French Language Day is on March 20 and we’re more than excited to celebrate with some French culture, language, and history as we ask…parlez vous Francais? Even if you don’t speak the language there’s a lot of aspects of French culture to learn about. This occasion is meant to respect multilingualism and cultural diversity. When most people think of French they think of France, but it’s actually Africa that has the most French speakers. There are an estimated 120 million Africans from 29 countries that speak the language alongside their indigenous languages.
History of French Language Day
The French language comes from Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire. France was known as Gaul during that time and they were conquered by the Romans in the first and second century BC. At that time, they spoke Gaulish which is a Celtic language, but that was replaced by Latin from the Romans. In the fifth century, Germanic tribes invaded Gaul and they were Romanized as well. As a result of these outside influences, modern French owes its origins to Celtic, Germanic, but most of all to Latin.
Old French was spoken by the ninth century to the thirteenth and it was different from Latin. The Oaths of Strasbourg is the oldest known document that uses Old French and it had varying dialects including Francien, a dialect that was used near Paris. In the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Middle French was used with expressions from Latin, Greek, and Italy. A group of French poets known as the Pléiade, inspired the French to strengthen their language and literature.
The seventeenth-century marked the modern period of French and in 1635, Cardinal Richelieu founded the French Academy. The purpose of this was to maintain the sanctity of the language and its literature. The language evolved over time with artistic movements like romanticism and realism, but in large, it has stayed true to this period.
In 2010, the UN’s Department of Public Information made French Language Day official to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity. The day is also used to promote the equal use of all six official languages throughout the UN which are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. March 20 is also recognized as the International Day of La Francophonie that celebrates the anniversary of the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT) that began March 20, 1970.