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Sir John Denton Pinkstone, 1st Earl of Ypres. 1852--1925, British field marshal in World War I: commanded the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium (1914--15); Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1918--21)


1. the official language of France: also an official language of Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and certain other countries. It is the native language of approximately 70 million people; also used for diplomacy. Historically, French is an Indo-European language belonging to the Romance group
2. the French the natives, citizens, or inhabitants of France collectively
4. relating to, denoting, or characteristic of France, the French, or their language
5. (in Canada) of or relating to French Canadians
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a nation and the great majority of the population of France, where they number some 47 million, or more than 90 percent of the population (1975, estimate). Outside of France, the main groups of Frenchmen may be found in the former French colonies of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Réunion, and the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, as well as in the USA and Canada. The total number of Frenchmen exceeds 48 million (1975, estimate). Apart from French immigrants, there are about 6 million French-speaking people in Canada called French Canadians, a separate nation descended from 17th- and 18th-century colonists. Most religious Frenchmen are Catholics; the few Protestants among them are Calvinists.

Celtic tribes, called Gauls by the Romans, constituted the main ethnic element in the emergence of the French people. These tribes settled on the territory of modern France in the middle of the first millennium B.C. The Roman conquest of Gaul between the late third and the middle of the first century B.C. led to the romanization of Gaul’s population and the establishment of fully developed slaveholding relations, especially in the south. Prolonged Roman domination and the cultural contacts between Romans and Gauls gave rise to the Gallo-Roman people, who spoke Vulgar Latin. The next major event in the ethnic history of France was the invasion of Gaul in the fifth century by Germanic tribes of Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks. Capturing all of Gaul in the sixth century and subjugating the Visigoths and Burgundians, the Franks established the Frankish Kingdom, which by the early ninth century had grown into a vast empire ruled by Charlemagne. The Germanic conquests hastened the disintegration of the slaveholding system and promoted the development of feudal relations. They also led to the rise of new peoples, the northern French and the Provencal, whose respective languages, known as langue d’oil and langue d’oc, subsequently developed out of Vulgar Latin. The south was more romanized, the north more germanized.

The ninth century marked the end of a definite phase in the ethnic history of France. The division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 created the West Frankish Kingdom, roughly corresponding to the area of modern France. Subsequently, the Franks gave their name to the country (France), the people (Français), and the language. The distinctions between the north and the south, which had diverse ethnic roots and which underwent different degrees of romanization and germanization, persisted for a long time and may still be observed today. In the period of feudal fragmentation, dialects and regional cultural characteristics emerged in different provinces. An important step toward national unity and the development of a common spoken and literary language was the political and economic unification of French lands around the Île-de-France, whose capital was Paris. Between the 12th and 14th centuries ethnic and linguistic consolidation proceeded more rapidly and reached deeper in the north than in the south.

The development of a French national culture was accelerated in the 16th century in conjunction with the rise of capitalism, the strengthening of the central government and internal economic ties, the adoption of French as the national language (replacing Latin in the judiciary and bureaucracy), and the flowering of a secular culture. French national culture was further developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, when French hegemony was established in Europe and the royal court became the center of French culture. French served as the language of diplomacy and was spoken by the aristocracy throughout Europe.

Decisive factors in the evolution of the French nation were the French Revolution and the preceding Age of Enlightenment. The philosophy of the Frenchmen of the Enlightenment, notably Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, as well as French classical literature, played an important role in the spread of the French literary language to the provinces, where hitherto local dialects had prevailed. Revolutionary administrative reforms, such as the abolition of the provinces and their customs houses, the establishment of departments, and the introduction of universal military service, as well as reforms in education, helped to erase regional differences and to amalgamate the northern French and Provencal peoples into a single nation.

Despite the modern cultural leveling, the French still have a sense of belonging to certain historical regions, calling themselves Normans, Picards, Burgundians, Auvergnats, or Gascons and keeping alive their local cultural traditions and customs. (See also.)


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Ralia, M. Dva oblika Frantsii. Moscow, 1962.
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“La Civilisation quotidienne.” In Encyclopedie française, vol. 14. Paris, 1955.
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Gramont, S. de. Les Français, portrait d’un peuple. [Paris, 1970.]



the language of the French, spoken by the majority population of France, by part of the population of Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada, and by the people of Haiti and certain former and present French possessions in America and Africa. French is the official and literary language of these countries as well as of Luxemburg, Monaco, Andorra, and a number of African countries, including Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Zaïre, the Congo, Benin, and Burundi. It is one of the official and working languages of the United Nations. The total number of French speakers is approximately 80 million (1974, estimate). French belongs to the Romance group of languages. Its major dialects are Francien, Poitevin, Norman, Picard, Walloon, Lorrain, and Bourguignon. The southeastern dialects of Lyon, Dauphiné, and Savoie represent the Franco-Provençal group of dialects, which are transitional between the French and Provençal languages. In Belgium, Switzerland, and especially in Canada, the standard French language has special characteristics, particularly in vocabulary. Creole languages based on French have developed in Haiti, the Lesser Antilles, and the Mascarene Islands.

