The Many Languages of France, 1847.

Arika Okrent highlights a map “made in 1847, before French had truly become the language of the whole of France. The oïl languages are outlined in pink, the oc languages in blue. The rust brown in the northeast is Celtic, the green, Germanic, and the yellow, Basque”; you can explore it in zoomable form at the David Rumsey Map Collection. It makes a fine companion to Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France (see this post). Thanks for the link, Martin (and marie-lucie for the book)!

Comments

  1. Related question: as far as I understand, most French Canadians – Acadian or Quebecois – did not come from a region which was majority “French-speaking” in 1790, yet French, and not Provencal or Breton or whatever, is dominant in those regions of Canada today. This is even though there has been no French government influence over French Canada since the 1700s. Why is this?

  2. I love the David Rumsey collection! It’s such a great resource for anyone who likes historical maps.

    This map uses a broad definition for oc languages, including both Franco-Provençal and Catalan – not without some basis, although neither of them is an oc variety in a literalistic sense. Also, what’s with that island of oïl speech in Aquitaine?

  3. kb, have a look at Choc des patois.

  4. It’s interesting that the map was evidently produced by a German speaker. I wonder what data the map was based on (state-sponsored surveys?) and how many similar maps were produced within France itself.

  5. J. W. Brewer says:

    For some reason, I am struck not only by the map as a whole but by the notion that “Sprachkarte” is a surprisingly lovely word. And usually I don’t get all romantic/exoticist about German, if only because it was the non-English language I spoke best (even if not well) at a long-ago point in my life, enough to deromanticize it.

  6. It was a question on QI in 2008.
    “What were 80% of the French unable to do in 1880 ?” and I was able to shout at the TV “Speak French!”

    Other questions from that episode included:
    “What is Paris Syndrome ?”
    “What was proposed instead of the Arc de Triomphe ?”

    ‘Paris Syndrome’ is when Japanese tourists imbued with a sense of the cultural perfection of France arrive and encounter rude waiters and dog shit covered pavements etc., they can have a nervous breakdown and have to be medi-vacced back to Japan. Apparently, it’s so common the Japanese embassy has a 24/7 helpline available.

    Before the Arc de Triomphe was built, a serious candidate for the site was a giant elephant.

    A great, possibly apocryphal, tale from that episode was that Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to do the German dubbing for the Terminator films but the studio didn’t agree when told that, as an Austrian, to Germans he sounded like a yokel.

  7. Before the Arc de Triomphe was built, a serious candidate for the site was a giant elephant.

    I want to live in that alternate reality.

  8. there was nothing alternate about the reality of the elephant:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_of_the_Bastille

  9. I have heard that same story about Ahnold. He speaks with a marked Styrian accent – might have been cool for Conan. Very odd for a 21st century cyborg.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    He speaks with a marked Styrian accent – might have been cool for Conan. Very odd for a 21st century cyborg.

    All true, although it is Schwarzenegger who has contributed to the modern stereotype of Styrians rather than vice versa. 🙂

    Also very odd for a villain. Much like how Hollywood villains aim at RP, the villain-in-chief in this Bavarian-made comedy speaks the least geographically marked German I’ve ever heard. I can’t pin it down more precisely than “Germany”.

    (Turns out the actor grew up in Argentina.)

  11. Greg Pandatshang says:

    At least it’s not a Stygian accent … that would be inappropriate even for Conan …

