|Pronunciation||[fɾãntsəɪs, [fɾãntswe, [romãnts|
|Region||northern France, parts of Belgium (Wallonia), Scotland, England, Ireland, Principality of Antioch, Kingdom of Cyprus|
|Era||evolved into Middle French by the 14th century|
Old French (franceis, françois, romanz; Modern French: ancien français) was the language spoken in Northern France from the 8th century to the 14th century.
The region where Old French was spoken natively roughly extended to the northern half of the Kingdom of France and its vassals (including parts of the Angevin Empire, which during the 12th century remained under Anglo-Norman rule), and the duchies of Upper and Lower Lorraine to the east (corresponding to modern north-eastern France and Belgian Wallonia), but the influence of Old French was much wider, as it was carried to England and the Crusader states as the language of a feudal elite and commerce.
Areal and dialectal divisions
The areal of Old French in contemporary terms corresponded to the northern parts of the Kingdom of France (including Anjou and Normandy, which in the 12th century were ruled by the Plantagenet kings of England), Upper Burgundy and the duchy of Lorraine.
The Norman dialect was also spread to England and Ireland, and during the crusades, Old French was also spoken in the Kingdom of Sicily, and in the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Levant.
As part of the emerging Gallo-Romance dialect continuum, the langues d'oïl were contrasted with the langue d'oc (the emerging Occitano-Romance group, at the time also called Provençal), adjacent to the Old French area in the south-west, and with the Gallo-Italic group to the south-east.
The Franco-Provençal group developed in Upper Burgundy, sharing features with both French and Provençal; it may have begun to diverge from the langue d'oïl as early as the 9th century and is attested as a distinct Gallo-Romance variety by the 12th century.
Dialects or variants of Old French include:
- Burgundian in Burgundy, then an independent duchy whose capital was at Dijon;
- Picard of Picardy, whose principal cities were Calais and Lille. It was said that the Picard language began at the east door of Notre-Dame de Paris, so far-reaching was its influence;
- Old Norman, in Normandy, whose principal cities were Caen and Rouen. The Norman conquest of England brought many Norman-speaking aristocrats into the British Isles. Most of the older Norman (sometimes called "French") words in English reflects its influence, which became a conduit for the introduction into the Anglo-Norman realm, as did Anglo-Norman control of Anjou and Gascony and other continental possessions. Anglo-Norman was a language that reflected a shared culture on both sides of the English Channel. Ultimately, the language declined and fell, becoming Law French, a jargon spoken by lawyers that was used in English law until the reign of Charles II of England; however, the Norman language, still survives in Normandy and the Channel Islands, as a regional language;
- Wallon, around Namur, now in Wallonia, Belgium;
- Gallo of the Duchy of Brittany;
- Lorrain of the Duchy of Lorraine.
Some modern languages are derived from Old French dialects other than Classical French, which is based on the Île-de-France dialect.
Evolution and separation from Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin differed from Classical Latin in phonology and morphology as well as exhibiting lexical differences; however, they were mutually intelligible until the 7th century when Classical Latin 'died' as a daily spoken language, and had to be learned as a second language (though it was long thought of as the formal version of the spoken language).
Vulgar Latin was the ancestor of the Romance languages, including Old French.
When the most prominent scholar of Western Europe at the time, British deacon Alcuin, was tasked by Charlemagne with improving the standards of Latin writing in France, being not a native Romance speaker himself, he prescribed a pronunciation based on a fairly literal interpretation of Latin spelling.
For example, in a radical break from the traditional system, a word such as ⟨viridiarium⟩ 'orchard' now had to be read aloud precisely as it was spelled rather than */verdʒjær/ (later spelled as Old French vergier).
Such a radical change had the effect of rendering Latin sermons completely unintelligible to the general romance-speaking public, which prompted officials a few years later, at the Third Council of Tours, to instruct priests to read sermons aloud in the old way, in rusticam romanam linguam or 'plain Roman[ce] speech'.
As there was now no unambiguous way to indicate whether a given text was to be read aloud as Latin or Romance, various attempts were made in France to devise a new orthography for the latter; among the earliest examples are parts of the Oaths of Strasbourg and the Sequence of Saint Eulalia (see below).
