French language

Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages.


  • Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français.
    • What is not clear is not French.
    • Antoine de Rivarol, De l'universalité de la langue française: Discours qui a remporté le Prix a l'Académie de Berlin (Berlin, 1784), p. 49
  • When King Gustaf III was preparing an attack on Denmark in 1783 he wrote to his chief aide-de-camp, Colonel Toll, that he was extremely busy and needed to write in French rather than in Swedish because it took so much less time. It is true that he was unusually good at French: even Vergennes, who did not like him at all, acknowledged his exceptional command of the French language. But he was not unique. The whole of northern Europe was dominated in the same way by the French language and French culture. Frederick II of Prussia, the Empress Catherine II of Russia, the Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II of Austria, the kings of Denmark and Poland – all of them spoke and wrote French fluently; and some of them, like Catherine II, wrote it in a fine, literary style. King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden and his queen both came from Germany as adults, but their son Gustaf never learned to understand German. French was the language in which he was educated, and Queen Louisa Ulrica insisted in his youth that he should write one letter in French to her every day. Indeed correspondence between members of the royal family was generally carried on in French at this time.
  • Сердцеведением и мудрым познаньем жизни отзовется слово британца; легким щеголем блеснет и разлетится недолговечное слово француза; затейливо придумает свое, не всякому доступное, умно-худощавое слово немец; но нет слова, которое было бы так замашисто, бойко так вырвалось бы из-под самого сердца, так бы кипело и животрепетало, как метко сказанное русское слово.
    • Translation: The sayings of the Briton resound with the wisdom of the heart and sage comprehension of life; the Frenchman's short-lived phrase is brilliant as a sprightly dandy and soon fades away; the German fancifully contrives his intellectually thin sayings, not within the grasp of all; but there are no sayings of so wide a sweep and so bold an aim, none that burst from the very heart, bubble up and vibrate with life like an aptly uttered Russian saying.
    • Nikolai Gogol. Originally written in 1835—1852, the "Poem in prose" Dead Souls, Chapter V finale, in the 1922 translation by Constance Garnett
  • I have been trying to think of something that I could pick out as a mistake, you know, so that we could do better next time. But I found only one thing: I found on one of my schedules---I don't know who happened to prepare this, but nevertheless, the schedule said, with regard to the first dinner, the dinner that President de Gaulle was the host--the second one, as you know, was in Ambassador Shriver's residence, and I was the host there--but at the first dinner where he was the host, he was supposed to make a toast and I was supposed to prepare one to him. On my schedule it said: "President Nixon will speak for 10 minutes and then his speech will be translated into English." I knew I had troubles in communicating, but not that much. But whether it was my French or English or whatever the case might be, that was the only thing I could find--and we need to have a little humor in a trip. I think it was put in deliberately for that very purpose. But could I go one step further? Also, in this room are people who have dedicated their lives to the service of the Government of the United States, some in the Foreign Service and some in other branches of the service. You have been in this post; you have been in many others.
  • A theorization of what it means to look like a language and sound like a race can be found in the opening chapter of Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, titled "The Negro and Language": “The problem that we confront in this chapter is this: The Negro of the Antilles will be proportionately Whiter-that is, he will come closer to being a real human being-in direct ratio to his mastery of the French Language.... What we are getting at becomes plain: Mastery of language affords remarkable power.... The Black man who has lived in France for a length of time returns radically changed. To express it in genetic terms, his phenotype undergoes a definitive, an absolute mutation.” (1967:18-19) Fanon's evocative description of interactions in the French Caribbean context speaks to the powerful ways that categories of language and race become iconic of one another, such that linguistic practices can shape one's racial ontology.
    • Jonathan Rosa, Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (2019)
  • It is crucial to build from Fanon's account to rethink the construction and navigation of boundaries associated with categories of language and identity. The status of French in particular Caribbean contexts in the previous Fanonian example is not entirely unlike English language hegemony in the United States, which relies heavily on schools as flagship institutions for language standardization. This positions standardized English both as an institutional norm and aspiration. While school actors used different varieties of Spanish and English, standardized English was understood as the normative language variety for official business. Most school-wide announcements were made in English, and all formal staff meetings were conducted in English. Meanwhile, the majority of school employees perceived as Spanish-dominant occupied subordinate hierarchical positions as security guards, custodians, and lunchroom workers. This reflects the structural stigmatization of the Spanish language.
    • Jonathan Rosa, Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (2019)