Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
French (français, langue française) is one of the most important Romance languages, outnumbered in speakers only by Spanish and Portuguese. In 1999 French was the 11th most spoken language in the world being spoken by about 77 million people (called Francophones) as a mother tongue, and by 128 million altogether including second language speakers. It is an official or administrative language in various communities and organizations (such as the European Union, IOC, United Nations and Universal Postal Union).
The Roman invasion of Gaul
The French language is a Romance dialect, meaning that it is descended from Latin. Before the Roman invasion of what is modern-day France by Julius Cæsar (58-52 BC), France was inhabited largely by a Celtic people that the Romans referred to as Gauls, although one also finds other linguistic/ethnic groups in France at this time, such as the Iberians in southern France and Spain, the Ligurians on the Mediterranean coast, Greek and Phoenician outposts like Marseille and the Vascons on the Spanish/French border.
Although in the past many Frenchmen liked to refer to their descent from Gallic ancestors (nos ancêtres les Gaulois), perhaps fewer than 200 words with a Celtic etymology remain in French today (largely place and plant names and words dealing with rural life and the earth). In the reverse direction, some words for Gallic objects which were new to the Romans and for which there were no words in Latin were imported into Latin — for example, clothing items such as les braies. Latin quickly became the lingua franca of the entire Gallic region for both mercantile, official and educational reasons, yet it should be remembered that this was Vulgar Latin, the colloquial dialect spoken by the Roman army and its agents and not the literary dialect of Cicero.
From the third century on, Western Europe was invaded by Germanic, or "Barbarian", tribes from the east, and some of these groups settled in Gaul. For the history of the French language, the most important of these groups are the Franks in northern France, the Alemanni in the German/French border, the Burgundians in the Rhone valley and the Visigoths in the Aquitaine region and Spain. These Germanic-speaking groups had a profound effect on the Latin spoken in their respective regions, altering both the pronunciation and the syntax. They also introduced a number of new words: perhaps as much as 15% of modern French comes from Germanic words, including many terms and expressions associated with their social structure and military tactics.
Linguists typically divide the languages spoken in medieval France into three geographical subgroups: Langue d'Oïl and Langue d'Oc being the major ones with Franco-Provençal being considered transitional between the two major groups.
Langue d'Oïl, the language where one says "oïl" for "yes", are those dialects in the north of France which were the most affected by the Frankish invasions, like Picard, Walloon, Francien, Norman, etc. From the baptism of the Frankish king Clovis (c.498) on, the Franks extended their power over much of northern Gaul. The French language developed on the basis of the mutually comprehensible features of the langues d'Oïl.
Langue d'Oc, the language where one says '"oc" for "yes" are those dialects in the south of France and northern Spain (Ibero-Romance dialects) which remained closer to the original Latin, like Gascon and Provençal, etc.
Other linguistic groups
The early middle ages also saw the influence of other linguistic groups on the dialects of France:
From the 5th to the 8th centuries, Celtic-speaking peoples from southwestern Britain (Wales, Cornwall, Devon) traveled across the English Channel both for reasons of trade and as a result of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England. They established themselves in Bretagne (Brittany); the language they spoke is a Celtic dialect called Breton.
From the 6th to the 7th centuries, the Vascons crossed over the Pyrénées, a mountain range in the south of France. Their presence influenced the Occitan language spoken in southwestern France, resulting in the dialect called Gascon.
The Norsemen or Vikings invaded France from the 9th century onward and established themselves in what would come to be called Normandie (Normandy). They took up the langue d'oïl spoken there and contributed many words to French related to maritime activities, amongst other things.
With their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans took their language to England. The dialect that developed there as a language of administration and literature is referred to as Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman served as the language of the ruling classes and commerce in England from the time of the conquest until 1362, when the use of English resumed. Because of the Norman conquest, perhaps as much as two thirds of modern English comes from some form of French.
History of French
For the period up to around 1300, some linguists refer to the oïl languages collectively as Old French (ancien français). The earliest extant text in French is the Oath of Strasbourg from 842; Old French became a literary language with the chansons de geste that told tales of the paladins of Charlemagne and the heroes of the Crusades.
