European Francophonie

The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language

by Vladislav Rjéoutski (Volume editor) Gesine Argent (Volume editor) Derek Offord (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection VIII, 502 Pages
Series: Historical Sociolinguistics, Volume 1


This volume examines the use of French in European language communities outside France from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The phenomenon of French language usage is explored in a wide variety of communities, namely Bohemian, Dutch, medieval English, German (Prussian), Italian, Piedmontese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Each chapter offers unique insight into the existence of francophonie in a given language community by providing illustrations of language usage and detailed descriptions of various aspects of it. The volume as a whole explores such sociolinguistic matters as bilingualism and multilingualism, the use of French as a lingua franca and prestige language, language choice and code-switching, variations in language usage depending on class or gender, language attitudes and language education. The sociohistorical and sociocultural matters considered include the association of a variety of language with the court, nobility or some other social group; the function of French as a vehicle for the transmission of foreign cultures; and the role of language in the formation of identity of various kinds (national, social and personal).

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • 1. European Francophonie and a Framework for Its Study
  • 2. Diglossia in Early Modern Europe
  • 3. The French of Medieval England
  • 4. Knowledge of French in Piedmont
  • 5. The Two Latin Sisters: Representations of the French and the French Language in Italy
  • 6. The Use of French among the Dutch Elites in Eighteenth-Century Holland
  • 7. The Domains of Francophonie and Language Ideology in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Prussia
  • 8. Aristocratic Francophone Literature in Bohemia
  • 9. Francophonies in Spain
  • 10. French in Sweden in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • 11. The Presence of Francophonie in Poland from the Sixteenth Century to the Eighteenth
  • 12. The Beginnings and the Golden Age of Francophonie among the Romanians
  • 13. Francophonie in Imperial Russia
  • 14. French in Ottoman Turkey: ‘The Language of the Afflicted Peoples’?
  • 15. Conclusion
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii → Preface

This is a volume about the use of French in European language communities outside France. It surveys a dozen such communities. Its main focus is on the period from the mid-seventeenth century to the nineteenth, although it also touches at certain points upon earlier and later periods. Each chapter aims both to provide a tour d’horizon of the use of French in a given community and to illustrate the phenomenon by means of a more detailed description and appraisal of certain aspects of it.1

The volume is conceived primarily as a contribution to the field of historical sociolinguistics. Contributors therefore explore such matters as the use of French as a prestige language and lingua franca, bilingualism and multilingualism, language choice, code-switching, variations in usage depending on class or gender, language attitudes and language education. However, it also attempts to bring the approaches and preoccupations of other disciplines (for example, social, cultural, intellectual and political history and the history of education, the book and the press) to bear upon the study of language in historical situations. Its socio-historical and socio-cultural subject-matter includes the association of language varieties with the court, the nobility or some other social milieu or group, the function of French as a vehicle for the transmission of foreign cultures and the role of language in the formation of identity of various kinds, national, social and personal.

The material in the volume arises mainly out of a series of seminars on francophonie across Europe which was organized in the University of Bristol during the calendar year 2012. (The term ‘francophonie’ is discussed in our introductory chapter.) This seminar series was one element of a project based ← vii | viii → in Bristol on ‘The History of the French Language in Russia’ and it was originally conceived as a means of providing an important pan-European context for the study of French in a single language community. Details of the series and recordings of all but one of the seminar papers, together with information on the Bristol project as a whole, may be found on the project website at <http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/research/french-in-russia>. In order to provide slightly fuller treatment of the subject, we have supplemented the material yielded by these seminars with two chapters commissioned from scholars who did not contribute to the series (Chapters 9 and 11). However, we are of course aware that even a survey of francophonie in a dozen communities provides only a partial picture of the phenomenon and that many other communities might also be usefully examined (Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Portugal are but a few examples), if space allowed.

In addition to the twelve chapters in the volume on individual language communities, we offer two introductory chapters. The first of these (by the co-editors of the volume) is designed to define the parameters of the subject and ground our treatment of it in linguistic scholarship. The second (by Peter Burke, one of the pioneering students of the social and cultural history of language use) broaches the subject of diglossia in early modern Europe. This latter chapter derives from a keynote lecture delivered by Professor Burke at an international conference held in the University of Bristol in September 2012. In our concluding chapter, finally, we set out some cautious generalizations about the evolution of French as a social and cultural phenomenon in the period with which we are concerned.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of the UK, which fully funds our project on ‘The History of the French Language in Russia’. We also warmly thank Nils Langer of the University of Bristol and Wim Vandenbussche of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel for their suggestions and encouragement over the years during which the project has been unfolding and Laurel Plapp of Peter Lang for her editorial oversight and advice while this volume has been in preparation.

