Languages in France

p. 314

Veronique and her parents have spent the morning looking at paintings. Creating paintings and other works of art is one way that people express their thoughts and feelings. As Veronique and her parents wandered through the museums, they talked about the paintings-what they thought about the paintings and how the paintings made them feel. They used language – French - to express their thoughts and feelings.

Hundreds of years ago, there was no such language as French. Now almost everyone in France speaks French. Many people in France's former colonies, including Canada, also speak French. Where does the language come from? Why do so many people speak it today?

French developed from several older languages. Today it also contains modern words from other languages, especially English. For example, you can hear people say le milkshake or le T-shirt. French has also given words to other languages. We use the words rendez-vous hors-d'oeuvre and détente. What do these words mean?

Some people in France speak languages other than French.. Older people in Provence, in the south of France, speak Provencal (pro vahn) sahl'). The Basque (bahsk) people, who live in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, speak the Basque language. Some of the people of Britanny, along the Atlantic coast still speak a Celtic language known as Breton. The many immigrants to France speak their native languages.

But French dominates France. Long ago, the king and his officials insisted that all business be conducted in French. Then French was just one of many languages spoken in the kingdom. Now the great majority of people speak French.

. How has the French language changed in recent times?

Academie francaise

Hundreds of years ago, King Louis XIII decreed that his subjects speak French. He thought that having one official language would help unify his kingdom. But he knew that this plan would work only if everyone spoke the same version of French. An effort must be made to make French a pure language.

In the 17th century, the Academie francaise (ah kah de me' frahn, sez'), or the French Academy, was created. Its aim was to keep popular expressions and foreign words out of the French language. The academy also rewarded those who wrote great literature in French.

For 300 years, the members of the academy, who are writers, have met to decide which words and phrases are permitted in French. They issue a report that contains all these words. They also issue prizes to the best books of the year.