  12. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Curiuosly, in France the elimination of regional languages was a socialist enthusiasm: you couldn’t have a real democracy unless everyone spoke the same language. In Spain, on the other hand, it was very much a right-wing enthusiasm: Franco (much later, of course), wanted to eliminate all of the regional languages as they didn’t fit with is notion of a unified indivisible Spain. One place where it didn’t work (apart from Catalonia, which is too big and prosperous to allow extinguishing its culture) was the Val d’Aran, where I spent a weekend three weeks ago. It’s on the French side of the Pyrenees, but it’s not in France, so it wasn’t affected by French educational policies. On the other hand it was cut off from the rest of Spain by snow for several months each year (until the tunnel was constructed), an Franco found it very difficult to enforce his linguistic policies there. As a result it’s the only region of significant size where Occitan (called Aranese in the Val d’Aran) is spoken as an everyday language. To my eyes when written down it looks much like Catalan when written down (apart from some common words like “eth” (masc. “the”) that don’t occur in Catalan, and lacks the word “amb” (“with”) that sticks out like a sore thumb in most Catalan texts, but in general it doesn’t seem much more difficult to read than Catalan for people who know Spanish. I don’t know how different from Catalan it sounds, because I didn’t hear it spoken, and I didn’t hear much Catalan either, as our hosts spoke to us in Spanish.

  13. Curiuosly, in France the elimination of regional languages was a socialist enthusiasm[…]. In Spain, on the other hand, it was very much a right-wing enthusiasm

    I think the elimination of variation and enforcement of conformity is a government enthusiasm, regardless of ideology.

  14. To address kb’s question all the way up top as to why fairly standard French exists in Canada when most of the original migration took place long before the homogenization of French in France: If Wikipedia (article on Canadian French) is to be trusted on this, it says:

    “Phylogenetically, Quebec French, Métis French and Brayon French [all varieties of French spoken are representatives of koiné French in the Americas whereas Acadian French, Cajun French, and Newfoundland French are derivatives of non-koinesized local dialects in France.” Koiné being a naturally-formed standardized language among a variety of dialects.

    Also, in this article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Quebec_French), there is the following, indicating that there was a linguistic blending that took place in Quebec paralleling that in France.

    “The French language established itself permanently on North America with the foundation of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. However, it was after the creation of the Sovereign Council in 1663 that the colonies of New France really started to develop.

    “Between 1627 and 1663, a few thousand colonists landed in New France, either in Acadia or Canada. The provinces that contributed the most to these migrations were those in the northern and western regions of France. The migrants came from Normandy, Aunis, Perche, Brittany, Paris and Île-de-France, Poitou, Maine, Saintonge, and Anjou, most of those being regions where French was seldom spoken at the time (see article Languages of France). According to Philippe Barbaud (1984], the first colonists were therefore mostly non-francophone except for the immigrants from the Paris area, who most likely spoke a popular form of French; and the following dialect clash (choc des patois) brought about the linguistic unification of Quebec. Among the speakers of Norman, Picard, Aunis, Poitevin, Saintongeais and Breton, many might have understood French as a second language. Gradually, a linguistic transfer towards French occurred, leading to the linguistic unification of all the ethnic groups coming from France.

    “According to Henri Wittmann (1997) (based on earlier work of his), the overwhelming similarities between the different varieties of Colonial French clearly show that the linguistic unity triggering dialect clash occurred before the colonists exported their French into the colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries; and that the koine-forming dialect clash must have occurred in Paris and other related urban centers of France.

    “In any event, according to contemporary sources, the Canadians were all speaking French natively by the end of the 17th century, long before France itself outside its large urban centers.”

  15. “to Germans he sounded like a yokel” — which, basically, he was.

    “I think the elimination of variation and enforcement of conformity is a government enthusiasm, regardless of ideology.” — Yep. And forcing nomads to settle down in one place. They’re really keen on that, too.

  16. 1-On the origins of Acadian and Canadian French (kb, MMcM, Martin): the Wikipedia entry on the subject does not represent the most recent scholarly consensus. See this Language Hat thread:

    http://languagehat.com/speaking-in-tongues/

    And my comments therein (February 28, March 1) for a short explanation and a scholarly reference.

    2-Lazar: the map was made in 1847, but the reason Franco-provençal is not given a separate color from the Southern (Oc) varieties is because the scholar (Ascoli) who originally made the case that Franco-Provençal was distinct from both the langue d’oïl and the langue d’oc continua did so in 1873.

