Rosetta Stone
Choose a language
Our Top Languages
History of the French Language | Rosetta Stone®

Learn the history of the French Language and start exploring French grammar and phrases with Rosetta Stone. Sign up today.

Start 3-Day Free Trial

History of the French Language

If you’re intrigued by the French language, you’ll love learning more about the history of the official language of France. One of the five main romance languages that descended from Latin, (the other four are: Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish) French is a fun and popular language to learn. While you might believe that because French sounds “romantic” it is then qualified as a romance language, that’s actually not the case. The phrase romance language comes from the latin terms, “romanica loqui,” translation: to speak in Roman fashion.

Read on and learn more about one of the most popular romance languages, and get inspired to learn French. With Rosetta Stone, you’ll be speaking with confidence and a smile, thanks to our engaging ten-minute, bite-sized lessons.

Origins of the Official Language of France - French History

The history of the French language is rich. Essentially, French is an evolution of Gallo-Romance dialects, with its origins starting out in Gaul.

The Birth of the French Language: It All Begins in Gaul

Modern-day France and Belgium were once included in an ancient region of Western Europe known as Gaul, and while the Gaulish language hasn’t left too much of an imprint on the modern French we learn today, it is the perfect place to begin getting to grips with the history of the French language.

When Gaul was conquered by the Romans in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, the Gaulish language (which was a Celtic language) came under attack-hence the true meaning of a ‘Romance language’ as “to speak in Roman fashion.”

But The Latins Take Over & The Gaulish Language Fades

However, the history of the French language gets complicated when, thanks to the Romans, Latin superseded Gaulish to become the region’s predominant language - and to progress up the social ladder, citizens had to learn and fully embrace it.

The Gaulish dialects disappeared, but not before passing on some 150 or so words to Latin. Isn’t it amazing how some dialects and words, evolve, fade or stay in our vocabularies and histories? These were then passed on to the French language, with some seventy or so words of Gaulish origin surviving in modern French – “artuas” (ardoise, slate) and “battu” (battre, to beat), for example.

However, even the newly-embraced Latin wasn’t safe from transformation. As the Roman Empire expanded, the Latin that was carried across the region was not the literary Latin of playwrights.

In a transformation widely attributed to the lower classes, Latin transmuted from its classical roots and took on a whole host of indigenous influences to become a ‘language of the people’ - Vulgar Latin.

While the French language has been distinct enough from Latin to be viewed as its own language since the 9th century, the Latin roots are still very much there. It is thanks to these roots that English speakers may feel they enjoy a head-start in learning to speak French. Truly, if you are intrigued by the idea of learning French, you’re in good company: after English, it’s the most widely taught language. Once you try a hands-on demo with Rosetta Stone, we’re sure you’ll see why learning French is popular.

The Germanic Invasions Impact One of the Most Popular Romance Languages

The Germanic invasions which followed - known by the Romans as the “barbaric invasions” - had a big impact on the French language. When the Empire’s frontiers collapsed and Gaul fell into the hands of the Franks, Vulgar Latin was further diluted by dialects from the different regions.

As Malcolm Offord notes in “French Words: Past, Present and Future”, the Franks imposed their own stress patterns and patterns of usage upon Vulgar Latin, and this goes a long way to explaining why French is so different to other languages descended from Latin - Italian and Spanish, for example.

As such, the Franks ensured the Gallo-Roman population became merged with the German settlers, and from this mixing pot of Germanic, Celtic and (predominantly) Latin roots, the French language emerged.

Other Influences on the Official Language of France and Related Languages

As with any other language, French has never been immune to strong influences from other languages, particularly Greek, Italian and English – the latter being a huge force on the language throughout the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

What About French Today?

As the official language, or one of the official languages, of 33 countries and one of the six official languages of the United Nations, it’s unsurprising that within the French language, different variations and dialects exist. Yet in France itself, Parisian French came to be upheld as the ‘model’ for French language, due to the capital’s increasing importance from a cultural and political perspective.

Structurally, the language hasn’t changed too much since that standardization - although linguistically French is always evolving; one of the most exciting things about any language.

With a history as rich as this, learning French is truly pleasurable, whether you want to learn for your own personal growth or will use it professionally, or both. Take the next step in your language-learning journey with Rosetta Stone, and start speaking with total confidence. Try our interactive demo today and see what makes Rosetta Stone an award-winning language-learning program.

Try Our Award-Winning App

Surround yourself with French whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.

Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.

The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.