Old French language

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Old French
Period 842 - approx. 1400

Formerly spoken in

Northern and Central France, Belgium
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Old French refers to the Oïl languages as a collective name for the varieties of Romance languages ​​spoken in the northern half of France and parts of Belgium from the 9th to around the end of the 14th century. The old French was replaced by the middle French .

A first reference to the use of a Romance vernacular in France can be found in a resolution of the Council of Tours in 813 , in which the bishops are asked to convey the basics of the Catholic faith through generally understandable sermons. “And he (the bishop) strives to translate the same homilies into the common Romance or German language so that everyone can understand what is being said more easily.” - Et ut easdem omelias quisque aperte transferre studeat in rusticam Romanam linguam aut Thiotiscam, quo facilius cuncti possint intellegere quae dicuntur . Liturgical Latin , which is based on written use and grammatical rules, is differentiated from the 'rustic' vernacular languages ​​Romansh and German (rustica lingua romana or thiotisca), which are not yet subject to such .

The first old French language document are the Strasbourg oaths from the year 842, in which Charles the Bald and Ludwig the German conspired against their first-born brother Lothar after the death of their father Louis the Pious . In the Latin text handed down by Nithard , the oaths that the brothers and their followers took in their respective vernacular ' Romansch ' ("romana lingua") and Old High German ("teudisca lingua") are quoted in detail. The Romance part reproduces a text that is still very close to Vulgar Latin but is already French in a conservative Latinized spelling based on the Latin of the royal chancelleries with some purely Latin words (excerpt):

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa ...

This shows that a Romance vernacular was spoken in the western Franconian Empire (Francia occidentalis) as early as Carolingian times . It was necessary to use them in the legal act of the taking of the oath so that those who were insufficiently literate in Latin also knew the content of the oath.

The old French language is the first Romance language ever to be documented in written documents. The first Old French poetry is the Eulalia sequence (c. 884), which has the characteristics of the Picard dialect , followed by other religious poems and ecclesiastical texts (Jonas fragment) . With the beginning of the Capetian dynasty in 987, the language, which was influenced by the French dialect , gradually spreads in France. In the 12th century the written tradition of the heroic poem , the chanson de geste , which was older in its origin and intended for performance by minstrels , began, to which soon also the songs of the Trouvères , the courtly knightly and ancient novels , historical poems and French adaptations of biblical texts Texts and didactic works are added. From the end of the 12th century, French was also used as the language of documents, initially mainly in private documents, and from the middle of the 13th century onwards, in addition to Latin, also in documents of the royal chancellery.


Vocal system

The old French vowel system goes back to the replacement of the Latin vowel lengths by qualities after the quantity collapse in the 3rd century.

As a result, vowels in free position (i.e. at the end of the syllable) were diphthongized, i.e. H. double vowels emerged from single vowels. B. the diphthong / ou / from / o / (in louer , cour ), the nasalization of / an / and / on / also arises, diphthongs could also be spoken nasally like / aim /, / ain /.


Almost all consonants (and i) before vowels were palatalized in Old French , i.e. H. the pronunciation shifted towards the palate (frontal palate). The intervocalic from the / t / created / d / is in Old French to "English" voiced th ( / ⁠ ð ⁠ / ) before this sound completely out of the French language disappears (z. B. lat. Vita > altfrz . vida (around 980)> vithe / viðə / (1050)> vie ).


In Old French texts (as in New French) the graphic differs considerably from the pronunciation, i. H. it is written partly etymologizing, partly phonetically. The actual pronunciation can be reconstructed in this specific case from rhymes such as forest: plaist ; fais: apres or by examining borrowings in other languages, e.g. B. forest Middle High German: foreht ; Old French: chastel , Middle High German: Tschastel or English. change, chapel, chief . In Old French, no distinction was made between the c before e and i, palatalized as / ts /, and c before a, o and u, which continues to be realized as / k /, the cedilla to mark the palatalized pronunciation of c before a, o and u was only introduced by printing in the 16th century.


