Une république, une langue: The French Language and France

43A :  Aspects of French Culture
Fall 2022
Class No: 26225
166 Social Sciences Building
M. Arrigo

While one might deem the observation that in 2022 the French language is spoken throughout France as excessively self-evident, a quick turn to the annals of history shows that this was not always the case. In 1794, in the midst of the French Revolution, a report submitted a report to the National Convention estimated that only 3 million people in France were capable of speaking French, leaving 6 million French citizens ignorant of the national language. Its author, the Abbé Grégoire, called for the universalization of French language for the benefit of the new republic and its citizens. Since this time, the French language has established itself as one of the pillars of French national identity, alongside liberté, égalitéand fraternité.


In this class, we will explore questions surrounding the French language including but not limited to: the sociolinguistic history of the French language, the role of linguistic purity and French’s relationship to other global languages such as English, its relationship to the concept of citizenship and role in shaping French nationalism, the language as an instrument of power but also resistance and contestation, the linguistic legacies of France’s colonial era, the language as an instrument of French geopolitical soft power, and recent attempts to adapt a language first codified starting 16th century to its 21st century reality. Students will read and explore a variety of literary, cinematic, and scholarly texts in order and leave the class with a better understanding of the complex nature of the French language’s status as a French cultural keystone as well as a greater critical understanding of language as a dynamic feature of national and cultural identity.  


Readings and texts:

Readings will be done in English; we will read texts spanning from the 1500s to the contemporary moment. Contemporary films will also be shown.