    As for that splash of oïl in Aquitaine, it represents a transplanted variety from the Poitou-Saintonge area, known as Gavache: its speakers’ ancestors seem to have settled their small corner of Aquitaine in the fifteenth century, and interestingly some Gavache varieties had borrowed demonstratives from the locally-dominant Gascon varieties.

    3-Athel-Cornish-Bowden: we discussed Aranese here at Casa Hat recently, and some answers to your questions are to be found here:

    http://languagehat.com/aranese/

  17. Ian Press says:

    Forgive me if I’ve missed it in a comment, but the Celtic bit is in the northwest. I’ve had and retain a serious interest in Breton. The loss of a generation in transmission is indeed terrifying, but I have faith that it will somehow become stronger. It may be that many languages which in the past may have been doomed or died out will now survive and keep going – cyclicity is a way forward.

    As for Aranese and the languages (after all, it’s ‘languagehat’) of Aragón, someone to look up is Brian Mott at Barcelona. He knows a great deal about all that.

  18. Well, thank-you so much. I have no idea why I didn’t watch the Caçadors de Paraules in 2013; but I’ve watched it now and it was wonderful. I laughed out loud twice. & smiled all the way through.
    I hope they go back.
    (When various Catalan publications do their annual “bit” in Aranès, I always read it with enjoyment. But I haven’t had much pronunciation to go along with the written form. So jolly! Still smiling.)

  19. gwenllian says:

    kb, for some reason that’s a really common misconception about the settlement of New France, but from what I understand most settlers of Acadia came from the French-speaking Poitou region, and most settlers of Quebec came from French-speaking NW France and Paris. Few among either group were from Brittany or southern France. The residents of St Pierre and Miquelon do have significant Breton and Basque ancestry, but the islands went through several deportations, evacuations and resettlements in their history, and apparently the French spoken there today is quite close to the European standard.

    I’m most interested in the Acadians, since they’re not only in a minority language situation, but in several different minority language situations. Acadian French areas have faced varying degrees of pressure from English, Quebecois French and Standard French, as well as isolation in the case of NS and PEI, so even though most of the early settlers came from the same small area, nowadays very different-sounding varieties of French are spoken in the Maritimes.

    This is from one of the more isolated francophone enclaves in the south of the Maritimes (Clare, Nova Scotia).

    This is from one of the areas under most severe pressure from English (Wedgeport, Novia Scotia).

    Two videos of a band with members from different parts of New Brunswick (southeastern, central and Northern NB).

    Despite my interest in Canadian French varieties, I still can’t differentiate anything much in the various accents that’s subtler than a sledgehammer, so this is the perfect occasion to ask Etienne, marie-lucie and others familiar with French in Canada. I’m wondering about the blonde girl’s accent – how much of it is Quebecois and how much Acadian? And what does the accent of the Franco-Ontarian interviewer sound like?

  20. Thank you for the clips, Gwenllian! The first one (Clare) is definitely the most Acadian, not only in its phonology, but also in its morphosyntax, with a couple of instances of AVOIR used as an auxiliary where ÊTRE would be found in Québec and Standard French, and use of a reflex of POINT as the negator.

    The second one is less interesting, with far fewer Acadian features.

    As for the last two clips…the interviewer may be Franco-ontarian, but her accent sounds like very standard Québec French. Of the band members the blonde one does indeed stand out in sounding much less Acadian than the other two. For instance, unlike her fellow band members, she realizes MOI as /mwa/, whereas your typical Acadian French speaker will realize the vowel of this word with a very back articulation.

  21. A similar case to the Quebec question is the development of a standard accent in places like Australia and New Zealand, although the differences among dialects from various parts of Britain is not great enough to classify them as separate languages. But this process is recent enough that there are recordings showing the process taking place, i.e., recordings of people who were born in the mid-19th century who are partway between a regional British dialect and standard Australian.