Vladislav Rjéoutski, Gesine Argent and Derek Offord
Bristol, November 2013


1 Chapter 4 has been translated by Derek Offord from Italian, with generous help from Judith Bryce and Mair Parry of the University of Bristol. Chapters 5–7 and 9–12 have been translated, also by Derek Offord, from original French versions, in consultation with Vladislav Rjéoutski and Gesine Argent.


1European Francophonie and a Framework
for Its Study

From the late seventeenth century to around the mid-nineteenth century the French language served within Europe as an international lingua franca, as Latin had in the Renaissance and as English serves, on a global scale and across a wider social range, in the modern world. From the age of Louis XIV, whose personal rule began in 1661 and who died in 1715, French became the European language of diplomacy, aristocratic society, science, learning and literature. (We use the word ‘literature’ here as it will frequently be used in this volume, in the broad sense of ‘letters’.) French was spoken at the courts of enlightened monarchs of cosmopolitan outlook, such as Frederick II of Prussia (reigned 1740–86), Catherine the Great of Russia (1762–96), Joseph II of Austria (Holy Roman Emperor, 1765–90) and Gustav III of Sweden (1771–92). Its spread was assured by the importance, in its time, of the body of letters written in it. This corpus included both the influential neo-classical artistic models provided in the late seventeenth century by Boileau, Corneille, Racine, Molière, La Fontaine, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère and others and the social, political, moral and philosophical works produced in the eighteenth century by Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, d’Alembert and other encyclopédistes [Encyclopaedists] and representatives of the Enlightenment. The French language was also carried abroad (for instance, to England, parts of Germany, the Netherlands and Russia) by refugees from the France of the Sun King, that is to say by Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution after Louis’s revocation, in 1685, of the Edict of Nantes, which had previously afforded protection to these Protestants. The spread of French in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe was further assisted by the development of a discourse originating ← 1 | 2 → in France and accepted elsewhere about its supposed universality and by assumptions about the qualities that it displayed, at least when writers and speakers observed bon usage [correct usage], as prescribed by Vaugelas in his Remarques sur la langue française [Remarks on the French Language] (1647). Long ago, Ferdinand Brunot charted this spread of French and described the functions of the language and its glorification in his monumental Histoire de la langue française [History of the French Language]. More recently, Marc Fumaroli has paid nostalgic tribute to the French language and the cultural achievement associated with it under the ancien régime in his book Quand l’Europe parlait français (translated into English in 2009, with insensitive Eurocentrism, as When the World Spoke French).

The purpose of this volume on European francophonie (we shall define the term shortly) is to provide a fresh, broad survey of the adoption of French by royal courts and/or certain elites, the effects of this development and reactions to it. Our survey has a broad geographical sweep, dealing with the history of French in a dozen countries or regions across Europe. After a chapter of a general nature by Peter Burke on the phenomenon of diglossia in Europe as a whole, Ad Putter and Marianne Ailes offer an account of the use of French in medieval England. (In a number of respects the history of Anglo-Norman prefigures the history of French in other countries in the later period with which this book is primarily concerned.) Alda Rossebastiano, Nadia Minerva, Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau, Manuela Böhm and Ivo Cerman then proceed to examine the history of the use of French in Piedmont, Italy more generally, the Netherlands, Prussia and Bohemia respectively. Next, we turn to countries or regions nearer to Europe’s geographical periphery, with chapters by Amelia Sanz, Begoña Regueiro, Luis Pablo and Silviano Carrasco on Spain, Maciej Serwański and Katarzyna Napierała on Poland, Margareta Östman on Sweden and Ileana Mihaila on the Romanian Lands. In the penultimate chapter Derek Offord considers Russia, which was often perceived as standing on Europe’s eastern cultural margin as well as on its geographical edge. Finally, Laurent Mignon discusses the use of French in Turkey, which, like Russia, straddles Europe and Asia and which could be imagined as a cultural borderland or – unlike Russia – as part of the Orient.

← 2 | 3 → The chronological span of the twelve chapters that deal with specific countries or regions is also very wide, stretching (if we leave aside the chapter on medieval England) from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth. The focus varies from chapter to chapter, since French was adopted and had its heyday at different times in different countries. The eighteenth century is of particular importance in many chapters because it was then that the cultural and linguistic effects of the dispersal of the francophone Huguenots and of the Age of Enlightenment, in which French writers had played a leading role, were most widely and strongly felt. Moreover, francophonie is associated with the courts of eighteenth-century monarchs who aspired to be regarded as enlightened and with the European aristocracies that flourished in that century and for some time after the French Revolution, up until at least the second quarter of the nineteenth century. However, in the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth French was also spread by Napoleon’s conquering armies and by French occupation of foreign lands. Then, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Romantic counter-current to the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism affected language attitudes, sharpened consciousness of vernacular varieties and generated resistance to the predominance of French. At the same time, the position of the nobility, the social stratum which had most valued French as a prestige language, began to be weakened in many European countries by economic, social and political change in the industrial age, and francophonie accordingly took on different connotations. Nonetheless, French continued in the mid-nineteenth century, even after the value of French as cultural capital had begun to decline, to serve as the vehicle for influential ideas and culture, expressed in new works of political thought and imaginative literature, which spread to nations undergoing modernization.

