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European Francophonie

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


Edited By Vladislav Rjéoutski, Gesine Argent and Derek Offord

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).
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8. Aristocratic Francophone Literature in Bohemia

← 208 | 209 → IVO CERMAN


During the Nazi occupation of Bohemia, Count Jiří Douglas Sternberg knew that the Gestapo were listening to his telephone conversations but he found a way to outwit them for a while.1 When he or his family were calling their relatives in the chateau Jemniště, they used a secret language, which confused the Nazis for it was neither German nor Czech. It was French. They simply opted for the language that had been an intimate variety for the European aristocracy since the Age of Enlightenment, a variety with which Jiří’s generation was still quite familiar. ‘My father and mother talked to each other only in French’, says Sternberg about these aristocrats living in the twentieth century.2 In the eighteenth century, when this fashion began, French, as the aristocratic sociolect, had fulfilled two contradictory roles. First, it was the ‘language of proximity’, that is to say a language used in the private sphere. Second, it was a literary language, a language used to address the literary public sphere. In what follows, I shall seek to explain this apparent contradiction, but first we need to consider the fact that aristocratic francophonie in Bohemia existed within a changing multilingual context.

By the twentieth century, the multilingual diversity of Bohemia had already been reduced to Czech-German bilingualism, which was complicated only by the relatively large disparity between written and colloquial forms in both of these languages.3 Back in the eighteenth century, though, francophonie existed within a much more intricate intellectual and...

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