French language : a long history !

With our guest Jean Pruvost, lexicologist
Avec Jean Pruvost

French language has changed throughout centuries. Jean Pruvost, a famous lexicologist, talks about it in this program. How was born French language ? What are the different steps of its structuration ?

Émission proposée par : Jean Pruvost
Référence : sav565
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In this program Jean Pruvost talks about his passion for French language and its history. According to him, it is evident that a language may evolve throughout the course of History to such an extent that the first written trace is absolutely incomprehensible.

French language : an outstanding evolution !

Let us consider a sentence taken from our very first text written in French, les Serments de Strasbourg/ The Oaths of Strasbourg (842) :

- «…sisaluarai eo. cist meon fradre karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa. sicum om per dreit son fradra saluar dift.»

Now let us take a look at the various alterations of this sentence throughout the evolution of the French language that the language historian Ferdinand Brunot (1860-1938) has reconstructed:

- In 12th century French : …si salverai jo cest mien fredre Charlon, et en aiude, et en chascune chose, si come on par dreit, en ço que il me altresi façet.

- In 15th century French : …si sauverai je cest mien frere Charle, et par mon aide et en chascune chose, si, comme on doit par droit son frere sauver, en ce qu’il me face autresi.

- In modern French : soutiendrai mon frère Charles de mon aide et en toute chose, comme on doit justement soutenir son frère, à condition qu’il en fasse autant.

French belongs to the Indo-European language family

Between -6500 and -5500 populations speaking the same language, undoubtably from North-West Europe, near Ukraine, emigrated in successive waves throughout Europe and India. This is why this family of languages were later characterized and given the name Indo-European. Those peoples, who founded Gaule, Rome, etc, made the languages already existing disappear when they settled in Europe. Only Basque, which resisted, is now defined as a pre-Indo-European language.

In the 19th century, the discovery of a very ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, which displayed similarities to the European languages, revealed that languages as different as Sanskrit from Latin, English, German, Breton, Russian, Persian and French shared the same language ancestor: Indo-European.

The Gaul substrate of the French Language

The Gaul language was spoken by about 15 million people but was not a written language which made its disappearance easier. As Latin represented an administration and trade language, and as Romans taught the Gaul chiefs’ children in Latin, Gaul progressively disappeared.
The only Gaul words that remained in the emerging French language were words attached to the land and to products that could not be sold. Thus, the word in French for “honey”, (miel), has Latin origins while the word for “hive”, an object which wasn’t subject to trade, remained the Gaulo word- “ruche”.

Listen to the whole program to better understand French language history !

Jean Pruvost is professor at University of Cergy-Pontoise.

Listen to the French programs featuring Jean Pruvost on Canal Académie !

Jean Pruvost : director at Honoré Champion publisher.

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