Linguistic Policies and the Survival of Regional Languages by Anne Judge (auth.)

By Anne Judge (auth.)

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The arrêt or decision starts with two short paragraphs in French and continues in Latin. The final speech of the procureur (prosecutor) was in French as were six out of sixtyeight pieces of documentary evidence; finally the judgement of the Parlement condemning Pierre de Rohan was in Latin, while the sentence was in French. Finally the success of Villers-Cotterêts was also due to the literary prestige of French, acquired much earlier on: the first historical work written directly in French prose was Villehardouin’s La conquête de Constantinople, an account of the Fourth Crusade (1198–1207); letters were frequently in French, from the thirteenth century, although often conforming to Latin style; and literature proper became extremely rich and varied from the twelfth century onwards.

Also the Church itself had already contributed to the spread of the vernaculars: the Council of Tours had decreed in 813 that sermons, aimed at a local audience, should be in the vernacular whereas mass was to remain in Latin, because of its universal appeal. The distinction between local and general audiences was carried through into other fields. Thus a tendency developed according to which ‘national law’ was in Latin (Charles V’s Ordinance of 1376 proclaiming the majority of kings at fourteen) whereas local customs and regulations were in French, or more rarely, in the local vernacular.

There were still some monolingual speakers left among the elderly in the 1950s, but from then on, all newborn children had French as their first language. There is a famous passage by Duneton (1973) in Parler Croquant, in which the author describes his first day at school in the south west in 1941, when he discovered he was the only monolingual speaker of French in his class, while another, whom he describes as ‘the last of the Mohicans’, was the only monolingual speaker of Occitan. The rest of the class was bilingual.

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