A History of the French Language

A History of the French Language

A History of the French Language

A History of the French Language

Excerpt

As the vehicle of a culture and of a literature of the highest order, French has been for centuries the foreign language most widely known and studied in Great Britain, and its influence on the development of the English language has been considerable. Those who study it as it is spoken and written today are probably aware that it derives from Latin and therefore belongs to the Romance group of Indo-European languages; and some may have wondered by what process or processes an ancient language becomes a modern one. English readers of seventeenth-century French texts will have observed that some words now have a different meaning, while others have fallen into disuse, and they may also have noticed vestiges of older grammatical constructions today considered impossible, incorrect or at best archaic and quaint. Such differences will strike the reader even more forcibly as he goes further back, through the French of the sixteenth century to that of the Middle Ages. The French reader, too, finds the language increasingly opaque and baffling as he goes further back through its abundant literature. Indeed, unless he is a specialist, he will have to read such masterpieces as the Song of Roland and the Romance of the Rose in modern translations.

What were the immediate Latin antecedents of French? What was the earliest French like? What were the circumstances which favoured the emergence, from a welter of dialects, of a language which gradually spread over the whole country, and was subsequently carried to other continents? What were the factors, internal or external, spontaneous or contrived, which shaped its evolution? What are its dominant characteristics today, viewed in the light of its past? These are the questions I have tried to answer, in the hope that this book may serve as an introduction to more

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