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French 3302

History of the French Language

What do we mean when we say that French is a Romance Language while English is a Germanic one? Have you ever wondered where we get the words for the days of the week, or months of the year, words like the rather strange word, 'août', for August?

In French 3302, we shall discover that French is not necessarily a more "romantic' language than English but is one of a group of languages, which also includes Italian and Spanish, which are derived from Latin, the language of the ancient Romans. English, on the other hand, belongs to another group of languages which also includes German and the Scandinavian languages.

We shall discover that 'août' comes from, and honours the name of, Augustus, one of the Roman emperors who was also treated as a god. In French 3302, we shall explore the fascinating changes in sound, the study of phonology, which over years and centuries, has changed the word 'augustum' into 'août'.

Course content

French 3302 places French in the context of the Indo-European family of languages and world languages in general. It then traces the origins of French in Latin, more especially the Latin spoken by ordinary folk throughout the Roman Empire, that is Vulgar Latin. In the course, four broad periods are identified. (i) the period of Vulgar Latin during the early and central period of the Roman Empire when spoken Latin was fairly uniform throughout all the countries of the Empire up to the first century AD; (ii) the period of Gallo-Roman, (2nd-5th centuries AD), which examines the Latin specifically of Gaul and the underlying influence of the Celtic language of the Gauls, Gaulish. (iii) the period of proto-French (6th- 9th centuries AD) when a new nation was being formed, notably in the reign of Charlemagne and when the language of newcomers, the Franks had a considerable influence (iv) the period of Old French when the modern language became relatively fixed. For each period, four aspects of language development will be studied: phonology or sound change, morphology or the study of flexion, syntax and vocabulary. In the last part of the course, major changes will be followed through Middle French, the Renaissance and up to the modern period.


15 credit hours in French and/or Linguistics at the 2000 level or permission of the Head of the Department; Classics 1120 is strongly recommended


P.A. Machonis, Histoire de la langue, du latin à l'ancien français.


Class mark (quizzes based on readings) 25%; short exercises 20%; term paper 25%; final examination 30%.


French 3302 is offered on a cycle with French 3310 and 3311.

After 3302

Students who have completed French 3302 may go on to the language and literature courses at 3000 and 4000 levels.