If you are hoping to come and do a French immersion course in France it’s great to know a bit more about the language before you start. It will really enhance your French studies and also adds more depth to everything you learn. In a previous article I discussed the origins of the reputation of France as the ‘language of love’. We started with the origins in Medieval France where a movement of poetry spoke of knights longing for married women who were held in very high regard, a new notion for that age. The expression of this pure, equal love was found in poetry and literature in the south of France, another reason why doing a intensive French course here in Montpellier is so cool because it feels like you are at the spring of the legend. The poems soon found an audience in other parts of the country and that’s where we shall begin. I should add that there is a lot of conjecture here as there is no one clear explanation.
The original poems and songs were performed by a group of high minded performers, often of noble descent know as troubadours or trobairitz for the males and females respectively. They would tour the courts of southern France singing their songs of a pure and noble love in the Occitan language which dominated the region at that time. They had a strong influence on another group of performers who were more or less their contemporaries; the Trouvères. This group composed their works in the northern French dialects and took the show on the road to perform for the royal courts further up the country.
During the middle ages France and Britain fought an awful lot but they also tried interacting in different ways as well; like marriage. As the French duchesses made their way over the channel to take their places besides English royalty or nobleman they brought along their various entourages. These courts of poets and performers may have included Trouvères or those strongly influenced by their work. These romantic performers will have been a revelation to the British as well as any other countries they may have been introduced too and may have laid the foundation for the reputation of the French as being particularly romantic.
Over the centuries endorsement by famous scholars will have fortified things like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (a leading German poet and writer in the 18th century) who described French as ‘the language of angels’.
This leads me nicely onto another component for French’s lofty status. The way it sounds. There are many rules to be adhered to that maintain a harmonious and flowing sound; known as euphony. The big part of this is avoiding hiatuses or pauses and in French. When you reach a break between two sounds that naturally would cause a pause like a word that ends in a vowel and a word that starts with one slight alterations are made to side-step this clunky sounding aspect. They are at once elegant on the ear, luscious on the lips and frightening for French students. You will encounter these on your French course but do not fear them, they are a big factor of what makes French so beautiful.
An aspect I find quite charming is the gendering of nouns. Of course French isn’t the only language to do this but in general for me it personifies things a little which adds a bit more soul into whatever it is you are saying. People often do this with ships or cars in English (she’s a beauty) and it gives whatever you are talking about a sense of personality that I love.
The icing on the cake is something slightly less poetic; marketing. The French tourism industry has done a good job of capitalising on this love laced image and turbo-charged it to incite a deep connection between romance and France. So many people are attracted to the country and the language because of this connection and making the most of it is just good business.
So there we have a few reasons that could have combined to perpetuate the romantic image of France and the French language that many of us have. There are many other contributing things including a strong connection to art, films and novels etc. that have all thrown in their two cents over the centuries that have really engrained it. This reputation is not going away any time soon and taking a French immersion course in France will bring you closer to it. Doing a language stay will give you an opportunity to see how this reputation manifests itself and how it keeps itself alive but also just allow you to fully experience the language of love.