Further information: List of French words of Gaulish origin
Some Gaulish words influenced Vulgar Latin and, through this, other Romance languages.
For example, classical Latin was uniformly replaced in Vulgar Latin by 'nag, work horse', derived from Gaulish caballos (cf.
An estimated 200 words of Gaulish etymology survive in modern French, for example 'oak tree' and 'plough'.
Within historical phonology and studies of language contact, various phonological changes have been posited as caused by a Gaulish substrate, although there is some debate.
There, the Greek word paropsid-es (written in Latin) appears as paraxsid-i.
The consonant clusters /ps/ and /pt/ shifted to /xs/ and /xt/, e.g. Latin capsa > *kaxsa > caisse (≠ Italian cassa) or captīvus > *kaxtivus > OF chaitif (mod.
Irish cacht 'servant'; ≠ Italian cattiv-ità, Portuguese cativo, Spanish cautivo).
This phonetic evolution is parallel to the shift of the Latin cluster /kt/ in Old French (Latin factum > fait, ≠ Italian fatto, Portuguese feito, Spanish hecho; or lactem* > lait, ≠ Italian latte, Portuguese leite, Spanish leche).
Coexisting with Latin, Gaulish helped shape the Vulgar Latin dialects that developed into French, with effects including loanwords and calques (including oui, the word for "yes"), sound changes shaped by Gaulish influence, and influences in conjugation and word order.
Recent computational studies suggest that early gender shifts may have been motivated by the gender of the corresponding word in Gaulish.
Further information: List of French words of Germanic origin
The pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax of the Vulgar Latin spoken in Roman Gaul in Late Antiquity was modified by the Old Frankish language, spoken by the Franks who settled in Gaul from the 5th century and conquered the entire Old French-speaking area by the 530s.
The name français itself is derived from the name the Franks.
The Old Frankish language had a definitive influence on the development of Old French, which partly explains why the earliest attested Old French documents are older than the earliest attestations in other Romance languages (e.g. Strasbourg Oaths, Sequence of Saint Eulalia).
It is the result of an earlier gap created between Classical Latin and its evolved forms, which slowly reduced and eventually severed the intercomprehensibility between the two.
The Old Low Franconian influence is also believed to be responsible for the differences between the langue d'oïl and the langue d'oc (Occitan), being that various parts of Northern France remained bilingual between Latin and Germanic for some time, and these areas correspond precisely to where the first documents in Old French were written.
This Germanic language shaped the popular Latin spoken here and gave it a very distinctive identity compared to the other future Romance languages.
The very first noticeable influence is the substitution of the Latin melodic accent by a Germanic stress and its result was diphthongization, differentiation between long and short vowels, the fall of the unaccented syllable and of the final vowels:
- Latin decimus, -a 'tenth' > OF disme > F dîme 'tithe' (> E dime; Italian decimo, Spanish diezmo)
- VL dignitate > OF deintié (> E dainty; Italian dignità, Romanian demnitate)
- VL catena > OF chaeine (> E chain; Italian catena, Cast./Occitan cadena, Portuguese cadeia)
Additionally, two phonemes that had long since died out in Vulgar Latin were reintroduced: [h] and [w] (> OF g(u)-, ONF w- cf.
- VL altu > OF halt 'high' (influenced by OLF *hōh ; ≠ Italian, Portuguese alto, Catalan alt, Old Occitan aut)
- L vespa > F guêpe, Picard wèpe, Wallon wèsse, all 'wasp' (influenced by OLF *wapsa; ≠ Occitan vèspa, Italian vespa, Spanish avispa)
- L viscus > F gui 'mistletoe' (influenced by OLF *wīhsila 'morello' with analogous fruits, when they are not ripe; ≠ Occitan vesc, Italian vischio)
- LL vulpiculu 'fox kit' (from L vulpes 'fox') > OF golpilz, Picard woupil 'fox' (influenced by OLF *wulf 'wolf'; ≠ Occitan volpìlh, Old Italian volpiglio, Spanish vulpeja 'vixen')
In contrast, the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words of Germanic origin borrowed from French or directly from Germanic retain /gw/ ~ /g/, e.g.
It, Sp. guerra 'war', alongside /g/ in French guerre).
These examples show a clear consequence of bilingualism, that sometimes even changed the first syllable of the Latin words.