Bicycles system

The morphological system of Latin had five different classes of declension and a case system. In Latin, there was a first or a -Deklination, a second or o -Deklination, a third declension (consonant declension, mixed declination and i -Deklination), a fourth or u -Deklination and a fifth or e - Declination. Often the forms were alike in different cases. The form rosae ( a -declination) could denote the genitive singular, the dative singular and the nominative plural. In Old French there was an omission of the final consonants, especially -m and -s ; the following phenomena arose:

  • a stronger fixation of the syntax
  • the development of articles still unknown in classical Latin
  • the use of prepositions for all object cases

The old French had a system reduced to two cases (a so-called two- casus inflection ), which made it possible to distinguish between subject and object:

mask. Rectus Obliquus
Sg. li murs le mur
Pl. li mur les murs
fem. Rectus Obliquus
Sg. la book la book
Pl. les book les book

In the course of language development, a typological morphology replaced the previous etymological one: Endlessness was generally reinterpreted as a singular, the beginning of the ending -s was generally reinterpreted as a plural, cf. neufrz. mur 'wall', but murs 'walls'. Incidentally, as in other Romance languages, the oblique forms were largely established because they are more frequent than the nominative forms, cf. for example vulgar Latin pax 'Friede' (nominative), but pace (m) (accusative), the Italian / rum. pace results; vlat. lux 'light' (nominative), but luce (m) (accusative), which results in Italian luce , or pater 'father' (nominative), but patre (m) (accusative), the Italian / Spanish. padre, old French. pedre > neufranz . père or Old Friulian padri > Friulian pari results in.

The elimination of the two-caustic system in the 14th century due to the complete silence of the final consonants marks the transition from Old French to Middle French and thus freezes the freer syntax that was previously possible.

More analytical language structure

In Latin becomes

  • for verbs person, number, tense or mode
  • with nouns number, gender and case
  • with increased adjectives degree of increase

determined by the ending. By silencing the final consonants (especially - s and - t ), the use of pronouns in Old French has been mandatory since around the 11th century. The morphological marking is thus shifted from the end of the word to the beginning of the word.

Verbal morphology

Latin was particularly familiar with the synthetic marking of tense and mode within the word. A tendency towards analytical education can already be seen in vulgar Latin; morphologically, tense and mode are indicated by an added auxiliary verb. From this originated in the old French z. B. the forms of the future and the conditional, then z. B. the old French future tense from cantare + habeno (literally 'I have to sing') to chanterai . The passive voice was also formed by means of a periphrastic paraphrase with esse : class-lat. amor , replaced by vlat. amatus sum , which to nfrz. je suis aimé was. What is special about the formation of the passive voice is that the form in New French is still an analytical form and no resynthesis took place. One of the most important periphrastic descriptions is the perfect, which is composed of habeno + cantatum and describes a process that has already been completed. The New French equivalent would be j'ai chanté . From the classical lat. Perfect cantavi today passé simple has ever chantai developed. Other tenses like the imperfect developed according to the Latin: Latin cant abam > vlat. cant ava > old French (west) chant o (u) e ~ (east) chant eve . The endings of the e conjugation, which prevailed in the central Old French dialect area, were generalized to the past tense : -ebam > - eie , later - oie , - ois , consequently old French . (central) chant eie , - oie , - ois > nfrz. chant ais . The auxiliary verb estre 'sein' had three forms of its own.

Past tense formations according to dialect area
Most common forms Western and
person on - oi on - ou / - o
(only - er / - ier verbs)
to - e (i) ve
(- er -verbs)
to - ieve
(- ier -verbs)
on - ive
(only non-inchoative
- ir verbs)
1. Sg. am- eie , - oie , - ois am-oue, -oe am-eive, -eve cuid-ieve dorm-ive
2nd Sg. am- eies , - oies , - ois am-oues, -oes am-eives, -eves cuid-ieves dorm-ives
3rd Sg. am- eit , - oit am-out, -ot am-eive, -eve cuid-ieve dorm-ive
1st pl. am- iiens , - iions , - iens , - ions am-iiens, -iions,
-iens, -ions,
-iemes ( Pic .)
cuid-iiens, -iions,
-iens, -ions,
-iemes (Pic.)
dorm-iiens, -iions,
-iens, -ions,
-iemes (Pic.)
2nd pl. am- iiez , - iez , - iés cuid- iiez , - iez , - iés dorm-iiez, -iez, -iés
3rd pl. am- eient , - oient , -ient (east) am-ouent, -oent am-eivent, -event cuid-ievent dorm-ivent

