Learn French: Greetings and Courtesies

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Good, then let’s go! We’ll start with greetings and courtesies, then continue with alphabet, numbers, days, months and seasons, question words, quantities, weather and time, asking for help, emergencies, banks, taxis, restaurants, transportation, finding your way, touring, places to see, socializing, some famous French expressions and finally (whew!) some very romantic French expressions to impress someone special.

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Greetings and Courtesies

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The Historical Evolution of the French Language

The history of the French language can trace its roots through the military and migratory history of all of Europe. The timeline begins at the dawn of recorded history and moves through time in a near-constant state of evolution and regionalization.

While populated long before Celtic-speaking tribes inhabited modern day France and the surrounding areas, the Celts brought the first formal languages to the region. The language was oral in nature and written language relied upon the Greek alphabet, learned from Greeks who had inhabited the Western Mediterranean area. The language did not heavily influence the French language because the region inhabited by the Celts remained politically divided and lacked cohesion.

In 58BC, Roman general Julius Caesar conquered the region and added it to the Roman Empire. Caesar himself remarked in The War of the Gauls (Book I) that this region’s people spoke many different languages. This doubtlessly made their conquest easier. Romans achieved the use of Latin by ignoring the native languages and requiring sole use of Latin in all interactions. Gradually, classical Latin evolved into a more informal dialect known as Vulgar Latin, although the use of classical Latin continued among the aristocracy, in writing, and in education.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and subsequent invasions by Germanic tribes, the Franks controlled the region. Frankish language was the required language, yet Latin remained the chosen language for writing. Infrequent contact between the Franks and other Germanic tribes who controlled the surrounding regions allowed more regionalized dialect to evolve into what would become the Romance languages: French, Italian, and Spanish.

King Louis VI
In 987, Hugues Capet became the King of France, by this time the Franks’ considerable power had dissipated from the region. The new sovereign brought the vernacular language called French to the throne. In 1119, King Louis VI made the first formal reference to the region as France in a letter to the Pope. Linguistic and political unification soon followed the king’s decree.

Middle Ages
During this period, social and political instability resulted in linguistic devolution as conventions of the French language loosened considerably, especially the written language.

The rebirth that was sweeping Europe came to France largely via the Italians. Languages had divided back into a regional dialect, and the Italians easily influenced native languages. King Louis XII decreed that all judicial and civil proceedings must take place in French.

Between the years 1715-1789, French was the accepted language for educated people. This created a bilingual environment as the language spread all over Europe and to the North American colonies. This did little to unify the nation because only 12% of the population could speak the language of King and country. Regional dialects still dominated everyday life for the commoners and the church still used Latin.

French nationalism and pride were at a fevered pitch during the French Revolution. This was the first time that it was deemed necessary to unite the country with a designated national language. Those in power believed this was essential to spread the ideas of the revolution to more middle and lower class citizens. This proved to be difficult, as the education system was not equipped to complete the task. Around 1859, standard French was established and encouraged throughout the nation because of improved communication. An advance in roads, railways, and the newspaper made communication in one language easier and necessary.

Contemporary Times
The Twentieth century brought more evolution to the French language. World War I brought large numbers of English-speaking members of the military to the country and with them came their language.

Contemporary French has continued to evolve; phonetics are simpler in contemporary French and the vocabulary has increased exponentially. Through a long rocky process of linguistic evolution, France is no longer at odds with itself. It is a nation linguistically united.