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