Before exploring the history of French across Europe and over this time span, though, we need to offer some working definitions and consider some of the claims made about the French language in the period during which it enjoyed such prestige. We need also to survey the literature written to date on the subject and indicate what help existing scholarship in the relatively new discipline of historical sociolinguistics can afford us in our investigation. We therefore set ourselves the following aims in this introductory chapter. First, ← 3 | 4 → we shall define the concept of francophonie and reflect on the relationship between what we call ‘modern francophonie’ (a phenomenon beginning, strictly speaking, in the second half of the twentieth century) and ‘European’ or ‘historical francophonie’ (by which we mean a phenomenon beginning in the seventeenth century that was prevalent throughout Europe).1 Second, we shall dwell on the notion of French as a ‘universal’ language, which became firmly established in the period of historical francophonie and to some extent foreshadowed the notions of French as a language of ‘civilization’ in the first half of the twentieth century and of modern francophonie in the later twentieth century. Third, we shall outline the work that has already been done by scholars on the phenomenon of historical francophonie, both in Europe as a whole and in particular European speech communities. We shall also refer to modern sociolinguistic literature on matters relevant to our enquiry, such as language spread and bilingualism; this literature, of course, was not available to early students of our subject such as Brunot. Finally, we shall elaborate on the capacity of historical sociolinguistic scholarship to augment the limited amount of research already carried out on the use of French as a prestige language.

‘Modern francophonie’ and ‘European’
or ‘historical francophonie’

The term ‘francophonie’ is problematic in at least two ways. First, it is used in a number of meanings. Although an online Larousse dictionary gives only one meaning (‘group of countries which have in common the total or partial use of the French language’),2 it is used in other senses as well. ← 4 | 5 → It may be defined, according to Dennis Ager, for example, ‘in three ways: by the use of the French language; by membership of a formal, organized community of nations; or by the acceptance and promotion of a set of values and beliefs’.3 Second, the term may nowadays be applied retrospectively. Although it was coined as far back as 1880 by the French geographer Onésime Reclus, as a means of classifying the peoples of the world by the language they spoke,4 it did not come into common use until the 1960s, after it had appeared in a ground-breaking publication in the journal Esprit [Mind].5 Nonetheless, contemporary scholars may also speak of a ‘first francophonie’6 which developed before the 1960s, during the Third Republic (1870–1940), when the political, economic and cultural influence of France as a colonial power was still growing, especially in northern and western Africa and south-east Asia. The term has also come in recent times to be used by scholars to denote the spread of French within Europe from the seventeenth century, that is to say before the development of the French colonial empire beyond Europe, and we ourselves shall use it in this sense.

Before explaining the use of the term ‘francophonie’ in the period to which it may most uncontroversially be applied, the period from the 1960s ← 5 | 6 → on, we shall briefly pause on the attitude towards the French language that developed during the earlier colonial period in the twentieth century, because that attitude is foreshadowed, we shall argue, by language attitudes that developed as far back as the seventeenth century, early in the period with which this book is concerned. That is to say, linguists writing around the time of the First World War regarded French as intrinsically superior to other languages, or most other languages. Thus Joseph Vendryes claimed that modern languages like French and English (which it had become impossible after the First World War to leave out of the list of supposed languages of civilization) possess ‘extreme flexibility’ and ‘facility’ and that French in particular is ‘exact’ and ‘clear’. In a similar spirit, Antoine Meillet saw a hierarchy of languages with French at the top. ‘There is no common measure’, he confidently asserted, ‘between the intellectual and social value of the French language and those of the Breton and Basque languages’. The notion that French enjoyed an advantage over other languages by virtue of its supposed precision, clarity, elegance and beauty was propagated in the media and school textbooks.7 French was conceived as a prime example of a ‘language of civilization’. The use of such languages was considered one of the most efficient means of fighting ignorance and poverty, because they supposedly gave access to civilization itself. (‘Civilization’ is to be understood here as western civilization; consequently, the notion of the language of civilization, it has been argued, served implicitly to maintain the colonial system.8) While the national languages of developing countries were considered ‘language prisons’ for their speakers,9 and use of them in ← 6 | 7 → education was accordingly prohibited,10 French was presented as a medium through which culture, equality and justice could be transmitted.