By the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 King Francis I made French the official language of administration and court proceedings in France, ousting the Latin that had been used before then. With the imposition of a standardised chancery dialect and the loss of the declension system, the dialect is referred to as Middle French (moyen français). Following a period of unification, regulation and purification, the French of the 17th to the 18th centuries is sometimes referred to as Classical French (français classique), although many linguists simply refer to French language from the 17th century to today as Modern French (français moderne).
The foundation of the Académie française (French Academy) in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu created an official body whose goal has been the purification and preservation of the French language. This group of 40 members —known as the immortals because they are chosen to serve for the extent of their lives—still exists today and contributes to the policing of the language and the adaptation of foreign words and expressions. Some recent modifications include the change from software to logiciel, packet-boat to paquebot, and riding-coat to redingote. The word ordinateur for computer was however not created by the Académie, but by a linguist appointed by IBM (see ).
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French was the lingua franca of educated Europe, especially with regards to the arts and literature, and monarchs such as Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia could both speak and write in French.
Through the Académie, public education, centuries of official control and the role of media, a unified official French language has been forged, but there remains a great deal of diversity today in terms of regional accents and words. For some critics, the "best" pronunciation of the French language is considered to be the one used in Touraine (around Tours and the Loire River valley), but such value judgments are frought with problems, and with the ever increasing loss of lifelong attachments to a specific region and the growing importance of the national media, the future of specific "regional" accents is difficult to predict.
Other languages of France
- See major article Languages of France.
It is important however to realize that as of 1790, one half of the French population did not speak or understand French and that many other regional languages were spoken, and continue to be spoken as minority languages, in France. Furthermore, even in those regions where French was spoken and understood, each region had its own particular accent and regionalisms. In the 1880s, the rise of French national sentiment (via universal military service and national education) encouraged the suppression of regional differences and local languages and dialects; by 1910, 90% of the French population understood French, although 50% still understood a local language or dialect. Since then, some members of these linguistic groups have fought hard to maintain their linguistic traditions and in today's France one finds some of these regional languages coming back. Some linguists estimate that 10% of the French today understand a regional language or dialect, although they may not speak it.
The geographical distribution of regional languages may be summarised as follows:
Much of southern France has been home to speakers of Occitan dialects, such as Provençal, Gascon (including Béarnais ), Auvergnat, Limousin, Languedocian and (along the Spanish border) Catalan and the unrelated Basque language. In the Savoie region of eastern France, Franco-Provençal speakers can be found. In the north-eastern regions are speakers of Alsatian (a Germanic language), and Flemish (a dialect of Dutch). Across the north and west can be found speakers of the Oïl languages (such as Champenois, Walloon, Picard, Norman, Gallo and Poitevin-Saintongeais). Also in the west are speakers of Breton, while in the Mediterranean island of Corsica are speakers of Corsican (a language closely related to Italian). The French Republic also includes overseas territories populated by speakers of many other autochthonous languages.
There is some debate in today's France about the preservation of the French language and the influence of English (or "franglais"), especially with regards to international business, the sciences and popular culture. There have been laws enacted which require that all print ads and billboards with foreign expressions include a French translation and which require quotas of French language songs (at least 40%) on the radio. There is also pressure, in differing degrees, from regions for a measure of recognition and support for their regional languages.
See also: Toubon law
French is an official language in the following countries:
|country||native speakers||population||pop. dens.||area|
|(rough est.)||(July 2003 est.)||(/km²)||(km²)|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||55,225,478||24||2,345,410|
|Canada (including bilinguals)||9,662,100||32,207,000||3||9,976,140|
|Central African Republic||3,683,600||-||622,984|
|Republic of the Congo||2,954,300||-||342,000|
Although not official, French is the major second language in the following countries.
|(July 2003 est.)||(/km²)|| (km²)
Also, there are some French speakers in Lebanon,Cambodia, Egypt, India (Pondicherry), Italy (Aosta Valley), Laos, Mauritania, United Kingdom (Channel Islands), United States of America (mainly Louisiana and the New England region) and Vietnam, Russia, Czech.
