A History of the French Language

By Urban T. Holmes Jr.; Alexander H. Schutz | Go to book overview

III
LOW ROMANCE (OR PRE-LITERARY FRENCH) (700-1000 A.D.)

12. DEFINITION

It is during this period that the Latin speech suffered the greatest change, resulting in what we call Old French. It is a question of when and how grammatical influence became practically nil over the speech of the people, allowing the normal drift to make extraordinary headway. There were probably signs of this after 600 in Gaul, but it was the renaissance of Classical Latin studies begun by Charlemagne (ruled 768-814) in 780 that removed every trace of prestige from the Vulgar Latin of the people and transferred it to an artificial imitation of Cicero and Vergil to be taught henceforth in monastic and cathedral schools. Once the schoolmasters declared that the spoken Vulgar Latin was not Latin -- in terms of Cicero -- that it was romanica or Romance, a debased speech, the people ceased to observe rules of grammar.1 The grammatically minded individuals reserved their efforts for the artificial language of the schools which we call today Middle or Medieval Latin. We distinguish these two: Vulgar from Medieval Latin, the former exclusively spoken, the latter written and spoken artificially by the schoolmen.


13. CHARLEMAGNE'S RENAISSANCE

Charlemagne studied Latin grammar with Peter of Pisa as early as 774; he continued under Paulinus of Aquilea in 776. We must remember that the emperor was a native German speaker and did not know the rustic Latin of Gaul except as a foreign language. Charlemagne was depressed by the state of the Latin used in the church. The mass was being corrupted daily by the ignorant clergy and the Bible MSS. and the writings of the Church Fathers,

____________________
1
Meillet in Bull. Soc. Ling. Paris, XXXIV, xxv-xxvi.

-26-

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A History of the French Language
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents vii
  • A History of the French Language 1
  • II - Latin and Vulgar Latin 12
  • III - Low Romance (or Pre-Literary French) (700-1000 A.D.) 26
  • IV - Old French (1000-1300) 41
  • V - The Middle French Period (1300-1515) 53
  • VI - The Humanistic Renaissance (1494-1610) 61
  • VII - The Seventeenth Century 79
  • VIII - The Eighteenth Century 101
  • IX - The Nineteenth Century 114
  • X - The Present Day 129
  • Appendix I 143
  • Appendix II 161
  • Index 177
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