eric: Wow, it sounds pretty awesome.
Virginie: Aha we certainly don’t want to lose our radiance.
Eric: So if you talk about how French became French, how it expands and how it is still present in the world, what about French language in France?
Virginie: Another great question Eric. You are particularly focused today, I love it. Well you need to know that you won’t hear the same French language whether you are in the Northern France or Southern France.
Eric: Interesting. So does this mean there are different accents?
Virginie: Yeah there are different accents. The vocabulary varies sometimes and let me give you an example here.
Eric: Okay.
Virginie: I grew up in Toulouse which is Southern France and we don’t use the same words to talk about some things like for instance Bread chocolate is in Paris “Pain au chocolat” and Toulouse, it’s “chocolatine” which is very, very different and the accents too “Pain au chocolat” that’s very Parisian, “chocolatine” that’s from Toulouse.
Eric: Wow! It sounds almost Spanish to me.
Virginie: Yeah it is. It is beautiful, it’s really, really you know charming and everything.
Eric: So do people even understand each other?
Virginie: We do understand each other depending on the subject but yeah we do.
Eric: What about the Snobbish Parisians?
Virginie: Yes French language within France is very homogenous although Parisians tend to make fun of other region’s accents.
Eric: So snobbish, those Parisians.
Virginie: There you go, so snobbish. Well anyway, I personally think that one great thing about France is the diversity of accents. Also there has been a dialect revival movement lately in several regions like in Brittany, in the Basque Country and even in my hometown which is Occitania. Toulouse is part of Occitania and it’s great. Now you can learn all these dialects. That’s cool in college and everything.
Eric: Well that’s great. So you are going to bring back your breton and speak to your grandma.
Virginie: All right. I can’t wait to yell back at her.


Eric: Okay, I think we are done here. Thank you so much, Virginie, for this lesson.
Virginie: Thank you Eric for listening to all of this and thank you all for listening. Have a great day, bye bye.