La Francophonie is an international organization of French-speaking countries and governments.
Legal status in France
Per the Constitution of France, French is the official language of the Republic.
France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education outside of specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words. See Toubon Law.
Contrary to a misunderstanding common in the American and British media, France does not prohibit the use of foreign words in Web pages or any other private publication, which would anyway contradict constitutional guarantees on freedom of speech. The misunderstanding may have arisen from a similar prohibition in the Canadian province of Quebec which made strict application of the Charter of the French Language between 1977 and 1993, although these regulations addressed language used in advertising and the provision of commercial services offered within the province, not the language of private communication.
Legal status in Canada
About 12% of the world's Francophones are Canadian, and French is one of Canada's two official languages, with English; various provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal with the right of Canadians to access services in English and French all across Canada. By law, the federal government must operate and provide services in both English and French; proceedings of the Parliament of Canada must be translated into both English and French; and all Canadian products must be labelled in both English and French. Overall about 22 per cent of Canadians speak French as a first language and 18% are bilingual.
French is the sole official language of Quebec. Between 1977 and 1993 Quebec had strict laws (See Charter of the French Language a.k.a. Bill 101) against non-French signs posted in public. Many provisions of Bill 101 have been ruled unconstitutional over the years, including those mandating French-only commercial signs, court proceedings and debates in the legislature. Even those provisions have in some cases remained in effect, using the constitutional "notwithstanding" clause that permits a non-compliant law to remain temporarily. In 1993 the Charter was changed to allow signage in other languages so long as French is markedly "predominant".
French is an official language of New Brunswick, the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. In Ontario and Manitoba, French does not have full official status, although the provincial governments do provide full French-language services in all communities where significant numbers of francophones live.
All of the other provinces do make some effort to accommodate the needs of their francophone citizens, although the level and quality of French-language service varies significantly from province to province.
Legal status in Switzerland
Dialects of French
- Acadian French
- African French
- Belgian French
- Cambodian French
- Cajun French
- français d'Aoste
- Levantine French
- Maghreb French
- North American French
- Oceanic French
- Quebec French
- South East Asian French
- Swiss French
- West Indian French
Languages derived from French
- Main article: French phonology and orthography
French pronunciation follows strict rules based on spelling, but French spelling is often based more on history than phonology. The rules for pronunciation vary between dialects, but the standard rules are:
- liaison or linking: Final single consonants, in particular s, x, z, t, d, n and m, are normally mute. (The final letters 'c', 'r', 'f', and 'l' however are normally pronounced.) When the following word begins with a vowel, though, a silent consonant is once again pronounced, to provide a "link" between the two words and avoid a glottal stop between them. Certain words are exempt from this linking rule (e.g. et which never pronounces the "t"), but the exceptions vary between dialects and regions. Doubling a final consonant and adding a silent e at the end of a word (e.g. Parisien ==> Parisienne) makes it clearly pronounced, always.
- elision or vowel dropping: Monosyllabic words such as je or que drop their final vowel before another word beginning with a vowel. The missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe. (e.g. je ai is instead pronounced and spelled ==> j'ai)
- nasal "n" and "m". When "n" or "m" follows a vowel combination, the "n" and "m" become silent and cause the preceding vowel to become nasalized (i.e. pronounced with the soft palate extended downward so as to cause the air to leave through the nostrils instead of through the mouth). Exceptions are when the "n" or "m" is doubled, or immediately followed by a vowel. The prefixes en- and em- are always nasalized. The rules get more complex than this but may vary between dialects.
- digraphs French doesn't introduce extra letters or diacritics to specify its large range of vowel sounds and diphthongs, rather it uses specific combinations of vowels, sometimes with following consonants, to show which sound is intended. (See French phonology and orthography or French Pronunciation Guide for more details.)
- accents are used sometimes for pronunciation, sometimes to distinguish similar words, and sometimes for etymology alone.
