Will French take over the world?
En français | In English
While many Australians are about to head off to France for a few weeks and escape the gloomy Melbourne weather, let’s take a look at three interesting, and perhaps surprising facts, about the language of Molière.
You are probably far more au fait with the
French language than you think!
Even though French and English don’t share the same roots, linguistically speaking, France and Britain have had multiple interactions and as a result certain words were borrowed by speakers from both countries. France’s influence on the English language began with the Norman conquest of Britain in the 11th century: in the three hundred years following William the Conqueror’s arrival on the South coast of England and his subsequent rule, French was actually the official language of England.
This has had long-lasting consequences on the English language – even today the English language is peppered with French words! An estimated 30% of English words are borrowed from French, making French, as well as Latin, the most influential language in English. Reading this you may feel déjà vu or a little je ne sais quoi – but c’est la vie!
French toast is not French but jeans are?
Not only was French toast not invented in France, but French toast was around long before France even existed as a country. The exact origins of French toast are unknown, but it isn’t surprising that humans seem to have come up with the recipe quickly, given that French toast is traditionally made out of stale bread. Up until very recently, the vast majority of humans would have never dreamed of wasting any food. Thus, one had to find a way to make stale bread palatable: soaking it in milk and egg and then cooking it seemed logical enough. In France, French toast is often called pain perdu, or “lost bread”, as a reference to the bread going stale and hard, or being “lost”. So who invented the name French toast? There is a popular myth that French toast was actually invented in New York in the eighteenth century. Supposedly, an innkeeper by the name of Joseph French named the dish after himself but simply forgot the “s” with an apostrophe after his name, or did not know how to write it, in the title of the dish: “French’s toast”. Alas, if only a language teacher of the day could have corrected him!
French toast may not be French, but jeans certainly are! Well, almost… Jeans are made of a material called denim. The name comes from a sturdy fabric called “Serge de Nîmes”, initially made in Nîmes, France, hence “de Nîmes” - “denim”. Weavers of Nîmes tried to reproduce the cotton corduroy that was famously made in the city of Genoa, Italy, but with no luck. With trial and error, they developed another twill fabric that became known as denim. Denim is highly durable, and that is why it was used by people that needed clothes that would last long – and that’s also why it was used by Levi Strauss and Jacob W. Davis as the material for jean pants.
Will we all speak French in 2050?
French is already spoken by 220 million people on all 5 continents. French is not just spoken in France, but also in parts of Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, most of Africa, as well as 57 other countries where French is the official language. France was once a colonial empire, and countries with a French presence still retain this linguistic heritage. A few paradise islands are still French, including Tahiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion or New Caledonia. French is also the only language, along with English, that is taught in every country of the world, with 100 million students and 2 million teachers – 20% of whom are beyond the borders of francophone countries.
The number of French speakers has tripled since 1945 largely due to most former French and Belgian colonies keeping French as their language of government, education and science after decolonization. And the influence of French will keep growing! Based on projections of demographic development in Africa, many studies have shown that 750 million people could be native French speakers by 2050, making it the world's most spoken language! So don’t wait any longer: join a French class at the Alliance Française de Melbourne to prepare for an all-Francophone future!
Marion Nouvel for the Alliance Française de Melbourne
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