The Lord’s Prayer in French:
Notre Père, qui es aux cieux,
que ton nom soit sanctifié,
que ton règne vienne,
que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour.
Pardonne-nous nos offences
comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du mal.
French (842- ) is the main language of France. At least a million people speak it as a native language in each of these countries: France, Canada, Switzerland and Belgium. Millions more speak it as a second language throughout the world. Only English is more widely known. French is one of the six languages of the United Nations.
Of the languages that came from Latin, Spanish and even Portuguese have more speakers, but unlike them French is much better known outside its home regions. It is also more common on the Internet.
French comes from the Latin spoken in the streets of Paris. Over time Latin slowly changed into what we know as French. It was already noticeably French by the 800s. But it became the universal language of France only in the 1800s when everyone had to learn the French of Paris in school. The top people and the best writers used it. The other sorts of French and the other languages of France – Breton, Basque, Occitan and Catalan – have been slowly and sadly dying out. Occitan, not French, was the language of the troubadours.
From the 1000s to the 1300s the top people in England spoke French. They spoke a English full of French words. In time it became the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare.
I wrote this in English, yet it would have been hard to do without these words from French:
language, people, nation, region, notice, form, change, universal, use, sort, rule, power, pure, perfect, common, slave, push, prefer, glory, banker, shop, paint, dance.
Even the -s ending for plurals comes from French!
In the 1700s in Haiti another language full of French words won the day: Creole. It came from the broken French of the African slaves. Creole is made of French words with some from Africa, but the words are put together in a way that is not French at all.
In the 1700s and 1800s French became the top language of the West, pushing aside Latin. Anyone with self-respect and a good education knew it. In Tolstoy you can read how even in Russia many preferred French to their own language. Marie Curie learned it in Poland and later went to France to make her mark in the world. So did Picasso from Spain and Josephine Baker from America.
But in the late 1900s the glory days came to an end. English, a language of bankers and shopkeepers, not of painters and dancers, became the top language in the West.