- Accents that affect pronunciation:
- "é", is pronounced instead of the defaults /ɛ/ or/ə/,
- "è" means that the vowel is pronounced /ɛ/ (as usual) but that the following syllable is mute,
- dieresis (e.g. naïve, Noël) as in English, specifies that this vowel is pronounced separately from the preceding one, not combined,
- The "ç" means that the letter c is pronounced /s/, regardless of the vowel following it. ("c" is otherwise hard /k/ before a back vowel.)
- Accents with no pronunciation effect:
- The circumflex (e.g. pâté, île) has no effect on pronunciation in several dialects but usually indicates a former long vowel created by the dropping of an "s" from the Latin root (as in English "paste", "isle"),
- All other accents are used only to distinguish similar words or for etymology, such as the adverbs là and où ("there", "where") from article and conjunction la and ou ("the fem. sing.", "or").
- Accents that affect pronunciation:
- Main article: French grammar
French grammar shares several notable features with most other Romance languages, including:
- the loss of Latin's declensions
- only two grammatical genders
- the development of grammatical articles from Latin demonstratives
- new tenses formed from auxiliaries
French word order is Subject Verb Object.
The majority of French words originated from vernacular Latin or were constructed from Latin or Greek roots. There are often pairs of words, one form being popular (noun) and the other one savant (adjective), both originating from Latin. Example:
- brother: frère (brother) / fraternel
- finger: doigt / digital
- faith: foi (faith) / fidèle
- cold: froid / frigide
- eye: œil / oculaire
The French words which have developed from Latin are usually less recognisable than Italian words of Latin origin because as French developed into a separate language from Vulgar Latin, the unstressed final syllable of many words was dropped or elided into the following word.
It is estimated that a little less than 13% (4,200) of common French words found in a typical dictionary such as the Petit Larousse or Micro-Robert Plus (35,000 words) are of foreign origin. About 25% (1,054) of these foreign words come from English and are fairly recent borrows. The others are some 707 words from Italian, 550 from ancient Germanic languages, 481 from ancient Gallo-Romance languages, 215 from Arabic, 164 from German, 160 from Celtic languages, 159 from Spanish, 153 from Dutch, 112 Persian and Sanskrit, 101 Native American languages, 89 from other Asian languages, 56 from Afro-Asiatic languages, 55 Slavic languages and Baltic languages, 144 from other languages (3% of the total).
Source: Henriette Walter, Gérard Walter, Dictionnaire des mots d'origine étrangère, 1998.
Levels of register
French, like many other languages, possesses a continuum of several levels of register. The colloquial register is used in almost any circumstance of life, and should not be confused with slang or rude talk. Formal French is used is in writing or in formal occasions (when people make official speeches or when they are interviewed on television for instance). Formal French is also normally used in classrooms in France, although colloquial French is now spoken by more and more professors with their students.
Colloquial French differs from formal French in terms of grammar. For instance, the negation in formal French is "ne... pas", whereas in colloquial French it is simply "... pas", such as "I don't think so", which is "Je ne crois pas" in formal French, and "Je crois pas" in colloquial French. Another example of change in grammar is the way to ask a question: by inverting verb and subject in formal French, or also by using "est-ce que", whereas in colloquial French a question is phrased exactly as an affirmation, with the voice raising in the end. E.g.: "Is he sick?" would be "Est-il malade?" or "Est-ce qu'il est malade?" in formal French, and "Il est malade?" in colloquial French.
Secondly, colloquial French differs from formal French in terms of pronunciation. Some words undergo shortening, or sound change, whereas some syllables are dropped altogether. For instance, "yes" is "oui" in formal French, and becomes "ouais" in colloquial French; "I" is "je" in formal French, but becomes "j' " in colloquial French; so a sentence like "I think he'll come" is "Je pense qu'il viendra" in formal French, and "J'pense qu'i'viendra" in colloquial French. There are many instances of shortening of words, such as "teacher", which is "professeur" in formal French, but becomes "prof" in colloquial French.