One example of a Latin word influencing an Old Low Franconian loan is framboise 'raspberry', from OF frambeise, from OLF *brāmbesi 'blackberry' (cf.
Dutch braambes, braambezie; akin to German Brombeere, English dial.
bramberry) blended with LL fraga or OF fraie 'strawberry', which explains the replacement [b] > [f] and in turn the final -se of framboise added to OF fraie to make freise, modern fraise (≠ Wallon frève, Occitan fraga, Romanian fragă, Italian fragola, fravola 'strawberry').
Mildred Pope (1934) estimated that perhaps still 15% of the vocabulary of modern French derives from Germanic sources (while the proportion was larger in Old French, because the Middle-French language borrowed heavily from Latin and Italian).
Earliest written Old French
The earliest documents said to be written in the Gallo-Romance that prefigures French – after the Reichenau and Kassel glosses (8th and 9th centuries) – are the Oaths of Strasbourg (treaties and charters into which King Charles the Bald entered in 842):
The second-oldest document in Old French is the Eulalia sequence, which is important for linguistic reconstruction of Old French pronunciation due to its consistent spelling.
The royal House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet in 987, inaugurated the development of northern French culture in and around Île-de-France, which slowly but firmly asserted its ascendency over the more southerly areas of Aquitaine and Tolosa (Toulouse); however, The Capetians' langue d'oïl, the forerunner of modern standard French, did not begin to become the common speech of all of France until after the French Revolution.
Transition to Middle French
Further information: Middle French
During the Early Modern period, French was established as the official language of the Kingdom of France throughout the realm, including the langue d'oc-speaking territories in the south.
It was only in the 17th to 18th centuries – with the development especially of popular literature of the Bibliothèque bleue – that a standardized Classical French spread throughout France alongside the regional dialects.
Main article: Medieval French literature
The material and cultural conditions in France and associated territories around the year 1100 triggered what Charles Homer Haskins termed the "Renaissance of the 12th century", resulting in a profusion of creative works in a variety of genres.
The earliest extant French literary texts date from the ninth century, but very few texts before the 11th century have survived.
The first literary works written in Old French were saints' lives.
The Canticle of Saint Eulalie, written in the second half of the 9th century, is generally accepted as the first such text.
At the beginning of the 13th century, Jean Bodel, in his Chanson de Saisnes, divided medieval French narrative literature into three subject areas: the Matter of France or Matter of Charlemagne; the Matter of Rome (romances in an ancient setting); and the Matter of Britain (Arthurian romances and Breton lais).
The first of these is the subject area of the chansons de geste ("songs of exploits" or "songs of (heroic) deeds"), epic poems typically composed in ten-syllable assonanced (occasionally rhymed) laisses.
More than one hundred chansons de geste have survived in around three hundred manuscripts.
The oldest and most celebrated of the chansons de geste is The Song of Roland (earliest version composed in the late 11th century).
Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube in his Girart de Vienne set out a grouping of the chansons de geste into three cycles: the Geste du roi centering on Charlemagne, the Geste de Garin de Monglane (whose central character was William of Orange), and the Geste de Doon de Mayence or the "rebel vassal cycle", the most famous characters of which were Renaud de Montauban and Girart de Roussillon.
Around a hundred verse romances survive from the period 1150–1220.
From around 1200 on, the tendency was increasingly to write the romances in prose (many of the earlier verse romances were adapted into prose versions), although new verse romances continued to be written to the end of the 14th century.
The most important romance of the 13th century is the Romance of the Rose, which breaks considerably from the conventions of the chivalric adventure story.
Medieval French lyric poetry was indebted to the poetic and cultural traditions in Southern France and Provence—including Toulouse, Poitiers, and the Aquitaine region—where langue d'oc was spoken (Occitan language); in their turn, the Provençal poets were greatly influenced by poetic traditions from the Hispano-Arab world.
By the late 13th century, the poetic tradition in France had begun to develop in ways that differed significantly from the troubadour poets, both in content and in the use of certain fixed forms.
The new poetic (as well as musical: some of the earliest medieval music has lyrics composed in Old French by the earliest composers known by name) tendencies are apparent in the Roman de Fauvel in 1310 and 1314, a satire on abuses in the medieval church, filled with medieval motets, lais, rondeaux and other new secular forms of poetry and music (mostly anonymous, but with several pieces by Philippe de Vitry, who would coin the expression ars nova to distinguish the new musical practice from the music of the immediately preceding age).
