Le langage est une peau: je frotte mon langage contre l’autre.
C’est comme si j’avais des mots en guise de doigts, ou des doigts au bout de mes mots. Mon langage tremble de désir.
Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other.
It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words.
My language trembles with desire.
French language, member of the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is spoken as a first language by more than 70 million people, chiefly in France (55 million speakers), Belgium (3 million), Switzerland (1.5 million), former French and Belgian colonies in Africa (5 million), and Canada (6.5 million).
French probably ranks next after English as a second tongue. Having served as an international language in diplomacy and commerce as well as among educated people during the last few centuries, it still enjoys great prestige culturally and is one of the languages used officially by the United Nations.
As the official language, or one of the official languages, of 33 countries, it’s unsurprising that within the French language, different variations and dialects exist. Yet in France itself, Parisian French came to be upheld as the ‘model’ for French language, due to the capital’s increasing importance from a cultural and political perspective.
French is one of the five most widely-spoken Romance languages, each descended from Latin. French itself is an evolution of Gallo-Romance dialects – with a rich history well worth exploring. The story begins in Gaul…
As with any other language, French has never been immune to strong influences from other languages, particularly Greek, Italian and English – the latter being a huge force on the language throughout the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
French is descended from Vulgar Latin, the vernacular Latin (as distinguished from literary Latin) of the Roman Empire. When ancient Gaul (now modern France) was conquered by the Romans in the 2d and 1st cent. BC, its inhabitants spoke Gaulish, a Celtic language, which was rapidly supplanted by the Latin of the Roman overlords. In the 5th cent. AD the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes, began their invasion of Gaul, but they too were Romanized. Although modern French thus inherited several hundred words of Celtic origin and several hundred more from Germanic, it owes its structure and the greater part of its vocabulary to Latin.
By the 9th century the language spoken in what is now France was sufficiently different from Latin to be a distinct language. It is called Old French and was current from the 9th to the 13th cent. The earliest extant text in Old French is the Oaths of Strasbourg, dated 842. Of the various dialects of Old French, Francien (the north-central dialect spoken in Paris and the region around it) in time became the standard form of the language because of the increasing political and cultural importance of Paris. French from the 14th through the 16th century is known as Middle French. During this period many words and expressions were borrowed from Latin, Greek, and Italian, and a group of French poets, the Pléiade, encouraged the French to develop and improve their language and literature.
The modern period of French began in the 17th cent. In 1635 the French Academy was founded by Cardinal Richelieu to maintain the purity of the language and its literature and to serve as the ultimate judge of approved usage. While the vocabulary and style of Modern French have been influenced by movements such as romanticism and realism, structurally French has changed comparatively little since the Middle French period. Standardization of the French language has been aided in modern times by more widespread education and by the mass media.