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  • Print publication year: 1975
  • Online publication date: January 2010

Introduction: sounds and spelling


The origin of Old French

Old French, like its descendant Modern French, is a Romance language, derived mainly from Vulgar Latin, the colloquial Latin introduced into Gaul from the second century B.C. onwards as a result of the Roman conquest and occupation.

After the Germanic invasions of the fifth century A.D. the Vulgar Latin spoken in Gaul, which had already undergone certain modifications, began to change more rapidly and developed into a new language, splitting at the same time into numerous dialects. Gradually two main dialect groups emerged with basic differences: the Langue d'Oc in the south and the Langue a' Oil in the north, so called because of the words oc and oïl used for ‘yes’.

By the twelfth century, which saw the emergence of Old French literature, the Langue a1' Oïl itself included many regional dialects, such as Picard in the north-east, Anglo-Norman in England, and Francien, taken as standard Old French in this work, in the royal domain of the He de France. It is the special form of Francien spoken in Paris which, from the twelfth century onwards, supplanted the other dialects for political reasons and developed into Modern French.

Six periods can be roughly distinguished in the transition from Latin to Modern French:

Vulgar Latin: from the second century B.C., when Latin was first spoken in Gaul, to the late fifth century.

Gallo-Roman: from the end of the fifth century to the middle of the ninth.

Early Old French: from the middle of the ninth century to the end of the eleventh.

Later Old French: from the end of the eleventh century to the beginning of the fourteenth. […]