Tag Archives: French

In medieval Britain, if you wanted to get ahead, you had to speak French



Image 20170327 3303 1tyzyjb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Medieval teaching scene.
gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Huw Grange, University of Oxford

The study of modern languages in British secondary schools is in steep decline. The number of students taking French and German GCSE has more than halved in the last 16 years. But as the UK prepares to forge new relationships with the wider world, and with a question mark over the status of English as an official EU language, it may be that many more Britons will need to brush up on their language skills – not unlike their medieval ancestors.

In the Middle Ages, a variety of vernacular languages were spoken by inhabitants of the British Isles, from Cornish to English to Norn – an extinct North Germanic language. The literati of the time learned to speak and write Latin.

But another high prestige language was also used in medieval Britain. After the Norman Conquest, French became a major language of administration, education, literature and law in England (and, to some extent, elsewhere in Britain). To get ahead in life post-1066, it was pretty important to “parler français”.

Historiated initial depicting Pentecost, when linguistic miracles were supposedly most prevalent.
gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

French would have been the mother tongue for several generations of the Anglo Norman aristocracy. But many more Britons must have learned French as a second language. Medieval biographies of saints, such as the 12th-century recluse Wulfric of Haselbury, tell of miracle workers who transformed monoglot Englishmen into fluent francophones.

In reality, many probably acquired French at “song” school, where young boys were taught reading and singing before moving on to study Latin at “grammar” school.

Slipping standards

But, by the late 14th century, standards of French in Britain were slipping – at least in some quarters. Perhaps not such a problem at home, where English had already assumed some of the roles previously performed by French. But if British merchants wanted to export wool, or import bottles of Bordeaux, knowledge of French was still a must.

It’s around this time that the “Manieres de langage” – or “Manners of Speaking” – began to appear. These model conversations, the earliest used to teach French to English speakers, were used by business teachers who taught all the necessary skills for performing basic clerical work.

Colourful language

As well as teaching learners how to ask for directions and find lodgings in France, the “Manieres” feature rather more colourful language than you’d find in today’s textbooks.

Some of the dialogues are made up entirely of insults and chat-up lines. Learners could quickly progress from “Mademoiselle, do I know you?” to “You’re quite sure you don’t have another boyfriend?”. And if things didn’t quite go to plan, an expression such as: “Va te en a ta putaigne … quar vous estez bien cuillez ensemble” (That’s it, run along to your whore! You’re made for each other!) may have proved useful.

Astrologer and demon.
British Library, Royal 6 E VI/2, f. 396v

The “Manieres” also taught learners about life across the Channel. In one dialogue a Parisian chap mentions to an Englishman that he’s been to Orléans. The Englishman is amazed: “But that’s near the edge of the world!” he exclaims. “It’s actually in the middle of France,” replies the Parisian, “and there’s a great law school there”. Once again, the Englishman is taken aback. He’s heard it’s where the devil teaches his disciples black magic. The Parisian is exasperated until the Englishman offers to buy him a drink.

Lessons from the past

The French spoken in Britain was mocked from at least the 12th-century, even by the British themselves. In the “Canterbury Tales”, for instance, Chaucer teases his Prioress for speaking the French of “Stratford-at-Bow” (rather than proper Parisian).




Read more:
English swearing’s European origins


Like many a language learner in Britain today, the Englishman in the “Manieres” lacks confidence in his linguistic abilities and worries about how he is ever going to speak like a native.

But the “Manieres” also suggest there was less separating the French of Britain from “proper Parisian” than we might think. When the Englishman lets slip he’s never actually been to France, it’s the Parisian’s turn to be amazed. How could anyone learn such good French in England?

Catte Street, Oxford, where a business school was located in the 15th-century.
Photo © Marathon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

These language learning resources date from a time when the association between linguistic identity and nationality was looser than it often is today. French doesn’t just belong to the French, according to the “Manieres” – learners can take pride in it too.

In Oxford, business school French proved so popular its success seemed to rattle the dons. In 1432 a University statute banned French teaching during lecturing hours to stop students skiving Latin.

The ConversationIt’s hard to imagine needing to curb enthusiasm for learning a foreign language in Brexit Britain. But perhaps there are lessons in the “Manieres” that could help promote language learning in the 21st-century classroom.

Huw Grange, Junior Research Fellow in French, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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What happened to the French army after Dunkirk



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French POWs being led away from the battlefield in May 1940.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Nina Wardleworth, University of Leeds

The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in May 1940 from Dunkirk by a flotilla of small ships has entered British folklore. Dunkirk, a new action film by director Christopher Nolan, depicts the events from land, sea and air and has revived awe for the plucky courage of those involved.

But the story of the French army after Dunkirk is altogether less glorious, and perhaps because of that, less widely remembered. Of the 340,000 allied soldiers evacuated by boat from Dunkirk, 123,000 were French – but thousands more were not rescued and were taken prisoner by the Germans.

French media coverage of the premiere of Nolan’s film has presented the events as a British story in which French soldiers were involved, not a shared wartime narrative.

Operation Dynamo (the code name for the Dunkirk evacuation) took place between May 26 and June 4, 1940. The Germans entered Paris on June 14, but fighting continued in the east of France until June 24. General Charles De Gaulle made his now famous radio broadcast, calling on the French public not to accept defeat, on the BBC on June 18 from London, but very few of his compatriots are likely to have heard it on that date.