However, after the Second World War, or more particularly after the disintegration of the French colonial empire in the 1950s and 1960s, the notion of ‘language of civilization’ was abandoned because its overtly colonialist overtones were now unacceptable. It was replaced by the notions of the ‘language of culture’ and ‘French language and civilization’. No longer was French seen as a vehicle for the imposition of values on impoverished peoples who were supposed to be backward; rather it was a means of transmitting French culture and the French way of life without claiming that economic and social problems could be overcome by this means. This sort of change in the way in which a language is viewed in fact betrays a common strategy. When it is no longer acceptable to claim authority through political coercion, it has been argued, language communities frequently utilize discourses of precious cultural heritage, diversity and open harmonious communication in an attempt to retain their power.11 Institutions were now created whose function it was to support a kind of ‘French Commonwealth’, and it was in this connection that the modern conception of francophonie, sometimes referred to as ‘second francophonie’, came into being in the 1960s. These bodies and associations, some of them governmental or intergovernmental, included CREDIF12 and BEL13 (both of which were founded in 1959), ACCT14 (founded in 1970; it became ← 7 | 8 → the Intergovernmental Francophonie Agency15 in 1995 and in 2005 was officially renamed the OIF16), the Association of Partly or Wholly French Language Universities (founded as early as 1961), the International French Language Council, the International Association of French Language Parliamentarians,17 WorldTV5 and The Senghor University of Alexandria. Since 2002, when a meeting of the OIF took place in Beirut, a ‘third francophonie’ has emerged: the colonial and postcolonial understandings of francophonie have been abandoned in favour of the aspiration to create, in the words of Trang Phan and Michel Guillou, ‘world-wide units of exchange and inter-cultural dialogue’ which are more forward-looking and attuned to life in the globalized world.18

Studies of the francophonie that emerged in the 1960s have generally omitted to investigate the ascendancy and hegemony of French as an international cultural language in Europe in the period with which this book is primarily concerned, as if this previous development had nothing in common with what we are calling ‘modern francophonie’.19 Such studies also greatly outnumber those on the spread of French in the earlier period. A recent bibliography of works on francophonie written over the ← 8 | 9 → period 1980–2005 clearly reveals the imbalance between the two fields of research: in a section arranged by geographical location, the part relating to Europe, in which French spread in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, runs to twenty pages out of some 140, and those twenty include research on France and on Belgium and Switzerland, where French is spoken by many people as a mother tongue.20 Nor has study of the earlier period enjoyed such large-scale, institutional support as study of modern francophonie, which touches upon political, cultural and economic relations between twentieth- and twenty-first-century France and its former colonies and, more broadly, relations among all French-speaking areas of the modern world.

And yet, the view of the French language that flourished in the colonial period and has to some extent underpinned modern attempts to bring about a political, cultural and economic rapprochement of French-speaking countries in fact has much in common with views of French and French culture that were formulated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the popularity of French in Europe was reaching its height.21 Factors similar to those invoked by Ager in the definition of modern francophonie cited at the beginning of this section may apply to the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century world as well, entitling us to think of a historical form of francophonie that preceded the modern phenomenon. For one thing, the French language was indeed used internationally in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Again, its use did imply acceptance or promotion of a set of values. Even the second factor mentioned by Ager, membership of a formal, organized community of nations, may be applicable to some degree, inasmuch as the French language was a tool with which ruling classes could ← 9 | 10 → inscribe themselves and the nations they represented in a pan-European community. In particular, it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that various writers created an idealized image of the French language and succeeded in establishing the view of it as ‘universal’, thus preparing the ground for the notion of French as a ‘language of civilization’. We shall now turn to this earlier discourse about the nature of French.

The idealization of the French language: Its ‘universality’

Bold claims about the qualities that French possessed (its concision, naturalness, clarity and so forth) and its consequent suitability as a universal language were already being made in the sevententh century. For example, Louis Le Laboureur affirmed in his treatise Avantages de la langue française sur la langue latine [The Advantages of the French Language over Latin] (1669) that French had clarity because its syntax reflected the ‘order of thought which is that of Nature’. Being the most ‘natural’ language, Le Laboureur maintained, French was also the most ‘accomplished’.22 Two years later, the French Jesuit Dominique Bouhours was developing assertions of this sort into an argument about the desirability (and likelihood) of the universal use of French. Eugène, one of the characters he presented in his Entretiens d’Ariste et d’Eugène [Conversations between Ariste and Eugene] (1671), expresses the hope that French will become the common language of all mankind. This wish, Ariste responds, will surely be fulfilled, for even those nations which hate the French nation nevertheless love the French language, so that Frenchmen abroad already have no need to be familiar with any foreign tongue. Moreover, Ariste claims, French uniquely possesses the qualities required in a language fit to play a universal role. Considering ‘the [state of] perfection in which [French] has existed for ← 10 | 11 → some years now’, he muses, ‘are we not bound to acknowledge that it has something noble and august about it, which makes it almost the equal of Latin and raises it infinitely above Italian and Spanish, the only living languages that can reasonably [hope to] compete with it?’23 French is superior to all other modern languages, Bouhours believes, because it is guileless, clear, concise, pure, polite, better able to express tender feelings and more natural.24

