French is a Romance language, derived from Latin, and is the official language in a total of 29 countries, making it the second most spoken language in terms of States. It also has almost 80 million native speakers and enjoys great prestige and influence in areas such as culture, diplomacy and economics, and is the second most widely spoken language in the European Union after English. However, although French continues to be a language of supranational communication, in recent decades it has been losing the privileged position it occupied in the past. In this article, we will briefly analyze the reasons of such decline.
The first testimony of the French language
In the year 842, a key event took place in Europe: the signing of the Strasbourg Oaths, a mutual aid agreement between two of Charlemagne’s grandsons, Charles the Bald and Louis the German, against their brother Lothair. However, beyond its political significance, this historical event represents a very important fact from a cultural and linguistic point of view, since the Serment de Strasbourg is the first document written in the French language.
The ruling convention dictated that this type of writings had to be in Latin, the language of culture used by the European elites. However, in order for the document to be understood by the peasants, it was decided, for the first time in history, to write it in two of the most widely spoken languages of the time. In order for the document to reach the people of the eastern part of the Carolingian Empire, it was written in Tudesque (in teudiscam linguam), a West Germanic language spoken by the Franks, while, for its understanding in the Western part, it was written in Romance (in rusticam romanam linguam), a kind of Proto-French. Since then, the French language has been consolidating its influence in Europe.
A language of culture and power in Europe
The factors that influenced the affirmation of French as a European lingua franca are closely related to the dominant position of France on the continent; this preponderance was progressively consolidated over the centuries. The first element to be noted is the important demographic and economic weight of France in the Old Continent. With the exception of Russia, France was the largest state in Europe in the Modern Age, both in terms of population and size.
From a political point of view, the French royal family was able to guarantee its succession to the throne continuously until the 18th century, becoming the most stable dynasty in Europe. Thus, as French royals married members of other royal houses, the French language spread among the European elite. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), the French expansionist policy in Europe boomed and French became the diplomacy language. Moreover, throughout the 18th century, the court of Versailles became a model for the aristocratic life of the time, to the point that European elites began to use French as a sign of their identity. This ‘Frenchification’ of the European aristocracy is reflected in literature, as in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, where we can see how the nobility of St. Petersburg used French rather than Russian as a language of communication.
In the cultural and scientific sphere, France also played a pioneering role: the Enlightenment era witnessed the emergence of a new model of the European intellectual who thought and expressed themselves in French. After the French Revolution in 1789, the influence of French became even more notable, as France provided the rest of the European countries with the key concepts that forged the language of liberalism and nationalism. Moreover, the French legal codes of the Revolutionary era served as a model for the development of law in other nations, which explains to a large extent the current importance of French law in the continent’s legal sphere.
The French decay
After France’s defeat in the war against Prussia in 1870, its political and cultural supremacy in Europe began to be questioned. Nevertheless, French would still remain the lingua franca of the continent, as well as undergoing a remarkable international expansion linked to colonialism.
However, after the World War II, the stagnation of French in Europe itself became more noticeable, giving way to the values of a booming Anglo-American culture.
Despite this loss of prominence in favor of English, French remains one of the most influential languages, both at European and global levels (especially in the Francophone countries). Undoubtedly, speaking French is a clear competitive advantage in the workplace, and at FAST.txt we are well aware of this.
Our company emphases the specialization in French in various subjects, such as legal and sworn translation, scientific-technical, medical, pharmaceutical, tourism, audiovisual, etc. In addition to having the best professional translators and interpreters in each of these areas, at FAST.txt we also offer a series of specific postgraduate studies through the Center for Translation and Interpretation Studies (CETI). Among them, you can find the Master’s Degree in French-Spanish Legal Translation, the French-Spanish Legal Translation Course, the French-Spanish Real Estate Website Translation Workshop, etc.
If you need to deal with a French specialist for any kind of French matters and procedure or if you are interested in any of our expert courses, don’t hesitate contacting us.
Carlos Sánchez Luis