It is estimated that between 50,000 and 90,000 soldiers of the French army were killed in the fighting of May and June 1940. In addition to the casualties, 1.8m French soldiers, from metropolitan France and across the French empire, were captured during the Battle of France and made prisoners of war (POWs).

That early summer of 1940 in France was also marked by a mass exodus. At least six million civilians took to the roads to escape the advancing German troops, with frightening World War I stereotypes of German brutality at the forefront of their minds. They moved south and west through France, although most returned home following the June 22 armistice with Nazi Germany.

Such mass population movement both helped and hindered the French army. It made moving men and equipment much more difficult on crowded roads and railways. However, for the ordinary soldier who could procure civilian clothes, it allowed them to slip away from their units and rejoin their families.

Colonial troops massacred

The French army of 1940 included soldiers from across its empire in north, west and central Africa, the French West Indies and Indochina. These troops found it more difficult to disappear into the crowds. There were numerous massacres of west and central African troops in eastern France by the German army, who after separating them from their white officers, shot them.

There were 120,000 colonial prisoners of war captured during the Battle of France. They were housed in different camps from their white, metropolitan French counterparts, all on French soil and French run, because of Nazi racial fears of them mixing with German civilians.

Colonial POWs from the French empire under guard by German soldiers, June 1940.
RaBoe/Wikipedia

French POWs were sent to camps in Germany where they were quickly set to work on farms, in industry, mines and on the railways, to replace German men away fighting. The POWs lived and worked alongside the German population, leading to both tensions and friendships. The fate of these POWs became central to the propaganda of the French collaborationist government, based in Vichy.

Numerous government programmes tried to encourage young French men and women to sign up for work in Germany in exchange for the return of a POW to France. But, most prisoners – about one million – only returned to France following the end of the war in May 1945. They were often greeted by widespread indifference, even sometimes hostility because of their supposed links and sympathies to the Vichy regime. In reality, they were no more pro-Vichy than many other parts of French society.

A difficult history for France

The very swift German victory in May and June 1940 and the humiliating armistice that followed, meant that post-war French society and the state sought to minimise and forget the defeat, preferring to concentrate on more glorious stories of the Resistance and the Free French. There was an unsuccessful campaign in the French press in 2015 for a state commemorative event and memorial to honour the war dead from France and its then empire, who the campaign labelled as “the first Resistance fighters”. Former French president, François Hollande, increased the number of state commemorative events for key moments from France’s 20th century history, but still ignored the events of 1940.

Despite official silences, the fighting of the summer of 1940 has been the subject of French novels and films ever since. Robert Merle’s 1949 novel Weekend at Dunkirk was adapted into a successful feature film, with an audience of three million on its release in 1964. The protagonist, Julien, is a French soldier desperate to make it onto one of the boats of the British evacuation in a town shattered by bombing. Claude Simon’s 1960 novel, The Flanders Road, painted a picture of an outdated French army, ground down by months of a phoney war, fighting against a much better equipped, more modern German enemy.

The ConversationFor French POWs, Dunkirk and those battles of May and June 1940 marked the beginning of five years of humiliation and hardship, before many returned to a country that wanted to forget them and their fighting experiences.

Nina Wardleworth, Teaching Fellow in French, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article: Australia – Sydney’s French Suburb Names


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Sydney’s French suburb names.

For more visit:
http://trust.dictionaryofsydney.org/french-suburb-names/


Article: France – The French Flag


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the origin of the modern French flag.

For more visit:
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/07/how-the-french-flag-came-to-be-as-it-is-today/


Article: WWI – Raymond Poincare takes Office in France


The link below is to an article that looks at the lead up to World War I. In this article Raymond Poincare becomes the French president.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/48987/world-war-i-centennial-poincar%C3%A9-takes-office-coup-mexico


Article: World War I – British and French Naval Cooperation


The link below is to an article on the lead up to World War I. This article looks at the growing naval cooperation between Britain and France.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/134986


Today in History: 30 May 1431


Joan of Arc Burnt at the Stake

On this day in 1431, Joan of Arc, The Maid of Orleans, was burnt at the stake as a heretic when 19 years old. Joan is regarded as a hero of the French people and a Roman Catholic saint.

For more visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_Arc


Today in History: 14 March 1590


France: The Battle of Ivry

On this day in 1590, the Battle of Ivry was fought at Ivry, France. The battle was fought during the French Wars of Religion. The battle was fought between the Huguenot troops under Henry de Navarre (future Henry IV of France) and the Catholic League (under Duc de Mayenne). The Huguenot forces won the battle.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ivry

For more on the French Wars of Religion, read the following books:
The French Wars of Religion, by Arthur Augustus Tilley
The French Wars of Religion – Their Political Aspects, by Edward Armstrong
Henry IV, by John S. C. Abbott


Today in History: 24 February 1525


Italy: The Battle of Pavia – The Italian War

On this day in 1525, the Battle of Pavia between Spanish and French forces was fought outside the walls of Pavia during what is known as the Italian War of 1521-26. The French suffered a massive defeat and Francis I was captured and forced to sign a treaty that ceded much ground to Charles V.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pavia


Today in History: 21 February 1916


France: World War I – The Battle of Verdun Begins

On this day in 1916, the Battle of Verdun began on the Western Front in World War I, between French and German forces. This battle waged in northeastern France killed close to 700 000 troops. Some 40 million artillery shells were fired before the battle concluded on the 18th December 1916 in a virtual stalemate, though regarded as a French win.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Verdun


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