Called to Unity
This investigation examines the impact of language in France from 1600 to 1900, with a particular focus on the relationship between linguistic developments and political, cultural, and social history. It traces the evolution of France from a polyglot kingdom into a linguistically-unified nation. This evolution began with the codification of written language, championed by the authorities who founded the French Academy. Written French struggled, through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, against a vast array of patois, regional languages, and sociolects. These created both social and geographical divides. The French Revolution marked a major (but unsuccessful) government effort to impose a national language, establishing a strong link between concepts of language and identity. Political efforts of francisation defined the nineteenth century; more importantly, social interest and dependence upon a standard idiom increased drastically. The French people adopted the national language voluntarily, integrating it firmly into their sense of identity. Even in the linguistically-exceptional region of Alsace-Lorraine, where residents rejected both French and German, local language became integral to identity. Though authorities perfected language from above, the people accepted it from below, shaping French notions of identity and creating, in effect, modern France.