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Modern French

Modern French

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During the 17th century, French replaced Latin as the most important language of diplomacy and international relations (lingua franca). It retained this role until approximately the middle of the 20th century, when it was replaced by English as the United States became the dominant global power following the Second World War.[62][63] Stanley Meisler of the Los Angeles Times said that the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was written in English as well as French was the “first diplomatic blow” against the language.[64]

During the Grand Siècle (17th century) France, under the rule of powerful leaders such as Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIV, enjoyed a period of prosperity and prominence among European nations. Richelieu established the Académie française to protect the French language. The Académie removed many words previously used that were unique to the provinces in France. Written and spoken French became more practical. One example of a change was the removal of the sound on the plural “s”. This was the attempt to make French less flowery and more acceptable in diplomacy rather than poetry. By the early 1800s, Parisian French had become the primary language of the aristocracy in France.

Near the beginning of the 19th century, the French government began to pursue policies with the end goal of eradicating the many minority and regional languages (Patois) spoken in France. This began in 1794 with Henri Grégoire’s “Report on the necessity and means to annihilate the patois and to universalise the use of the French language”. When public education was made compulsory only French was taught and the use of any other (Patois) language was punished.[65] The goals of the Public School System were made especially clear to the French speaking teachers sent to teach students in regions such as Occitania and Brittany; “And remember, Gents: you were given your position in order to kill the Breton language” were instructions given from a French official to teachers in the French department of Finistère (western Brittany).[66] The prefect of Basses-Pyrénées in the French Basque Country wrote in 1846: “Our schools in the Basque Country are particularly meant to substitute the Basque language with French…”.[66] Students were taught that their ancestral languages were inferior and they should be ashamed of them; this process was known in the Occitan-speaking region as Vergonha.

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