    I think there may have been a discussion of this a few years back.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    When various Catalan publications do their annual “bit” in Aranès, I always read it with enjoyment. But I haven’t had much pronunciation to go along with the written form. So jolly! Still smiling.

    As I take it that you are a native speaker of Catalan with some familiarity with Aranès, do you agree that Catalan-speakers have no difficulty in reading Aranès?

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    A similar case to the Quebec question is the development of a standard accent in places like Australia and New Zealand,

    When I first started meeting New Zealanders and Rhodesians in significant numbers 50 years ago I found it hard to tell their accents apart. (Nowadays the ex-Rhodesians one meets in South Africa can easily be identified by their tendency to begin many sentences with “When we…”, and South Africans call them When-Wes in consequence.) I found it strange that (to my ears) a New Zealand accent should resemble a Rhodesian one (and to some extent other white African ones) more than Australian. Is there a simple explanation?

  24. Trond Engen says:

    The time of British settlement?

  25. J. W. Brewer says:

    Some years ago one of my daughters had a long-term substitute teacher (regular teacher was out on maternity leave) who had a rather striking accent, and it turned out that her pre-immigrating-to-U.S. life had been spent approximately half in South Africa and half in New Zealand (I think in that order). It seemed a bit different from other NZ accents I’d been exposed to (although maybe not a large enough sample size in any event) but not so dramatically as to be totally inconsistent with them. And if e.g. there are standard shibboleths for distinguishing SA from NZ, I wasn’t interested enough to look them up and figure out ways of eliciting them from her.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Acadian, etc: In spite of living in Nova Scotia I rarely hear Acadian speech. I agree with Etienne about the probable origins of the various speakers, but for the first clip (Clare) I found the singer almost impossible to understand! If I had heard the song without knowing in advance that it was Acadian I might not even have identified the language as French, at least at first. I only picked a few words here and there and would have to listen to the song many times in order to notice what Etienne did.

    The young people sound like they have been schooled in French and as a result their speech has lost many Acadian features. But they might sound more Acadian in a less formal context. I agree that the blond girl between the other two sounds like a Québécoise and so does the interviewer.

  27. KIT that sounds like STRUT (though still distinguished from it) is an N.Z. shibboleth that the Southern African Englishes lack. I asked a friend about it once who had been many years resident in Canada: she says she intentionally modified her vowel quality, raising it to match the Canadian norm, when she got tired of being misunderstood.

  28. I thought centralized KIT was at least present in SAfEng, like it mentions here.

  29. In NZ it’s unconditioned.

  30. Maidhc: yes, on this thread http://languagehat.com/lefebure/ (June 12 12:01 comment) I did mention the similarity between the spread of a non-rhotic phonology in Early New Zealand and the spread of Upper-class Parisian French at a very early stage in New France.

    Athel Cornish-Bowden: Australian, New Zealand, and Southern African varieties all arose at about the same time, and originally were equally (dis)similar to/from one another, so that my own suspicion is that the perceived New Zealand – Rhodesian similarity you refer to, excluding Australia, involves some specifically Australian innovation which Rhodesian and New Zealand English both lack.

    There is a similar phenomenon in my own neck of the woods: many people in Quebec perceive Acadian, Haitian and Parisian French as being similar to one another and as differing, en bloc, from Quebec French. This is because of a few acoustically striking innovations in Quebec French (Assibilation of /t/ and /d/, allophonic lowering of high vowels, transformation of long vowels into diphthongs) which are by and large absent from the three other varieties.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    use of a reflex of POINT as the negator

    I’ve encountered je sais point, meaning “I have no idea whatsoever”, in France; that person’s accent was hexagonal standard, just lacking Parisian speed.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    David: I’ve encountered je sais point, meaning “I have no idea whatsoever”, in France

    When I was a child, “ne … point” occurred in many texts we read, although it was rare to hear anyone say it in normal speech. We were taught that it was a stronger negation than “pas”, perhaps meaning “pas du tout” ‘not at all’.