French spelling, like English spelling, tends to preserve obsolete pronunciation rules. This is mainly due to extreme phonetic changes since the Old French period, without a corresponding change in spelling. However, some conscious changes were also made to restore Latin orthography:
- Old French doit > French doigt "finger" (Latin digitum)
- Old French pie > French pied "foot" (Latin pedem)
As a result, it is nearly impossible to predict the spelling based on the sound alone. Final consonants are generally silent, except when the following word begins with a vowel. For example, all of these words end in a vowel sound: nez, pied, aller, les, lit, beaux. The same words followed by a vowel, however, sound the consonants: beaux-arts, les amis, pied-a-terre.
On the other hand, a given spelling will almost always lead to a predictable sound, and the Académie française works hard to enforce and update this correspondence. In particular, a given vowel combination or diacritic predictably leads to one phoneme.
The diacritics have phonetic, semantic, and etymological significance.
- grave accent (à, è, ù): Over a or u, used only to distinguish homophones: à ("to") vs. a ("has"), ou ("or") vs. où ("where"). Over an e, indicates the sound /ɛ/.
- acute accent (é): Over an e, indicates the sound /e/. Often indicates the historical deletion of a following consonant (usually an s): écouter < escouter.
- circumflex (â, ê, î, ô û): Over an e or o, indicates the sound /ɛ/ or /o/, respectively. Most often indicates the historical deletion of an adjacent letter (usually an s or a vowel): château < castel, fête < feste, sûr < seur, dîner < disner. By extension, it has also come to be used to distinguish homophones: du ("of the") vs. dû (past participle of devoir "to owe"; note that dû is in fact written thus because of a dropped e: deu).
- diaeresis or tréma (ë, ï): Indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced separately from the preceding one: naïve, Noël. Diaeresis on ÿ only occurs in some proper names (such as l'Haÿ-les-Roses) and in modern editions of old French texts.
- cedilla (ç): Indicates that an etymological c is pronounced /s/ when it would otherwise be pronounced /k/. Thus je lance "I throw" (with c = [s] before e), je lançai "I threw" (c would be pronounced [k] before a without the cedilla).
The ligature œ is a mandatory contraction of oe in certain words (sœur "sister" /sœʁ/, œuvre "work [of art]" /œvʁ/, cœur "heart" /kœʁ/, cœlacanthe "Coelacanth" /selakɑ̃t/), sometimes in words of Greek origin, spelled with an οι /oj/ diphtong which became oe in Latin, pronounced /e/ in French (and other Romance languages): œsophage /ezɔfaʒ/, œnologie /enɔlɔʒi/. It may also appear in œu digraph (or œ alone in œil "eye"), in words that were once written with eu digraph (which could be read /y/ or /œ/, depending on the word): bœuf "ox" /bœf/ (Old French buef or beuf), mœurs /mœʁ/ "custom", œil "eye" /œj/, etc. In these cases, the Latin etymon must be spelled with an o where the French word has œu: bovem > bœuf, mores > mœurs, oculum > œil.
Some attempts have been made to reform French spelling, but few major changes have been made over the last two centuries.
