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Section C

Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


LI14: History of the French Language

This paper runs in alternate years and is available for the academic year 2023-24.


  • To consider the relationship between the internal and external history of French
  • To introduce students to key topics in the historical development of French grammar
  • To familiarise students with the sorts of textual evidence available for tracing these changes
  • To examine the factors – whether internal or external – which bring about changes in the grammatical structure of French


  • History of French from Vulgar Latin to Modern French
  • Focus on key topics in historical morphology and syntax
  • Use of a range of texts, notably from the Old French period, to illustrate these changes
  • Inclusion of social aspects of the history of French, including its standardisation and codification
  • Introduction of sociolinguistic approaches to the history of French

Michaelmas Term
1. External history of French and periodisation
2. The processes of standardisation: selection and elaboration
3. The processes of standardisation: codification and acceptance
4. Textual evidence: the earliest texts I
5. Textual evidence: the earliest texts II
6. Textual evidence: Anglo-Norman and versification
7. Textual evidence: Middle French
8. Sociolinguistic approaches: evidence for variation

Lent Term
1. Introduction to morpho-syntactic change in French
2. Theories and approaches: the history of word order
3. Interrogative clauses
4. Negation
5. Personal pronouns
6. Determiners
7. Past tenses
8. Mood and modality

Preparatory reading: 

Ayres-Bennett, Wendy, 1996. A History of the French Language through Texts, London and New York: Routledge.

Lodge, Anthony, 1993. French. From Dialect to Standard, London: Routledge.

Marchello-Nizia, Christiane, 1999. Le français en diachronie : douze siècles d'évolution, Ophrys: Gap.

Posner, Rebecca, 1997. Language Change in French, Oxford: OUP.

Rickard, Peter, 1989. A History of the French Language, London: Routledge.

Teaching and learning: 

The teaching will be divided into two parts which will be reflected in the two sections of the examination paper. In the Michaelmas Term students will be introduced to the external history of French, to the textual evidence for the study of historical French linguistics, to the standardisation and codification of French, and to sociolinguistic variation in earlier periods of the language. In the Lent Term the lectures will cover topics in the history of French morphology and syntax and will evaluate the explanations which have been offered for any changes.

You will receive sixteen lectures in total, eight in Michaelmas Term and eight in Lent Term. You will also have eight supervisions, normally three during Michaelmas Term, four in Lent Term and one in Easter Term. There will also be four classes on how to read Old French texts.

The paper's Moodle site can be found here.


Assessment will be by a 3hr in person written exam.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Anna Tristram