    Personally, I don’t think I ever use “point”, but my mother sometimes used it. To me it was a case of either “fake archaism” or “fake ruralism”, in any case something pointedly different from her normal speech. In addition to j’sais point (instead of her normal “je ne sais pas”) she often said n n’a point for “y en a pas” (a normal colloquial version of “il n’y en a pas” ‘there isn’t any’).

    It never occurred to me to ask her where those phrases came from. She was born and grew up in Paris but her parents were from a village in the South and their native language was Occitan, so she did not pick up those sayings from them. I can’t even tell whether they were playful imitations of local rural speech in Southern Normandy where our family ended up. My father, also a Parisian whose family members were all from Paris or its immediate surroundings, never said such things.

  33. gwenllian says:

    Thanks, Etienne and marie-lucie! I ask because usually Canadian French (as opposed to Acadian French) in New Brunswick seems to only be mentioned when speaking about Madawaska Brayons, but from what little I can distinguish, it also seems to be widespread in northern NB areas with more of an Acadian identity. I’m not sure whether that’s a relatively recent development or the result of early Quebecois settlement in the region much like in the case of the Brayons (except with more of an Acadian identity surviving)?

    I was mainly looking at accents because it’s hard to find videos in which the speakers aren’t trying to conform to the standard in order to be understandable to a wider audience. Informal recordings with more dialectal features are much more interesting, but almost impossible to find.

    marie-lucie, I was definitely feeling pretty lost watching the first video before scrolling down to the lyrics. I think it’s mostly that the /x/ really threw me off at first, as you mentioned in the thread from a few months back. I was also a bit surprised to hear it in the first place. I expected it to be limited to older speakers.

    I chose the second video because of the English influence on the accent. For some reason a lot of Quebecois and anglophones describe Acadian as French spoken in an anglo accent, but with most Acadian varieties I’d say this impression comes more from the amount of English borrowings and the frequent code switching than the actual accents. Leaving borrowing and code switching aside, only these smaller enclaves like Wedgeport or Pubnico seem on the way to somewhat fitting the description.

    But this process is recent enough that there are recordings showing the process taking place, i.e., recordings of people who were born in the mid-19th century who are partway between a regional British dialect and standard Australian.

    I think there may have been a discussion of this a few years back.

    Not sure about Australia, but I remember a discussion about old NZ recordings. Mostly about the widespread rhoticity heard in them (now limited to NURSE words in the Southland region).

    New Zealanders can be very insecure about the way they speak, but I love NZ vowels. How recent is the vowel shift? The stuff I read about it years ago was pretty conflicting, and it’s almost all forgotten by now anyway.

    I found it strange that (to my ears) a New Zealand accent should resemble a Rhodesian one (and to some extent other white African ones)

    Is there a difference between Rhodesian and South African L1 English accents?

  34. A while ago I came across a blog commenter from New Zealand who was arguing that the speech of young New Zealanders, especially girls, was becoming Americanized; or to put it in less inflammatory terms, that the New Zealand vowel shift is undergoing a reversal. He cited this video, among others, as evidence; the girl’s vowels do sound a lot milder than her father’s, though still recognizably New Zealand. Oddly, her PRICE (e.g. at 2:06 and 2:23), with a front onset, sounds less like that of General American and more like that of Multicultural London English.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    To me it was a case of either “fake archaism” or “fake ruralism”, in any case something pointedly different from her normal speech.

    That particular person said it all the time, with no trace of an ironic intonation or anything, so it can’t have been fake. Nobody else in the group did, however; that was on a dig in Cherves-de-Cognac with about 30 students from mostly, but probably not only the university of Poitiers. The students were from all over France or at least its northern two-thirds and once talked about their lexical differences (the one I remember is gobelet vs. verre for a transparent plastic cup). I don’t know where that particular one was from.

