Middle French language
November 28, 2021
Middle French (French: moyen français) is a historical subdivision of the French language that covers the period between 1340 and 1611. It is a transitional period during which:
the French language is clearly distinguished from its competing languages d'oil sometimes summarized in the concept of old French (ancien français);
the French language is declared the official language of the Kingdom of France in place of Latin and other languages of oil and Occitan;
the literary development of French lays the foundations for the vocabulary and grammar of classical French (français classique) spoken in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The most important change found in Middle French is the total disappearance of the nouns declension system (already in place for centuries). There is no longer a distinction between the nominative and accusative case and the plural is formed by simply adding an s. This transformation requires more control over the word order in the sentence, which is found in the syntax of modern French (although until the 16th century the verb will continue to be in the second position within the sentence). Latin continued to be the language of teaching, administration and bureaucracy; all this changed in 1539, with the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in which Francis I of France established that only French was the language for legal and juridical acts. Regional differences, however, were still extremely pronounced throughout France: Occitan dominated in the south; in central-eastern France the Provencal languages predominated; in the north, the languages of oil continued to be used in addition to French. The administrative language imposed in 1539 is seen by modern linguists as a sort of generalized language of oil purified from purely dialectal connotations, rather than the triumph of a particular dialect over the others.
The fascination of classical texts led to the assimilation of Latin and Greek terms, sometimes to the detriment of the rich vocabulary of Old French. There are numerous neologisms of Latin origin and some scholars modified the spelling of French words to match their Latin roots: unfortunately this caused a notable difference between the way the words were written and the way they were pronounced. in Italy and the presence of Italians in the French court brought the French into close contact with Italian humanism. Many words in the military (alarme, cavalier, espion, infanterie, camp, canon, soldat) and artistic (especially in architecture, such as arcade, architrave, balcon, corridor and in literature as sonnet) were borrowed from Italian. This trend would later continue with classic French.
There were also words borrowed from German (reître), the Americas (cacao, hamac, maïs) and Spanish (casque). The influence of the Anglo-Norman language on English left words of Norman origin in England. Some novel terms were reintroduced as doublets of existing terms through warfare and trade.
Eventually, the meaning and use of many words in Old French were transformed.
The spelling and punctuation of this period are very irregular. The introduction of printing in 1470 highlighted the need for a spelling reform: among them was that of Jacques Peletier du Mans who developed a writing system based on phonetics and introduced new typographic symbols (1550), but which was not successful.
In this period there was the publication of the first books of grammar and of the French-Latin vocabulary of Robert Estienne (1539).
At the beginning of the 17th century, France saw the progressive unification of the French language, the suppression of some forms and the imposition of rules that would lead to modern French.
The average French