By the early eighteenth century, Gilles Siouffi has observed, there was ‘a sort of consensus around the image of the language’:

We are in the middle of a period of idealization. The purety of Racine’s tragedies is praised to the skies. […] Those who want to write are preoccupied with meticulous research into ‘grammatical perfection’ of detail (good prepositional government, position and number of adjectives, questions of rhythm, ‘number’). […] Fear of seeing the language become corrupted and debased gives rise to the first manifestation of academicism in the history of French.25

Voltaire too extolled the French language and its native speakers: ‘Of all the languages of Europe’, he wrote, ‘French is bound to be the most general, because it is the most fitting for conversation: it has taken its character from that of the people who speak it’.26 Such ideas were shared by many members of the extended francophone community in Europe and were propagated by teachers of the language across the continent. In 1757, for instance, an obscure French teacher at Moscow University, Guillaume Raoult, declared in a speech that he delivered at a public meeting before courses began:

I may tell you without fear of being accused of bias or partiality that the French language that has been adopted by all civilized nations has become the Universal Language. […] I could show it to you, clear, swift and concise, in our historians; ← 11 | 12 → manly and harmonious in our orators; simple, natural and elegant in light poetry; rich, bold and sublime in the ode, the epic poem and Tragedy.27

Perhaps the most important step towards the establishment of a conceptual link between the French language and notions of civilization, though, was taken when the Royal Berlin Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts invited participants in a competition of 1783 to explain what had made the French language universal, why it deserved this privileged position and whether it could maintain it. Of the two authors who shared the prize, Johann Christoph Schwab and Antoine de Rivarol, it was the latter who became the more famous, thanks to his treatise ‘De l’universalité de la langue française’ [‘On the Universality of French’]. Rivarol did not use the word ‘civilization’ in his treatise, but there is a close connection between his vision of France as the cradle of cultivated society and the view of the French language as perfect and therefore destined to become universal and a tool of civilization. As this treatise played an important part in the development of arguments about the universality of French, we shall pause here on Rivarol’s reasons for thinking that a universal language was needed and that French could and should fulfil that function.

Rivarol considers a ‘peaceful empire of letters’ preferable to the empire of arms established by the Romans. In such an empire, a universal language would be a vital peace-keeping tool. The existence of several languages in such an empire would be ‘fatal to genius’, because precious time would have to be spent learning them. Thus Rivarol imagines a republic being formed across the world ‘under the domination of the same language’.28 French would be the cement that would hold together ← 12 | 13 → this ‘federal republic of Europe’. It could offer, through translation, a universal medium facilitating cultural exchange.29 Rivarol attempts to show the unique suitability of French for this peace-keeping, facilitating role by comparing it to other languages (German, Spanish and Italian) which might be contenders for it.

There is a strongly essentialist element in Rivarol’s argument in favour of French as a universal language. According to Rivarol, languages have certain innate qualities and flaws, their own génie [genius], which may explain their success or failure. This genius is linked, Rivarol believes, to the organization of each language and in particular to its pronunciation. German is rich but rough, Spanish hides its ‘poverty’, Italian is soft but makes for slow, monotonous prose and so on. These traits, Rivarol claims, are an expression of the character of the speakers of the language and the climates in which they live.30 The French language, like the French people, has ‘grace’ and ‘politeness’. It is ‘manly’ compared to Italian. It is ‘sure’, ‘honest’, ‘sociable’ and ‘reasonable’. In short, it is ‘not the French language any more, it is the language of the human race’.31 Like Le Laboureur a century earlier, Rivarol also states that word order in the French sentence (subject, verb, object) corresponds to the ‘natural’ mode of thought of all people. He condemns inversions because he thinks they are contrary to this ‘natural’ order. English, by contrast, has ‘the audacity of languages with inversions’ but also the ‘obscurity’ which is a feature of such languages.32 Central to Rivarol’s argument is his belief that French is characterized by clarté [clarity], to which naturalness contributes: ‘what is not clear is not French’, he famously declared.33 It is because English lacks clarity that ← 13 | 14 → French, rather than the language of France’s rival, has become the lingua franca of Europe.34

To these arguments about the intrinsic qualities of French, Rivarol added extrinsic reasons for its spread, reasons of a sort that modern linguists may find more compelling. For one thing, historical, linguistic and cultural factors, Rivarol believed, militated against the success of German, one of the languages with which French had to compete: the German Empire was just a ‘shadow’ of Caesar’s, there were too many German dialects and there was no rich German literary tradition. French, on the other hand, benefited from France’s geographical position: the country was in the middle of Europe, between the north and the south, which at that time were considered fundamentally different from one another.