Past tense formations of estre
Flexion formed into the infinitive stem
inherited inflection
Monophthong strain Diphthong stem
1. Sg. est-eie, -oie, -ois he-e ier-e
2nd Sg. est-eies, -oies, -ois O ier-it
3rd Sg. est-eit, -oit er-e, -t ier-e, -t
1st pl. est-iiens, -iions, -iens, -ions er-mes O
2nd pl. est-iiez, -iez, -iés O O
3rd pl. est-eient, -oient he-ent ier-ent


The old French vocabulary goes back to Latin , which was found in Gaul after the conquest by Julius Caesar in 51 BC. Had prevailed. The southern French-speaking area was even from 120 BC. In addition, Greek language colonies ( Nice , Marseille ) had formed on the coast and the upper reaches of the Rhone . Since about the third century, the Latin spoken in the territory of the Roman Empire had generally changed so much over the font Latin of the Roman educated elite that is sometimes as it lingua latina rustica from the written language sermo urbanus demarcated; in the linguistic terminology later the terms spoken Latin or vulgar Latin established themselves .

In its development, the Latin subject in the colonies and so also in Gaul the double impact of both the subject of the Romans Peoples ( substrate ), especially the Celts , as well as during the Great Migration immigrant Germanic peoples ( superstrate ). Both adapted Latin with their own pronunciation habits and brought their own vocabulary into the vocabulary. These influences were decisive for the breakdown of the Romance languages ​​in general that arose from spoken Latin, as well as for the internal breakdown of that Latin that was spoken specifically in Gaul. Occitan was formed there in the south , also known as Old Provençal pars pro toto , while the Oïl languages, i.e. French in the narrower sense, emerged in the north. The language border ran roughly following the Loire, more precisely along a line that runs from Grenoble to La Rochelle .


Latin in Gaul was initially influenced by Gaulish , which was spoken before the Roman conquest. The influence of this Gallic substratum can only be proven to a small extent in Old French. It is found mainly in place names, also for the agricultural sector (. B. boe , mud ', charrue , down by applicable Plow', gaskiere, gaschiere , Brachfeld ' Motun , Ram', raie , (arable) Rain ', se (i) llon 'furrow' etc.) and individual trades such as brewing ( cerveise 'barley beer, wheat beer with honey', bracier 'brewing beer'). In addition, there are some Celtisms that the Romans took over very early from Celtic inhabitants of other regions, especially in northern Italy, and which therefore also live on in other Romance languages ​​( chainse, -ze , long, linen shirt ', chemin , way, path' , lieue 'mile'). In addition, the Celtic substratum in Gaul may have had an impact on phonetic development such as palatalization , the development of the Latin / u / to the French / ü / or the vocalization of the / l /.


