For those who want to learn French language, it is useful to understand some of the history and efforts to preserve the language. For information on how to learn French, see the conclusion of this article.
French is classified as a Romance language, in that it derived from Latin. It evolved from various dialects spoken in northern France. In terms of a detailed history, there is not enough space in this article, so I will focus on modern French history, from about 1700 onwards.
French was once one of the most universal languages in the world, although it has been replaced by English in areas like science, business, and pop culture. But it wasn’t until 1539 that French became the official language of France in terms of government administration and legal proceedings. Previously these had been conducted exclusively through Latin.
French is one of the most controlled languages in the world. The French Academy, a body of 40 members established in 1634, is an official organization charged with preserving French and maintaining its purity (controlling the introduction of new words for example).
From the 17th to 20th centuries, many European monarchs could speak and write French, and it could be described as the language of the educated and influential people of Europe.
Through the French Academy, a unified version of French has been crafted. However, before that effort was successful, there were many dialects spoken in different parts of France, and among those French colonists who established themselves in various parts of the world, including the Americas.
French lost much of its international importance to English in the 20th century and in particular after the second world war. Indeed, many multi-national organization with offices in Paris, conduct business there through English, a fact not always well-appreciated by the French. It remains the second most studied language in the world (after English)
French still thrives in eastern Canada, helped in Quebec by some education regulations designed to keep the language alive.
In France, there are many regulations which attempt to preserve French. Individuals are permitted to choose any language in publications, but French is required in many areas of commerce, and in workforce regulations. There have been many examples of fines for employers where their communications, manuals, or instructions were distributed in another language (usually English).
There are also French government efforts to promote French as a language of the European Union. The French really do perceive the popularity of English over French in European Union dealings as a threat to French in their own country.
France has tried to position itself as a large country seeking cultural diversity. This is their argument against the use of English as the predominant international language. They also position France as having one well-controlled language.
However, they have been forced by their own citizens to recognize regional dialects and even different languages in certain regions, and it is not unusual when traveling through certain parts of France, particularly Brittany) to see road signs in two languages (French and a local language or dialect).
And finally media controls are being relaxed, with some Breton speaking radio stations being permitted. It is hard for the rest of the world to understand and comprehend that these relaxed rules only came about in 1982.