French, Rivarol supposed, was also easier to learn than German for those who already had competence in Latin: ‘a German who learns French’, Rivarol says, ‘is merely going down, so to speak, led by Latin; but nothing can make us go back up from French to German’.35

As far as cultural factors which had had a bearing on the spread of French were concerned, it was relevant that French theatre had superseded Greek theatre, that the French had been the first to develop a press in Europe and that French academies, industry and fashions enjoyed a high reputation. Political factors came into play too: Rivarol underlined the role of sovereigns, for example, mentioning the support of Louis XIV for French arts and sciences, whose success had in turn contributed to the rise of the French language in Europe.36

← 14 | 15 → The desirable qualities associated with the French language by Rivarol and others before and after him render francophonie not merely a way of speaking, but a way of life. A language of such superior qualities as are ascribed to French cannot, argues Rivarol, belong to an ignorant or poor people. Yet, although such argumentation was and remains powerful,37 as we have seen above, it is clear that the use of French is unconnected to intrinsic elements of the language, but depends on the image of French and its value in the linguistic marketplace. Studies charting the use of French all over Europe, to which we now turn, show how sociopolitical context, the creation of a certain image of French and the fluctuating prestige of the language determined the spread and eventual decline of European francophonie.

Studying the history of European francophonie

Important as the subject of historical francophonie is, little has yet been written on it. The first general analysis of francophonie which approached the history of the French language as a social and cultural phenomenon was supplied by Brunot in the first half of the twentieth century.38 His monumental ← 15 | 16 → thirteen-volume Histoire de la langue française merits special attention here, both because of its pioneering nature and because it deals with questions similar to those explored in this volume. Brunot studied the history of French language culture in a range of European countries, helped by many colleagues, French and foreign, who sent him information and also contributed directly to the work.39 He aimed to provide a comprehensive picture of the influence of French on particular countries by examining a combination of factors: the teaching of French, sales of French books and periodicals, translations from French, press production in French, the precise origin of French émigrés in a country and the presence of French loanwords in the vernacular.40

Brunot was well aware of the potential shortcomings of such a study. He warns that only a combination of approaches could yield an account of the presence of French that was as truthful as possible. He was also aware that his treatment of different countries was uneven. Some of his chapters were very extensive, while others merely touched the surface of the subject.41 His chapters on Germany and England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, run to hundreds of pages whereas his section on Turkey occupies a mere page and a half. This disparity is most probably explained by significant differences in the number of sources and/or the existence of personal networks that Brunot could exploit for his country-specific studies. Despite the scarcity of information about some countries examined, though, he did have enough material to draw some conclusions about common features of the spread of francophonie in different countries and about what distinguishes European francophonie from the spread of other languages such as Greek, Latin and Arabic. He claims that the crucial difference lies in the fact that French never completely replaced the vernacular languages of the countries where it was adopted but was in most cases used by a limited circle of speakers in a limited number of settings. Furthermore, French – unlike Latin – was not spread through military ← 16 | 17 → invasion or political and administrative power; rather it spread, in Brunot’s words (which replicate the argument used in the essentialist tradition of commentary on the French language), ‘by its own virtue’. The studies presented in this volume echo Brunot’s finding that military might was not a factor in spreading French (quite the contrary, in so far as foreign occupation tended to stimulate cultural resistance). However, what Brunot describes as the ‘virtue’ of the French language is reconfigured here as the language’s cultural capital: its connection to social power and its resultant prestige.

A new attempt has recently been made by Siouffi to provide an overarching analysis of historical francophonie in Europe.42 Despite apparent similarities across Europe, Siouffi argues, francophonie developed differently in different countries. In Spain, for example, it was not so widespread, Siouffi contends, as it was in other European countries. (The chapter on Spain in this volume tends to bear out this claim.) In Italy, Siouffi continues, francophonie was mostly represented by prominent figures such as Carlo Goldoni and Casanova, and the situation in the south of Italy was substantially different from that in the north. Numerous factors, he believes, explain why francophonie was more widespread in northern Europe: the exodus of the Huguenots, many of whom became language teachers in northern countries; the vitality of the French-speaking press, particularly in the Netherlands; the secret diplomatic policy of Louis XV and his use of French agents abroad; the support of political figures such as Frederick II of Prussia; the importance of Masonic contacts and so on. Siouffi regards the highly developed Gallophobia that can be observed at certain times in Italy, Spain and England as proof that francophonie was not widespread in those lands, but the chapters in this volume on Italy and Spain do not entirely bear out this point of view. (Gallophobia, we believe, could occur in response to a widespread phenomenon.) As for Russia, it represented a rather exceptional case, in Siouffi’s opinion. Among the reasons for this supposed exceptionality, Siouffi mentions the absence of any serious tradition of the study of Latin, the fact that Russian ← 17 | 18 → was one of the last important European languages to undergo a period of codification and the fact that French was a symbol of civilization for the Russian elite. It is possible, he claims, that ‘for several decades Russia was the European country that was most “mad” of all about French, at least in aristocratic circles’, and that this remained the case to some extent in the nineteenth century, although the craze for French, he acknowledges, did engulf the whole of northern Europe.