Discussions about the origins of non-religious theater (théâtre profane) – both drama and farce—in the Middle Ages remain controversial, but the idea of a continuous popular tradition stemming from Latin comedy and tragedy to the 9th century seems unlikely.
Most historians place the origin of medieval drama in the church's liturgical dialogues and "tropes".
Mystery plays were eventually transferred from the monastery church to the chapter house or refectory hall and finally to the open air, and the vernacular was substituted for Latin.
In the 12th century one finds the earliest extant passages in French appearing as refrains inserted into liturgical dramas in Latin, such as a Saint Nicholas (patron saint of the student clercs) play and a Saint Stephen play.
An early French dramatic play is Le Jeu d'Adam (c. 1150) written in octosyllabic rhymed couplets with Latin stage directions (implying that it was written by Latin-speaking clerics for a lay public).
Related to the fable was the more bawdy fabliau, which covered topics such as cuckolding and corrupt clergy.
These fabliaux would be an important source for Chaucer and for the Renaissance short story (conte or nouvelle).
See also: Phonological history of French
Old French was constantly changing and evolving; however, the form in the late 12th century, as attested in a great deal of mostly poetic writings, can be considered standard.
The writing system at this time was more phonetic than that used in most subsequent centuries.
The phonological system can be summarised as follows:
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|Affricate||ts dz||tʃ dʒ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||(h)|
- All obstruents (plosives, fricatives and affricates) were subject to word-final devoicing, which was usually indicated in the orthography.
- The affricates /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ became fricatives ([s], [z], [ʃ], [ʒ]) in Middle French.
- /ts/ had three spellings – c before e or i, ç before other vowels, or z at the end of a word – as seen in cent, chançon, priz ("a hundred, song, price").
- /dz/ was written as z, as in doze "twelve", and did not occur word-initially.
- /ʎ/ (l mouillé), as in conseil, travaillier ("advice, to work"), became /j/ in Modern French.
- /ɲ/ appeared not only in the middle of a word, but also at the end, as in poing "fist". At the end of a word, /ɲ/ was later lost, leaving a nasalized vowel.
- /h/ was found only in Germanic loanwords and was later lost (although it is transphonologized as the so-called aspirated h that blocks liaison). In native Latin words, /h/ was lost early on, as in om, uem, from Latin homō.
- Intervocalic /d/ from both Latin /t/ and /d/ was lenited to [ð] in the early period (cf. contemporary Spanish: amado [aˈmaðo]). At the end of words it was also devoiced to [θ]. In some texts it was sometimes written as dh or th (aiudha, cadhuna, Ludher, vithe). By 1100 it disappeared altogether.
In Old French, the nasal vowels were not separate phonemes but only allophones of the oral vowels before a nasal consonant.
The nasal consonant was fully pronounced; bon was pronounced [bõn] (Modern French [bɔ̃]).
Nasal vowels were present even in open syllables before nasals where Modern French has oral vowels, as in bone [bõnə] (Modern French bonne [bɔn]).
|nasal||[ĩ ] [ỹ]|
- /o/ had formerly existed but then closed to /u/; the original Western Romance /u/ having previously been fronted to /y/ across most of what is now France and northern Italy.
- /o/ would later appear again when /aw/ monophthongized and also when /ɔ/ closed in certain positions (such as when it was followed by original /s/ or /z/ but not by /ts/, which later became /s/).
- /õ/ may have similarly become closed to /ũ/, in at least in some dialects, since it was borrowed into Middle English as /uːn/ > /aʊn/ (Latin computāre > OF conter > English count; Latin rotundum > OF ront > English round; Latin bonitātem > OF bonté > English bounty). In any case, traces of such a change were erased in later stages of French, when the close nasal vowels /ĩ ỹ õ~ũ/ were opened to become /ɛ̃ œ̃ ɔ̃/.
- /ə̃/ may have existed in the unstressed third-person plural verb ending -ent, but it may have already passed to /ə/, which is known to have happened no later than the Middle French period.