The Altniederfränkische had the language of the conquerors employs a relatively greater impact on the development of the Old French, of about five centuries after the start of Romanization. Franconian elements in French are u. a. Proper names such as Gérard < Gerhard , Louis < Hlodwig , Charles < Karl , place names with a Franconian suffix (e.g. -anges < -ingas ) or derived from Franconian personal names (e.g. Avricourt < Eberhardi curtis "Eberhards Hof") terms of military nature ( berfroi "keep" hache < hāpja "hoe" halberc < neck mountain ), terms of law and social order ( ban , fief < feu , FIET < feodum < fehu , chattels , livestock (piece) '+ od , Property ', rang , marc < marka ), words from the field of clothing ( guant < want ' glove ', froc < hrokk "skirt", escharpe , escherpe , bag hanging around the pilgrim 's neck, pilgrim bag ' < skirpja '(from Rush braided) bag, pilgrim's bag ') and home decor ( halle , aulberge < heriberga "shelter for the army", faldestoel , faudestuel < faldistōl , folding chair', jardin < gardo 'garden'), as well as animal names and terms of hunting ( esparvier < sparwāri ' Sparrowhawk ', gibiez, -iers < gabaiti "Gebeize, falcon hunt", mesenge , masen ghe < mesinga "Meise", hareng "Hering"), plant names ( haistre < haister 'Heister', saule < salha 'Salweide') and a few words of emotional life and abstractions ( honte with honnir < haunjan "sneer", esfrei with esfreier , esfreder <lat. exfridare < ex + frida "to make peace", émoi or esmai with esmaier < ex + magan "to render powerless / powerless").

Franconian hereditary words u. a. in the graphic implementation of the Germanic / w / at the beginning of the word, which resulted in a spoken / g / in the graphic / gu / (anfrk. werra 'Wirre'> French. guerre ) Other superstrate languages ​​such as Gothic , on the other hand, had only a minor influence.

Hereditary words and book words

When looking at the Latin word stock in the French vocabulary, a distinction must be made between hereditary words that originated from spoken Latin in Old French and developed according to phonetic law, and words that were derived from Latin, mostly of scholarly origin ("book words"), which often also existed in medieval times and especially then have been adopted into French since the time of humanism and therefore did not take part in the phonetic development of French or only later. Examples are: chose 'thing, thing' and cause 'cause' (Latin causa 'reason, thing'), chainse 'long, linen shirt' and chemise 'shirt' (late Latin camisia , linen wrap that is worn directly on the body '), tôle ' sheet metal 'and table ' table '(Latin tabula ' board, painting, writing board, (changer) table '), entier ' whole, completely 'and intègre ' integer '(Latin integer ' untouched, intact, untouched '), droit ' straight, upright 'and direct ' direct '(Latin dīrēctus ' straightened, in a straight line '), mâcher ' (zer) chew 'and mastiquer (Latin masticare ), sûreté ' harmlessness 'and sécurité ' Security '(Latin securitas ), nuisible ' harmful, detrimental 'and nocif ' poisonous, toxic '(Latin nocibilis ).


Since French, as the dialect of the Île de France and the basis of today's French, was not able to establish itself as the national language in France until the 13th century, relatively independent dialects existed for a long time:

  • the Burgundian in Burgundy, which for a long time was an independent and culturally superior duchy;
  • wrote the Picardy in Picardy, with a strong monastic tradition, some of the oldest Old French texts are in Picard dialect (about Eulalie sequence), also for matière de France belonging chansons de geste are believed to have originated in Picardy.
  • Walloon in Wallonia in what is now Belgium, south of Brussels with the center of Namur;
  • the Champagne in Champagne, with a strong literary tradition, the epics of Chrétien de Troyes are written in the Champagne dialect;
  • Norman, which was first used by the Normans in what is now Normandy and was spoken in the British Isles after the conquest of England. Here one speaks of Anglo- Norman , which had a strong influence on the development of today's English language. The poems of Marie de France in the Anglo-Norman dialect became particularly well known ;
  • Lorraine in the border region to the German-speaking area and extensive political independence until the 17th century

However, based on the surviving (literary) texts often no clear dialect assignments can be made, since the works of the old French period are usually only handed down in later copies.

Franco-Provencal in the region from Lyon to French-speaking Switzerland and the dialects of Occitan in southern France are not counted among the Oïl languages . The status of the dialects in the dialect border area known as the croissant in Auvergne is disputed .