  36. David, Marie-Lucie: Within the oïl continuum a cognate of “point” dominates as the unmarked negator in the West (Thus, its presence in Acadian, whose speakers’ French ancestors chiefly came from the South-Western part of the oïl continuum, is a genuine case of dialect substrate influence. Marie-Lucie’s guess that her mother picked up this usage in Southern Normandy also rings true, and I would guess the young speaker David speaks about likely was from the Poitiers area, probably from a more isolated community), with “pas” dominating in the center (and therefore in the standard, where “point” was a more emphatic negator) and “mie” in the East.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: Actually, before ending up in Southern Normandy we spent the war years in Burgundy. Could my mother have picked up those point phrases there?

  38. Mie still sounds too cute to be true.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    minus273: ne … mie was one of the common negations before ne … pas took over in most cases. It has nothing to do with ma mie = ‘my (female) beloved’ (from older m’amie) but it is the noun in la mie ‘the soft inside of bread’, in this context a tiny piece of it, now called une miette ‘a crumb’.

  40. gwenllian says:

    A while ago I came across a blog commenter from New Zealand who was arguing that the speech of young New Zealanders, especially girls, was becoming Americanized

    I haven’t really noticed, but my exposure is very limited, especially to children’s accents. The girl in the video definitely sounds “milder”, but there could be other reasons for that, e.g. spending part of her childhood outside the country. I do hope it’s not true, I’d really miss it.

    Anyone know more about young Kiwis’ speech these days?

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Ne … mie is still alive? 🙂 I thought it was restricted to old songs for children.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    David, I did not mean it was still alive, as least as far as I know. Etienne seemed to suggest it was still used in some areas (perhaps in disappearing dialects). I don’t now any children’s songs that have it.

  43. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Athel Cornish-Bowden:

    do you agree that Catalan-speakers have no difficulty in reading Aranès?

    I’m not a native Catalan speaker, but a reasonable fluent L2 user, and I have no trouble reading Aranese.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    I have never seen Aranés, or learned Catalan, but I have some passive knowledge of Occitan (North of the Pyrénées) and I like it when someone posts some Catalan on facebook because it reminds me of Occitan (my grandparents’ native language).

  45. Informal recordings with more dialectal features are much more interesting, but almost impossible to find.

    The language preservation thread finally got me to watch this little documentary a Montreal band made about life back home in a small, 60% francophone community in Nova Scotia. It’s not really about language, but there is talk about it, and about the “menace of (standard) French”, especially in the first third. It would have been nice to hear some speakers younger than early 30s, but still, lots of nice Acadian as spoken by different generations to be heard throughout.

  46. Mie still sounds too cute to be true.

    Indeed. “A cube of cheese no longer than a die / May bait a trap to catch a nibbling mie.”

    la mie ‘the soft inside of bread’, in this context a tiny piece of it, now called une miette ‘a crumb’.

    The traditional English word for this mie is in fact also crumb, used as a mass noun and the opposite of crust: “He sipped no sup and he craved no crumb as he sighed for the love of a lady!” (W.S. Gilbert, The Yeomen of the Guard)

  47. gwenllian says:

    http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-04-04/purists-dont-mix-acadian-french-and-english-it-may-be-helping-french-language

    A 30-minute podcast on Chiac, the controversial Acadian dialect. I was already aware of most of the historical stuff, so the most interesting parts to me were France Daigle comparing Chiac to sex, drugs and rock and roll, the experience of the Acadian singer on France’s version of The Voice, and that one of the interviewed members of Chiac outfit Radio Radio makes an effort not to use Chiac with his daughters.

    As mentioned in the podcast, language tensions have been very high in New Brunswick lately. It’s always rocky, but there have been several heavily contested issues in the last few months, the most controversial being that of school buses. Francophone politicians insist separate buses for English and French schools are necessary to protect French, but most anglophones see it as wasteful and outrageous segregation.

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