Diphthongs and triphthongs
|/ew/ ~ /øw/||nephew|
|/iw/ ~ /iɥ/||tile|
|/we/ ~ /wø/||heart|
|/wẽ/||count (nom. sg.)|
stress always falls on middle vowel
|/wew/ ~ /wøw/||Jew|
- In Early Old French (up to about the mid-12th century), the spelling ⟨ai⟩ represented a diphthong /aj/ instead of the later monophthong /ɛ/, and ⟨ei⟩ represented the diphthong /ej/, which merged with /oj/ in Late Old French (except when it was nasalized).
- In Early Old French, the diphthongs described above as "rising" may have been falling diphthongs (/ie̯/, /yj/, /ue̯/). In earlier works with vowel assonance, the diphthong written ⟨ie⟩ did not assonate with any pure vowels, which suggests that it cannot have simply been /je/.
- The pronunciation of the vowels written ⟨ue⟩ and ⟨eu⟩ is debated. In the first records of Early Old French, they represented and were written as /uo/, /ou/, and by Middle French, they had both merged as /ø ~ œ/, but the transitional pronunciations are unclear.
- Early Old French had additional triphthongs /iej/ and /uoj/ (equivalent to diphthongs followed by /j/); these soon merged into /i/ and /ɥi/ respectively.
- The diphthong ⟨iu⟩ was rare and had merged into ⟨ui⟩ by Middle French (OF tiule > MF tuile 'tile'; OF siure > Late OF suire > MF suivre 'follow').
In addition to diphthongs, Old French had many instances of hiatus between adjacent vowels because of the loss of an intervening consonant.
Manuscripts generally do not distinguish hiatus from true diphthongs, but modern scholarly transcription indicates it with a diaeresis, as in Modern French:
- Latin audīre > OF /uˈir/ 'hear' (Modern ouïr)
- Vulgar Latin *vidūta > OF /vəˈy.ə/ 'seen' (Modern vue)
- Latin rēgīnam > OF , /rəˈinə/ 'queen' (Modern reine)
- Latin pāgēnsem > OF /paˈis/ 'country' (Modern pays)
- Latin augustum > OF /aˈu(s)t/ 'August' (Modern août)
- Latin patellam > OF /paˈɛlə/ 'pan' (Modern poêle)
- Late Latin quaternum > OF /kwaˈjer/ 'booklet, quire' (Modern cahier)
- Late Latin aetāticum > OF , /aˈad͡ʒə/ ~ /əˈad͡ʒə/ 'age' (Modern âge)
Thus, the masculine noun li veisins "the neighbour" (Latin vicīnus /wɪˈkiːnʊs/ > Proto-Western-Romance *vecínos /veˈt͡sinos/ > OF veisins /vejˈzĩns/; Modern French le voisin /vwazɛ̃/) was declined as follows:
|Latin||Vulgar Latin||Old French|
|Singular||nominative||ille vicīnus||(el)le vecīnos||li veisins|
|illum vicīnum||(el)lo vecīno||le veisin|
|Plural||nominative||illī vicīnī||(el)lī vecīni||li veisin|
|illōs vicīnōs||(el)los vecīnos||les veisins|
In later Old French, the distinctions had become moribund.
As in most other Romance languages, it was the oblique case form that usually survived to become the Modern French form: l'enfant "the child" represents the old oblique (Latin accusative īnfāntem); the Old French nominative was li enfes (Latin īnfāns).
There are some cases with significant differences between nominative and oblique forms (derived from Latin nouns with a stress shift between the nominative and other cases) in which either it is the nominative form that survives or both forms survive with different meanings:
- Both OFr li sire, le sieur (Latin seiior, seiiōrem) and le seignor (nom. sendre; Latin senior, seniōrem) survive in the vocabulary of later French (sire, sieur, seigneur) as different ways to refer to a feudal lord.
- Modern French "sister" is the nominative form (Old French < Latin nominative soror); the Old French oblique form seror (< Latin accusative sorōrem) no longer survives.
- Modern French "priest" is the nominative form (Old French < presbyter); the Old French oblique form , later (< presbyterem) survives only in the Paris street name Rue des Prouvaires.
- Modern French indefinite pronoun "one" continues Old French nominative "man" (< homō); "man" continues the oblique form (OF < hominem).
