A History of the French Language through Texts

A History of the French Language through Texts

A History of the French Language through Texts

A History of the French Language through Texts


This new history of the French language allows the reader to see how the language has evolved for themselves. It combines texts and extracts with a readable and detailed commentary allowing the language to be viewed both synchronically and diachronically.Core texts range from the ninth century to the present day highlight central features of the language, whilst a range of shorter texts illustrate particular points.The inclusion of non-literary, as well as literary texts serves to illustrate some of the many varieties of French whether in legal, scientific, epistolatory, administrative or liturgical or in more popular domains, including attempts to represent spoken usage.This is essential reading for the undergraduate student of French.


What is the point of a history of French through texts? There are, after all, a number of good readable general histories of the language available which make relatively little use of texts or relegate them to an appendix. Peter Rickard's A History of the French Language (1974, 1989) provides an excellent introduction in English for students to the subject, and there is also an impressive selection of one-volume surveys in French, including those by Picoche and Marchello-Nizia (1989), Cohen (1947, 1973), or Wartburg (1934, 1971), all of which have their merits. Isnotphilology, the study of texts, somewhat out of date?

But what if we want to adopt a less passive approach and try to discover for ourselves how the French language has evolved? How can we find out about the history of any language? It is, of course, impossible for us, except in respect of the recent past, to turn to recordings or interrogate native speaker informants about their usage, as would a linguist describing and analysing the contemporary French system. Rather, the historian is dependent on textual material, on written sources, with all the difficulties that we shall see this implies. These texts must provide us with information about the linguistic usage of earlier ages; subsequent comparison of the usage in texts of different periods may then provide clues as to how the language has evolved.

In this volume, therefore, texts are central. Whereas in the past collections of texts have tended to concentrate almost exclusively on the Old and Middle French periods (see, for example, Aspland (1979) or Studer and Waters (1924)), and especially the earliest extant monuments of the French language, here texts dating from the earliest examples in the ninth century up to the late twentieth century have been included, so that the evolution of French up to the present day can be traced. For each period a range of texts is given, including a number of longer core or key texts. The texts are accompanied by detailed linguistic commentaries and not

a For further bibliographic references, see Appendix III.

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