Siouffi also challenges the view that French was the language of diplomacy in Europe. He argues that the use of French at international negotiations (for example, at Nijmegen in 1678 and Rastatt in 1714) was exceptional or that French was not in fact used when it was thought to have been. He admits that French was employed as a language of diplomatic correspondence but wonders whether historians have presented isolated cases as a rule. He also surmises that French retained its status as an international language for no more than thirty years. Some of these hypotheses (for example, the supposition that the presence of Gallophobia indicates that French was not widespread in a speech community and the claim that French was not widely used as a language of diplomacy) seem to go too far in revising our understanding of the role of French in eighteenth-century Europe. However, we agree with Siouffi that a new way of looking at the problem should be adopted: French should be seen as one element of a complex linguistic and multicultural situation in which linguistic usage depended not on the qualities of a language but on context. Moreover, in many European countries, as this volume shows, French coexisted with other foreign languages, notably German, Italian and, at a later date, English.

Supplementing Brunot’s and Siouffi’s overarching accounts of historical francophonie in Europe there are works which consider certain aspects of the phenomenon. The studies collected in a recent volume edited by Elena Gretchanaia, Alexandre Stroev and Catherine Viollet place special emphasis on francophone literature.43 The editors rightly call the study of ← 18 | 19 → European francophonie a new research area in the title of their introductory chapter and contributions to the volume cover several regions (Sweden, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Prussia and Belarus), with a special focus on Russia in the final section. The editors supply a detailed bibliography of works analysing francophonie in Europe.44 Historical francophonie also furnishes material for a case study in Sue Wright’s volume on language policy and language planning, which contains a chapter on the rise and fall of French as a lingua franca. Approaching the subject of historical francophonie from a linguistic angle, Wright emphasizes that the spread of French is not due to anything intrinsic in the French language, and that if there are no power relationships (whether in economic, political, cultural and/or technological terms) which support the use of a language – or to phrase it differently, if the language lacks prestige in the sense we discuss below – then speakers cannot be persuaded to continue to use it. However, as long as such power relationships do exist, speakers may have little choice but to learn the language of the powerful or risk losing social standing or influence. This causal sequence, Wright states, explains why French became a lingua franca and why it ceased to function as one at a certain time.45

The research on historical francophonie that we have cited is complemented by recent work on the social history of languages in Europe in general. Robert McColl Millar studies the macrosociolinguistic history of Europe from the first written records to 1500 in a work which focuses on the history of literacy (in Greek, Latin and vernacular languages) and its influence on the formation of ethnic identities and nation states in Europe.46 Working on similar research themes but focusing on early modern times, Burke (the author of the second chapter in this volume) investigates the social history of languages in early modern Europe. Burke examines ‘the variety of ways in which different social groups used the “same” language’, a ← 19 | 20 → question that also concerns the authors in this volume. He detects a significant lacuna in scholarship on the social history of European languages: there is a lack of comparative studies and surveys of a single language predominate.47 What is more, such surveys often deal with a single language in a particular community or country, rather than its spread over a larger number of communities. This claim is borne out by the relative abundance of studies of the history of francophonie in particular countries. Examples include works on particular aspects of francophonie in Bohemia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden and other countries, many of them written by authors who have contributed to this volume. Mostly, these studies deal with the literary francophone tradition, particularly with women’s writing (for example, in Russia48), education, teaching French and the history of the didactics of French as a second and foreign language,49 but ← 20 | 21 → some take a sociological approach.50 Horst Munske explains the scarcity of studies of international scope as a result of philologists’ adherence to patterns of national language study rooted in nineteenth-century thought on the link between languages and nations. Historians, Munske continues, have started to address the need to study common histories rather than single nation states, and linguists should follow suit.51

While few works examine historical francophonie or the linguistic landscape of Europe as a whole from a sociological point of view, there is a significant literature on contemporary language spread and multilingualism. Apart from the afore-mentioned field of modern francophonie, there is an abundance of research examining the spread of other languages, particularly English in relatively recent times. The large body of research ← 21 | 22 → in the field that has come to be known as World Englishes shows the significant influence of the use of English on speech communities worldwide. The field of World Englishes, first established by Braj Kachru,52 concerns present-day Englishes and recent postcolonial history only. Researchers of World Englishes conduct work in subfields such as English as a lingua franca (ELF), English as an international language (EIL), English as a foreign language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL). Thus research in this field seeks to answer questions similar to those posed in this volume – the function and effect of a language as the medium for teaching, as a language of international scholarship, as a lingua franca, or the consequences of the existence of a prestige language, for example. Philip Seargeant detects a shared research agenda governing this diverse research field, namely ‘one that includes issues such as political legitimacy, the relationship of English to cultural identity, and so forth […] the desire to problematize the notion of a monolithic English and to investigate the social and political implications of the spread of the language around the world act as shared purposes’.53 We pursue similar aims in this volume. In particular, we attempt not to conceive of francophonie as a monolithic phenomenon but to examine its multifaceted nature across European language communities.