In a few cases in which the only distinction between forms was the nominative -s ending, the -s was preserved in spelling to distinguish otherwise-homonymous words.
An example is "son" (< Latin nominative fīlius), spelled to distinguish it from "wire".
In this case, a later spelling pronunciation has resulted in the modern pronunciation /fis/ (earlier /fi/).
As in Spanish and Italian, the neuter gender was eliminated, and most old neuter nouns became masculine.
Some Latin neuter plurals were reanalysed as feminine singulars: Latin gaudium was more widely used in the plural form gaudia, which was taken for a singular in Vulgar Latin and ultimately led to modern French la joie, "joy" (feminine singular).
Nouns were declined in the following declensions:
Class I is derived from the Latin first declension.
Class Ia mostly comes from Latin feminine nouns in the third declension.
Class II is derived from the Latin second declension.
Class IIa generally stems from second-declension nouns ending in -er and from third-declension masculine nouns; in both cases, the Latin nominative singular did not end in -s, which is preserved in Old French.
The classes show various analogical developments: -es from the accusative instead of -∅ (-e after a consonant cluster) in Class I nominative plural (Latin -ae), li pere instead of *li peres (Latin illi patres) in Class IIa nominative plural, modelled on Class II, etc.
Class III nouns show a separate form in the nominative singular that does not occur in any of the other forms.
IIIa nouns ended in -ātor, -ātōrem in Latin and preserve the stress shift; IIIb nouns also had a stress shift, from -ō to -ōnem.
IIIc nouns are an Old French creation and have no clear Latin antecedent.
IIId nouns represent various other types of third-declension Latin nouns with stress shift or a change of consonant (soror, sorōrem; īnfāns, īnfāntem; presbyter, presbyterem; seiior, seiiōrem; comes, comitem).
Regular feminine forms of masculine nouns are formed by adding an -e to the masculine stem unless the masculine stem already ends in -e. For example, (shepherd) becomes (Modern French and ).
Adjectives agree in terms of number, gender and case with the noun that they are qualifying.
Thus, a feminine plural noun in the nominative case requires any qualifying adjectives to be feminine, plural and nominative.
For example, in femes riches, has to be in the feminine plural form.
Adjectives can be divided into three declensional classes:
- Class I corresponding roughly to Latin 1st- and 2nd-declension adjectives
- Class II corresponding roughly to Latin 3rd-declension adjectives
- Class III containing primarily the descendants of Latin synthetic comparative forms in -ior, -iōrem.
Class I adjectives have a feminine singular form (nominative and oblique) ending in -e. They can be further subdivided into two subclasses, based on the masculine nominative singular form.
Class Ia adjectives have a masculine nominative singular ending in -s:
- "good" (< Latin , > modern French )
- Masculine Feminine Neuter Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Nominative bons bon bone bones bon Oblique bon bons —
For Class Ib adjectives, the masculine nominative singular ends in -e, like the feminine.
There are descendants of Latin second- and third-declension adjectives ending in -er in the nominative singular:
- aspre "harsh" (< Latin , > modern French )
- Masculine Feminine Neuter Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Nominative aspre aspre aspre aspres aspre Oblique aspres —
For Class II adjectives, the feminine singular is not marked by the ending -e:
- "big, great" (< Latin , > modern French )
- Masculine Feminine Neuter Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Nominative granz grant granz/grant granz grant Oblique grant granz grant —
An important subgroup of Class II adjectives is the present participial forms in -ant.
Class III adjectives have a stem alternation, resulting from stress shift in the Latin third declension and a distinct neuter form:
- "better" (< Latin , > modern French )
- Masculine Feminine Neuter Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Nominative mieudre(s) meillor mieudre meillors mieuz Oblique meillor meillors meillor —
In later Old French, Classes II and III tended to be moved across to Class I, which was complete by Middle French.
Modern French thus has only a single adjective declension, unlike most other Romance languages, which have two or more.
Verbs in Old French show the same extreme phonological deformations as other Old French words; however, morphologically, Old French verbs are extremely conservative in preserving intact most of the Latin alternations and irregularities that had been inherited in Proto-Romance.
Old French has much less analogical reformation than Modern French has and significantly less than the oldest stages of other languages (such as Old Spanish) despite the fact that the various phonological developments in Gallo-Romance and Proto-French led to complex alternations in the majority of commonly-used verbs.