Some common phrases
- French: français /fʁɑ̃.sɛ/ ("fran-seh")
- hello: bonjour /bɔ̃.ʒuʁ/ ("bon-zhoor")
- I love you. : Je t'aime. ("jhe tem")
- My name is _____: Je m'appelle _____ ("zjem-ap-pelle")
- good-bye: au revoir /o ʁə.vwaʁ/ ("o-ruh-vwar")
- please: s'il vous plaît /sil vu plɛ/ ("sill voo pleh")
- thank you: merci /mɛʁ.si/ ("mairr-see")
- you're welcome: de rien (Literally: It's nothing) /də ʁjɛ̃/ ("duh ryeh"), je vous en prie, pas de quoi (France); bienvenue /bjɛ̃.v(ə).ny/ ("byeh-venuh") (Quebec)
- that one: celui-là /sə.lɥi la/ ("sull-wee la"), colloq. /sɥi la/ ("swee la"), or celle-là (feminine) /sɛl la/ ("cell-la")
- how much?: combien? /kɔ̃.bjɛ̃/ ("kom-byen")
- English: anglais /ɑ̃.glɛ/ ("ahng-gleh")
- yes: oui /wi/ ("wee"), colloq. ouais (seldom written) /wɛ/ ("way")
- no: non /nɔ̃/ ("non")
- I'm sorry: Je suis désolé. /ʒə sɥi de.zo.le/ ("zhuh swee deh-zo-leh"), colloq. /ʃsɥi de.zo.le/ ("shswee deh-zo-leh"). Pardon ("par-dohn")
- I don't understand: Je ne comprends pas. /ʒə nə kɔ̃.pʁɑ̃ pa/ ("zhuh nuh comprahn pa"), colloq. Je comprends pas /ʃkɔ̃.pʁɑ̃ pa/ (with dropping of "ne") ("shcomprahn pa")
- Where are the toilets? : Où sont les toilettes ? /u sɔ̃ le twa.lɛt/ ("oo son leh twa-let")
- Cheers (toast to someone's health): Tchin ("chin"), Santé /sɑ̃.te/("san-teh") or À la vôtre /a la votʁ/ ("a la votr")
- Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais ? /paʁ.le vu ɑ̃.glɛ/ ("par-leh voo ang-gleh") OR "Vous parlez anglais ?" /vu paʁ.le ɑ̃.glɛ/ ("voo par-leh ang-leh")
- Excuse me : Excusez-moi ("eks-kyu-say mwa")
- Good night : Bonne nuit ("bun nwee")
- Hi !: Salut ! ("sal-oo")
- I'm tired : Je suis fatigué(e). (add the "e" if the speaker is feminine) ("jhe swee fah-tee-gay")
- Are you coming ? : Est-ce que vous venez ? (or with close friends and relatives: tu viens?)
- I'm thinking about it : J'y pense. ("jhee pahnss")
- I'm going to the grocer's: Je vais à l'épicerie. ("jhe vay a lay-pee-ser-ee")
- We're going to school: On va à l'école. ("ohn va a lay-cohl")
- She's so pretty. : Elle est si jolie. ("el ay see jho-lee")
- Our neighbours to the South : Nos voisins du sud ("noh vwah-seen doo sood")
- Can you help me ? : Pourriez-vous m'aider ? ("poo-ree-ay voo may-day")
- May I help you ? : Puis-je vous aider? ("pwee-jha voo ay-day")
- It's the best of worlds : C'est le meilleur des mondes. ("tsay le may-yuhr day mohnd")
- Go to bed ! : Va au lit ! ("vah oh lee")
- I'm watching TV. : Je regarde la télé. ("jhe ray-gard la tay-lay")
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie gratuite et libre. ("wee-kee-pay-dee-ah, lahns-ee-kloh-pay-dee grah-too-ee tay lee-bruh")
- French Pronunciation
- Académie française
- common phrases in different languages
- List of English words of French origin
- French in the United States
- French Language Wikipedia
- French phrases used by English speakers
- French proverbs
- reforms of French orthography
- Pluperfect subjunctive tense
- Imperfect subjunctive tense
- Imperfect indicative tense
- Simple past tense
- Simple future tense
- Anterior future tense
- Anterior past tense
- Present subjunctive tense
- Present conditional tense
- Present indicative tense
- Past conditional tense
- Past subjunctive tense
- Pluperfect tense
- Present participle
- Present imperative tense
- Past imperative tense
- Expletive negation
- Learning the French language - A wikibook.
- French Learning Resource
- French Language Course and Discussion
- Académie Française
- All free French dictionaries
- Why learn French? - A profile of French
- French course search
- Ethnologue report for French
- Beginning French Vocabulary
- Free online resources for learners
- Majstro French-English-French Online Dictionary
- French - English Dictionary: from Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition.
- A comprehensive French dictionary
- Small reference site on the French language
- Learn French words & phrases
- Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé (very comprehensive)
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