Standard French Was Not Based on the Parisian Dialect

A very smart female commenter (Why is that foreign women always seem so much smarter than American women?) corrects me on an earlier post in which I said that Standard French was based on the Parisian dialect:

I’m afraid you are wrong saying standard French originated from Paris. Bernard Cerquiglini, in Une Langue Orpheline shows Standard French was in fact elaborated by the “British” administration in today’s western France (Normandy, Anjou) and mixed with other local scripta (the Picard and Champenois ones).
Its adoption by French kings came later. The “Parisian origin” was a construction of French republican ideologists of the XIXth century. As a government lingua franca, it has become more and more distant from local, non-written, dialects of French.

Excellent. I love learning stuff like this.
What’s important is that as a government lingua franca, it has moved further and further from local forms of French, which in most cases, are actually separate languages altogether! See the cases of Picard and Champenois above. Those and other forms of “French” are not intelligible to speakers of Standard French. How do they communicate? Via Standard French.
A very similar thing has occurred in Germany with Standard German, in which a wide ranges of other forms of German are spoken in the country in addition to Standard German. Most of these, like the French lects, are not yet recognized by Ethnologue (only Picard is recognized, and, but Normand, Bourguignon, Champenois, Franc-Comtois, Gallo, Poitevin, Santongeais and Lorraine, (all apparently separate languages, not dialects as Ethnologue states, as I believe that they are not intelligible with Standard French) are not.
As for Angevin, Berrichon and Bourbonnais, I am not sure if those are dialects of French or separate languages.
In Germany, many more German lects are recognized by Ethnologue as separate languages, for instance Alemannisch, Bavarian, Cimbrian, Colonia Tovar German, Eastern Yiddish, Kölsch, Limburgisch, Luxembourgeois, Mainfränkisch, Mócheno, Pennsylvania German, Pfaelzisch, Plautdietsch, Low Saxon, Upper Saxon, Lower Silesian, Schwyzerdütsch, Swabian, Walser, Westphalien, Western Yiddish.
So you can see that there are 21 different kinds of German, mostly spoken in Germany, which are not intelligible with Standard German. There are actually more than that, and I have to do a writeup on that some day.
Similarly, in Italy, there is Standard Italian, and then there are a variety of other Italians, many of which are separate languages. I will go through the Italian lects at another time.
The lect chosen as standard is often rather artificial, though it is often based on the language of a large city, often the capital. I think that Standard Dutch is based on the Amsterdam dialect, but correct me if I am wrong.
Over time, the standard form tends to drift further away from the other lects, though there is also a reverse tendency whereby the other languages start to wear down under the influence of the standard language, and come to resemble the standard language more and more.
We find this happening in Germany, France, Italy and China, where the other Germans, Frenches, Italians and Mandarins are starting to look more and more like the Standard language as they come under pressure from the standard language.

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2 thoughts on “Standard French Was Not Based on the Parisian Dialect”

  1. Everybody in my school who took french under our one french teacher complains that she only teaches ‘old’ french. Everyone who visited france or has french friends talks about how our students use archaic words. I think they are all exaggerating and am just thankful for the smattering knowledge of the language i now possess. Has the language really changed that much in say 30 years? or is just a slang kind of thing?

  2. Gosh, Tom, I don’t know. I don’t know that much about French.
    Languages can change pretty fast. Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) was based on the Beijing Dialect in 1949, and 60 years later, Beijing dialect is so different from Putonghua that it’s more or less a separate language. So either one or both of them changed radically during that period.
    I do know that Chilean Spanish is so different, and possibly changing so fast due to slang and whatnot, that it is on its way to being a separate language from Spanish. Give it some time.

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