The field of World Englishes is closely related to the study of language spread, which is defined by Robert Cooper, the first to use this concept, as ‘an increase, over time, in the proportion of a communication network that adopts a given language or language variety for a given communicative function’.54 In a phrase that echoes the title of Joshua Fishman’s ground-breaking article on multilingualism and language domains, ‘Who Speaks ← 22 | 23 → What Language to Whom and When?’,55 Cooper states that the question asked by students of language spread should be ‘Who adopts what, when, why and how?’56 These questions are also addressed in this volume, as we seek to arrive at a differentiated view of the use of French, taking into account the variety of manifestations of francophonie in Europe. It is crucial to focus on speakers’ linguistic behaviour, avoiding the notion that it had anything to do with the language itself. After all, we must always recall that the object of study is, strictly speaking, not how a language spread – the language itself does not spread – but what Ofelia García terms ‘languaging spread—that is, about the spread of the ways in which people use language and about their discursive practices’.57 Therefore, the contributors to this volume discuss powerful francophone individuals such as rulers (as in the chapters by Burke, Ailes and Putter, and Böhm), central cultural figures like Rivarol (to whom Böhm also devotes some attention), or prominent literary figures and their reception (examined by Mignon and Mihaila). Böhm discusses language policy at the Royal Berlin Academy, showing how contested language use at the institutional level could be. Bilingual institutions or institutions whose working language was different from the native language of the majority of the institution’s members can play a part in determining the extent to which a language becomes established.58 Examining the social distinctions which may have affected language use also helps us to understand the reasons behind the spread of a particular language.59 To study historical francophonie in a way that answers the question ‘Who adopts what, when, why and how’, then, means to engage in historical sociolinguistic study. With this in ← 23 | 24 → mind, we can now turn to the way in which historical sociolinguistic work can engage with the study of French as a prestige language.

Historical sociolinguistics and the study of French
as a prestige language

If we are to arrive at an understanding of the diverse origins of francophonie, its influence in single countries, as well as across the European continent as a whole, and its socio-political context, then we should not confine ourselves to a purely historical or linguistic perspective. One of the strengths of historical sociolinguistics is an inherently multidisciplinary approach that can help to achieve these goals.60 Terttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg identify four paradigms or dimensions of historical sociolinguistics, all of which are relevant to the work in this volume:

1.Sociology of language;

2.Social dialectology/variationist sociolinguistics;

3.Interactional sociolinguistics;

4.Ethnography of communication.

The studies in this volume fall mainly into the first of these dimensions, the sociology of language. Informed by sociology, the object of study here is ‘the status and function of languages and language varieties in language communities’, describing the norms and patterns of language use in particular domains. However, the volume also examines questions that Nevalainen and ← 24 | 25 → Raumolin-Brunberg consider to belong to dialectology or the variationist sociolinguistic dimension, such as speaker attitudes and the social dynamics of language varieties in speech communities. The fourth dimension, ethnography of communication, which is informed by anthropology, applies to this work too, examining as it does ‘patterned ways of speaking, sociolinguistic styles and registers’ and explaining the ‘functional appropriateness of communicative behaviour in various social contexts’.61 Questions about what kind of individuals and social groups spoke French, in what settings and domains, how proficiently, what socio-political context influenced language use, and what attitudes there were towards francophonie – all these questions pertain to the field of historical sociolinguistics.


VIII, 502
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
language community bilingualism multilingualism
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. VIII, 502 pp., 7 tables, 3 fig.

Biographical notes

Vladislav Rjéoutski (Volume editor) Gesine Argent (Volume editor) Derek Offord (Volume editor)

Vladislav Rjéoutski is Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Moscow. A cultural and social historian with an interest in education and the press in eighteenth-century Europe, he has published books on French-speaking educators, French emigration and Franco-Russian contacts. Gesine Argent is Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. She works in the field of sociolinguistics and has a particular interest in debates about language use, language attitudes, linguistic purism and identity negotiation, especially in relation to foreign linguistic influences. Derek Offord is Research Professor in Russian at the University of Bristol. He is a specialist in pre-revolutionary Russian intellectual, literary and cultural history and his recent books include a monograph on Russian travel writing and a co-edited history of Russian thought.


Title: European Francophonie
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510 pages