For example, the Old French verb laver "to wash" (Latin lavāre) is conjugated je lef, tu leves, il leve in the present indicative and je lef, tu les, il let in the present subjunctive, in both cases regular phonological developments from Latin indicative lavō, lavās, lavat and subjunctive lavem, lavēs, lavet.
The following paradigm is typical in showing the phonologically regular but morphologically irregular alternations of most paradigms:
- The alternation je lef ~ tu leves is a regular result of the final devoicing triggered by loss of final /o/ but not /a/.
- The alternation laver ~ tu leves is a regular result of the diphthongization of a stressed open syllable /a/ into /ae/ > /æ/ > /e/.
- The alternation je lef ~ tu les ~ il let in the subjunctive is a regular result of the simplification of the final clusters /fs/ and /ft/, resulting from loss of /e/ in final syllables.
Modern French, on the other hand, has je lave, tu laves, il lave in both indicative and subjunctive, reflecting significant analogical developments: analogical borrowing of unstressed vowel /a/, analogical -e in the first singular (from verbs like j'entre, with a regular -e ) and wholesale replacement of the subjunctive with forms modelled on -ir/-oir/-re verbs.
All serve to eliminate the various alternations in the Old French verb paradigm.
Even modern "irregular" verbs are not immune from analogy: For example, Old French je vif, tu vis, il vit (vivre "to live") has yielded to modern je vis, tu vis, il vit, eliminating the unpredictable -f in the first-person singular.
The simple past also shows extensive analogical reformation and simplification in Modern French, as compared with Old French.
For example, the Sequence of Saint Eulalia (878 AD) has past-tense forms such as avret (< Latin habuerat), voldret (< Latin voluerat), alternating with past-tense forms from the Latin perfect (continued as the modern "simple past").
Old Occitan also preserved this tense, with a conditional value; Spanish still preserves this tense (the -ra imperfect subjunctive), as does Portuguese (in its original value as a pluperfect indicative).
In Latin, stress was determined automatically by the number of syllables in a word and the weight (length) of the syllables.
That resulted in certain automatic stress shifts between related forms in a paradigm, depending on the nature of the suffixes added.
For example, in pensō "I think", the first syllable was stressed, but in pensāmus "we think", the second syllable was stressed.
In many Romance languages, vowels diphthongized in stressed syllables under certain circumstances but not in unstressed syllables, resulting in alternations in verb paradigms: Spanish pienso "I think" vs. pensamos "we think" (pensar "to think"), or cuento "I tell" vs. contamos "we tell" (contar "to tell").
In the development of French, at least five vowels diphthongized in stressed, open syllables.
Combined with other stress-dependent developments, that yielded 15 or so types of alternations in so-called strong verbs in Old French.
For example, /a/ diphthongized to /ai/ before nasal stops in stressed, open syllables but not in unstressed syllables, yielding aim "I love" (Latin amō) but amons "we love" (Latin amāmus).
