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I. The principal element of the French language is Latin; but Latin words, be it at once understood, have entered into the composition of French at different periods, through different channels and by different processes.

In the first place, there is a substratum of about four thousand Latin words constituting the language which the Gauls, under the pressure of the superior power and civilisation of the Romans, adopted instead of their vernacular Celtic; and which they in their turn subsequently imposed upon the Franks, their conquerors, but withal their inferiors in mental culture.

But it was not classic Latin that forced its way amongst the people at large; the higher and learned classes, indeed, soon began to vie with their masters in the art of rhetoric and in forensic eloquence; but the great bulk of the nation picked up their Latin from those with whom they were brought into contact-the soldiers and colonists. Of the Latin that we learn in school, the Latin of Cicero and Virgil, these were as innocent as our soldiers, sailors, and settlers of the Queen's English. Recruited from different parts of the vast Roman empire, these untutored squatters on the conquered territory of Gaul spoke the rustic dialects of their native provinces (sermo plebeius), the soldiers and camp-followers their slang (castrense verbum). these more or less corrupted idioms the process of contraction-that most striking feature of French words as compared with classical Latin-is already seen in full operation. Thus we find digitus contracted into digtus; vincere into vincre; saeculum into


1 For a systematic study of the history of French language, we refer the student to Brachet's Grammaire historique, and to his Dictionnaire étymologique. An excellent translation of both by Mr. G. W. Kitchin has appeared in the Clarendon Press Series.

saeclum. In the popular vocabulary, again, we meet with battuere for verberare; caballus for equus; septimana for hebdomas, etc. From these plebeian forms and words to the French doigt, vaincre, siècle, battre, cheval, semaine, there is, it need hardly be said, but one step.

It is, of course, impossible to fix an exact date for the birthday of the French language, or, indeed, of any language; but the earliest documents we possess 1 go to show that towards the ninth century, in the reign of Charles the Great, the several dialects grown out of the decaying Latin as spoken in Gaul (now part of the Frankish empire) had so far asserted their independence as virtually to constitute a new language, or, more correctly speaking, two new languages,—the langue d'oc (Provençal or Limousin), spoken in the south, and the langue d'oil,2 spoken in the centre and north. The struggle as to which of the two was finally to become the literary language, and to reduce the other to the humbler condition of a patois, could not but end fatally for the idiom spoken in the southern provinces, whose political inferiority was consummated by the exterminating crusades against the Albigenses.

But even for the conquering idiom the time inevitably came when the scanty stock of home-grown words which made up its entire vocabulary proved no longer able to meet the new wants arising from the spread of new ideas. The husbandman, indeed, had a name for everything relating to ploughing and planting, the huntsman a name for every kind of fur and feather, the artisan a name for every tool and trick of his handicraft. Byand-by, however, as civilisation was progressing, the new evolutions of thought imperatively called for adequate means of expression. A new currency had to be coined; but this time by the learned classes, and under vastly different conditions. The vulgar Latin, which had been the original storehouse of French words, was now a dead language; the creative energy which had moulded and shaped the Latin metal while still in a state of fusion had spent itself ever since the first wants had been supplied; while of the laws which had operated in framing the language spoken by the common folks, the new mint-masters -the scholars had not even a suspicion.

In the primitive popular speech, for instance, the accented (tonic) syllable of the Latin word invariably obtains as the core

1 The "Glosses of Reichenau" (768); the "Serments of Strasburg" (842). 2 Oc (from Lat. hoc) is the Provençal, and oil (from Lat. hoc illud; pronounced like the modern form oui) the old northern French word for yes.

of its French offshoot; thus, ministérium, already contracted in vulgar Latin into min'sterium and misterium, had gradually shrunk further into mistier, mestier, and métier, its present form; likewise monastérium, mon'sterium, step by step dwindles to monstier, mostier, moustier, and finally to moûtier. The shrinkage, we see, is considerable, but only at the expense of the unaccented syllables.1

Not so with the vocables engrafted on the language by the scholars. They drew their supplies from the written Latin, in which the tonic accent does not assert itself so strongly as in the spoken language. In their hands ministérium became ministère; monastérium, monastère; frigidus, frigide; frágilis, fragile, etc. So unconscious were they of the work done by the people, that in introducing such words as liguer, rédemption, intègre, natif, fragile, hôpital, fusion, they were not even aware that ligare, redemptionem, integrum, nativus, fragilis, hospitale, fusionem, had already struck root in the French language in the popular form of lier, rançon, entier, naïf, frêle, hôtel, foison.

To sum up, French words of Latin origin must be subdivided into two classes :

(1) Words of popular (primary) formation moulded spontaneously by the people according to fixed laws from the Latin tongue as spoken by the common people; and

(2) Words of learned (secondary) formation arbitrarily adopted by the learned from written Latin without regard to any fixed laws.

II. It now remains briefly to explain the laws which have been found to underlie the organic process of transformation of Latin words into French words.

We will take a few words of popular creation, and putting them side by side with the Latin from which they have sprung, we find that

(1) The syllable accented in a Latin word always remains in the popular French word derived from it: as,

Voisin, Lat. vicínus;

moisson, Lat. messiónem ;

doigt, Lat. digitus;
reine, Lat. regína.

1 Just as in our days and in our English language, the syllable on which the stress is laid emerges almost intact from the process of violent contraction which words have to undergo in popular speech: won't for will not, Bedlam for Bethlehem, Pomfret for Pontefract, etc. In the course of time and with the sanction of usage, what is at first familiar becomes correct.

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