Old French literature

Medieval Old French literature can be divided chronologically and thematically into different epochs. At the beginning of the old French literature there are mainly religious works ( saints' lives ):

This is followed by an era in which the genre of the chanson de geste (heroic epics) dominates:

  • Chanson de Roland ( Roland's song , ~ 1075–1100)
  • Chanson de Guillaume ( Wilhelmslied , 12th century)
  • Chanson de Jérusalem

In the 12th century, the genre of the ancient novel flourished , in which ancient texts were adapted from Old French:

The courtly novel flourished in the High Middle Ages . The most outstanding author of this literary genre was Chrétien de Troyes (~ 1140 to ~ 1190):

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Old French  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duval 2009, p. 143.
  2. Duval 2009, p. 144.


Introductions and language stories

  • J. Batany: Français médiéval . Bordas, Paris 1978.
  • Sylvie Bazin-Tacchella: Initiation à l'ancien français . Hachette, Paris 2001.
  • Charles Bruneau: Petite histoire de la langue française . 2 volumes. Paris 1969/70.
  • Ferdinand Brunot: Histoire de la langue française des origines à nos jours . 13 volumes. Paris 1966-.
  • Frédéric Duval: Le Français médiéval . Brepols, Turnhout 2009.
  • Mireille Huchon: Histoire de la langue française . Paris 2002.
  • Geneviève Joly: L'ancien français . Belin, Paris 2004.
  • Wilhelm Kesselring: The French Language in the Middle Ages . Tübingen 1973.
  • Guy Raynaud de Lage / Geneviève Hasenohr: Introduction à l'ancien français , 2nd edition SEDES, Paris 1993.
  • Thierry Revol: Introduction à l'ancien français . Nathan, Paris 2000.
  • Carl Voretzsch: Introduction to studying the old French language . Hall 1932.
  • Walther von Wartburg: Evolution et structure de la langue française . Francke, Tübingen 1993 [= French culture and language history].
  • Heinz Jürgen Wolf / W. Hupka: Old French origin and characteristics . Darmstadt 1981.
  • Heinz Jürgen Wolf: French language history . UTB, Heidelberg / Wiesbaden 1991.
  • Gaston Zink: L'ancien français . Presses universitaires de France, Paris 1997 (= Que sais-je).


  • DEAF = Kurt Baldinger: Dictionnaire étymologique de l'ancien français . Tübingen, 1974-. DEAF
  • GdfEdic / GdfCEdic = Frédéric Godefroy: Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle . 10 vols. Paris 1880-1902. [1]
  • Algirdas Julien Greimas : Dictionnaire de l'ancien français . Paris, 1979.
  • Takeshi Matsumura: Dictionnaire du français médiéval . Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2015.
  • TL = Adolf Tobler / Erhard Lommatzsch (among others): Old French dictionary . 11 vols. Berlin / Wiesbaden / Stuttgart 1924-2008.


  • Joseph Anglade: Grammaire elémentaire de l'ancien français . Armand Colin, Paris 1965.
  • Claude Buridant: Grammaire nouvelle de l'ancien français . SEDES, Paris 2000.
  • François de la Chaussée: Initiation à la morphologie historique de l'ancien français . Klincksieck, Paris 1977.
  • Geneviève Joly: Précis d'ancien français. Morphologie et syntaxe , 2nd edition, Armand Colin, Paris 2009.
  • Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke : Historical grammar of the French language . 2 volumes. Heidelberg 1966.
  • Gérard Moignet: Grammaire de l'ancien français , 2nd edition, Klincksieck, Paris 1976 (1st edition 1973).
  • Jacqueline Picoche: Précis de morphologie historique du français . Nathan, Paris 1979.
  • Moritz Regula: Historical grammar of French . 3 volumes. Heidelberg 1955–1966.
  • Hans Rheinfelder: Old French grammar . 2 volumes. Hueber, Munich 1975.
  • Eduard Schwan : Grammar of Old French. Phonology and Forms , Leipzig 1888; 3rd edition revised by Dietrich Behrens , 1898; 12th edition 1925; Reprints Darmstadt 1963 and 1966.
  • Gaston Zink: Morphologie du français médiéval , 2nd edition Presses universitaires de France, Paris 1992 (1st edition 1989).