The different types are as follows:
|Vowel alternation||Environment||Example (-er conjugation)||Example (other conjugation)|
|Stressed||Unstressed||Latin etymon||3rd singular
|Infinitive||meaning||Latin etymon||3rd singular
/ Other form
|/e/||/a/||free /a/||lavāre||leve||laver||"to wash"||parere >
|pert||parir||"to give birth"|
|/ãj̃/||/ã/||free /a/ + nasal||amāre||aime||amer||"to love"||manēre||maint||maneir, manoir||"to remain"|
|/je/||/e/||palatal + free /a/||*accapāre||achieve||achever||"to achieve"|
|/i/||/e/||palatal + /a/ + palatal||*concacāre||conchie||concheer||"to expel"||iacēre||gist||gesir||"to lie (down)"|
|/a/||/e/||palatal + blocked /a/||*accapitāre||achate||acheter||"to buy"||cadere >
|/a/||/e/||intertonic /a/ + palatal?||*tripaliāre||travaille||traveillier||"to torment, make suffer"|
|/je/||/e/||free /ɛ/||levāre||lieve||lever||"to raise"||sedēre||siet||seeir, seoir||"to sit; suit, be fitting"|
|/jẽ/||/ẽ/||free /ɛ/ + nasal||tremere >
||crient||creindre (var. cremir, -oir)||"to fear"|
|/i/||/ej/||/ɛ/ + palatal||pretiāre||prise||preiser||"to value"||exīre||ist||eissir||"to exit, go out"|
|/ɛ/||/e/||intertonic /ɛ, e/ + double cons.||appellāre||apele||apeler||"to call"|
|/oj/||/e/||free /e/||adhaerāre >
|/ẽj̃/||/ẽ/||free /e/ + nasal||mināre||meine||mener||"to lead"|
|/i/||/e/||palatal + free /e/|
|/oj/||/i/||intertonic /e/ + palatal||-||charroie||charrier||"to cart around"|
|/we/||/u/||free /ɔ/||*tropāre||trueve||truver||"to invent, discover"||morī >
|/uj/||/oj/||/ɔ/ + palatal||*appodiāre||apuie||apoiier||"to lean"|
|/ew/||/u/||free /o/||dēmōrārī||demeure||demo(u)rer||"to stay"||cōnsuere >
|/u/||/e/||intertonic blocked /o/||*corruptiāre||courouce||courecier||"to get angry"|
|/ũ/||/ã/||intertonic blocked /o/ + nasal||calumniārī||chalonge||chalengier||"to challenge"|
In Modern French, the verbs in the -er class have been systematically levelled.
Generally, the "weak" (unstressed) form predominates, but there are some exceptions (such as modern aimer/nous aimons).
The only remaining alternations are in verbs like acheter/j'achète and jeter/je jette, with unstressed /ə/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/ and in (largely-learned) verbs like adhérer/j'adhère, with unstressed /e/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/.
Many of the non-er verbs have become obsolete, and many of the remaining verbs have been levelled; however, a few alternations remain in what are now known as irregular verbs, such as je tiens, nous tenons; je dois, nous devons and je meurs, nous mourons.
Some verbs had a more irregular alternation between different-length stems, with a longer, stressed stem alternating with a shorter, unstressed stem.
That was a regular development stemming from the loss of unstressed intertonic vowels, which remained when they were stressed:
- j'aiu/aidier "help" < adiūtō, adiūtāre
- j'araison/araisnier "speak to" < adratiōnō, adratiōnāre
- je deraison/deraisnier "argue" < dēratiōnō, dēratiōnāre
- je desjun/disner "dine" < disiēiūnō, disiēiūnāre
- je manju/mangier "eat" < mandūcō, mandūcāre
- je parol/parler "speak" < *paraulō, *paraulāre < parabolō, parabolāre
The alternation of je desjun, disner is particularly complicated; it appears that disiēiūnāre > Western Romance /desjejuˈnare > /desjejˈnare/ (preliminary intertonic loss) > /desiˈnare/ (triphthong reduction) > /disiˈnare/ (metaphony) > /disˈner/ (further intertonic loss and other proto-French developments).
Both stems have become full verbs in Modern French: déjeuner "to have lunch" and dîner "to dine".
Furthermore, déjeuner does not derive directly from je desjun (< *disi(ēi)ūnō, with total loss of unstressed -ēi-).
Instead, it comes from Old French desjeüner, based on the alternative form je desjeün (< *disiē(i)ūnō, with loss of only -i-, likely influenced by jeûner "to fast" < Old French jeüner < je jeün /d͡ʒe.ˈyn/ "I fast" < iē(i)ūnō: iē- is an initial rather than intertonic so the vowel -ē- does not disappear).
Example of regular -er verb: durer (to last)
- Present participle: durant
- Past Participle: duré
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Example of regular -ir verb: fenir (to end)
- Present participle: fenissant
- Past participle: feni(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Example of regular -re verb: corre (to run)
- Present participle: corant
- Past participle: coru(t)
Auxiliary verb: estre
Examples of auxiliary verbs
avoir (to have)
- Infinitive: (earlier )
- Present participle: aiant
- Past participle: eü(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
estre (to be)
- Present participle: estant
- Past participle: esté(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Other parts of speech
Adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections are generally invariable, one notable exception being the adverb , like Modern French : all, every.
- Influence of French on English
- Bartsch's law
- Anglo-Norman literature
- History of French
- History of the English language
- Languages of France
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old French.