French: a brief External History

Published on by Kristina Fortes

             French belongs to the group of Romance or Neo-Latin languages – a group of languages derived from Latin. There are around 200 million French speakers all over the world, approximately 72 million of which speaks it as a second language.

          The point of departure for the development of the Romance languages is the spoken Vulgar Latin of the Roman soldiers, colonists, merchants, and administrators, as opposed to the literary Classical Latin of the Classical writers of Rome. The history of French is concerned with the different changes from the Latin as it was spoken in Paris, to its elevation to the dignity of a national tongue, and to its adoption and development as the literary medium of French and the French-speaking people throughout the world.

          Below are short descriptions of the different phases in the history and development of the French language from Vulgar Latin.

Vulgar Latin Period began with the introduction of Latin into Gaul and lasts until the Fall of the Roman Empire (ca. 500).

Gallo-Roman Period
is marked by the gradual differentiation of the Latin of Gaul from the other parts of the empire, closing with the establishment of a line of cleavage between the dial
ects of the North (langue d’oïl) and the South (langue d’oc or Provençal).

Old French Period
began with the first French linguistic monument, Strasburg Oaths (842) closing until the 12th and 13th centuries, this a period of most striking literary activity. Old French literature flourished in the 10th century. During the 11th until the 13th century, French was the dominant language of the English administration and the crusaders of the Levantine countries.


Middle French is characterized by the decay of Classical usage during the 12th century and the general hesitation in pronunciation, flexions, and syntax, persisting throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. French started to replace Latin in the texts of the public administration in France.

Early Modern French, 16th century, is period of hesitation, experiment and tentative form.


Classical Modern French persisted during the 17th and 18th centuries. This period is a stage of rational analysis, standardization, and codification of French. French is used as an international language throughout Europe and in the administrative correspondence of countries such as Germany. As well during this period, French spreads to America (Canada, Louisiana, the Caribbean Islands, etc.)

Contemporary Modern French peaked during the 19th century (1789 - 1918). There was a fixation of the contemporary pronunciation of the standard language. French also became the official language of French and Belgian colonial possessions in Africa.


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