French evolved from the vernacular Vulgar Latin of Gaul, which was conquered by the Romans in the first century B.C. Individual words, such as bouleau (“birch tree”), charrue (“plow”), and grève (“beach,” “shore”), have been retained from the language of the Gauls. A more significant lexical subsystem, which includes such words as guerre (“war”), garder (“to preserve,” “to protect”), and heaume (“helmet”), has been retained from the language of the Franks, who conquered Gaul in the fifth century A.D. and were assimilated by the local population. Certain properties of the French sound system and grammar can be explained by the influence of the Gaulish substratum and Germanic superstratum.

The history of the French language is divided into the following periods: Gallo-Roman (fifth-eighth centuries), Old French (ninth-13th centuries), Middle French (14th—15th centuries), Early Modern French (16th century), and Modern French, which is subdivided into Classical (17th—18th centuries) and Contemporary French (since the 19th century). The first examples of French writing date from the eighth century (the Reichenau glosses); the first coherent text—the Strasbourg Oaths—dates from 842. Old French differs significantly from Modern French in phonetics and grammar. Since the 14th century a common form of written French has been developed, based on the Francien dialect. The French national language was established in the 16th century, and its use in official correspondence was made obligatory by a royal decree in 1539, thereby supplanting both local dialects and Latin. In the 17th century a standard linguistic norm was established, which, for the most part, has been retained to the present time. French was used outside of France as early as the Middle Ages, and it came into use as an international language in the 17th and 18th centuries.

French has 15 vowel and 20 consonant phonemes. The vowels include open and close (e, o), labialized (œ, ø, y), and nasal (ā, Ɔ̃, Ɛ̃, æ̃) vowels. There are no diphthongs or affricates. A clear articulation is characteristic; unstressed vowels are not reduced, and consonants are not devoiced. The stress falls on the last syllable of a word. In speech a particular group of words may be combined into a phonetic unit with a single stress.

In its grammatical structure, French is an analytic language. Words are not inflected: case relationships are expressed by means of prepositions or word order; gender, number, and person are often expressed by means of auxiliary words rather than inflection. French uses analytic or compound forms to express verb tense and voice and to form the degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs. Nouns and adjectives are singular or plural in number and have two genders: masculine and feminine. There are three types of articles: definite, indefinite, and partitive. The verb has the categories of person, number (sometimes gender as well), mood, and voice and a ramiform system of tenses. A characteristic of the French language is the existence of two series of pronouns—those used emphatically or after a preposition and those used elsewhere; compare moi (“I,” emphatic) and je (“I,” sentence subject), cela (“this,” emphatic) and ce (“this,” sentence subject). The syntactic structure of French is characterized by the tendency toward two-member sentences with obligatory expression of the subject, the verbal nature of the predicate, the use of constructions with direct transitivity, and a fixed word order that is particularly rigid; in connection with the last, special constructions, isolation, and sentence articulation are used for logical emphasis of words.

The vocabulary of French has been strongly influenced by Classical Latin, so that the system of word formation has a mixed character. A single semantic family of words may combine French words and words borrowed from Latin, for example, lieu (“place”) and local (“local”) and haut (“high”) and altitude (“height”). There are many borrowings from Spanish, Italian, and English, and many scientific terms have been taken from Latin and Greek. There are also borrowings and caiques from Russian. French, in turn, has exerted an important influence on the languages of Europe, for many of which it has served as the major source of borrowings. The French alphabet, which was based on the Latin alphabet, is notable for its frequent use of diacritics (acute, grave, and circumflex accents and the diaeresis) and the abundance of strings of letters denoting a single sound (ai = ε, eau = o). Words and grammatical forms that are identical in pronunciation may be differentiated in writing by the use of silent letters and other devices.


Sergievskii, M. V. Istoriia frantsuzskogo iazyka, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1947.
Bogomolova, O. I. Sovremennyi frantsuzskii iazyk. Moscow, 1948.
Shishmarev, V. F. Kniga dlia chteniia po istorii frantsuzskogo iazyka. Moscow, 1955.
Bally, C. Obshchaia lingvistika i voprosy frantsuzskogo iazyka. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from French.)
Bally, C. Frantsuzskaia stilistika. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from French.)
Stepanov, lu. S. Frantsuzskaia stilistika. Moscow, 1965.
Gak, V. G. Besedy o frantsuzskom slove. Moscow, 1966.
Shcherba, L. V., and M. I. Matusevich. Russko-frantsuzskii slovar’, 9th ed. Moscow, 1969.
Ganshina, K. A. Frantsuzsko-russkiislovar’, 6th ed. Moscow, 1971.
Referovskaia, E. A., and A. K. Vasil’eva. Teoreticheskaia grammatika sovremennogo frantsuzskogo iazyka, 2nd ed., parts 1–2. Leningrad, 1973.
Damourette, J., and E. Pichón. Dès Mots à lapensée: Essai de gram-maire de la langue française, vols. 1–7. Paris, 1911–40.
Brunot, F. Histoire de la langue française des origines à nos jours, vols. 1–13. Paris, 1966–72.
Viatte, A. La Francophonie. Paris, 1969.
Martin, E., and R. Martin. Guide bibliographique de linguistique française. Paris, 1973.
Robert, P. Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française, vols. 1–6. Paris, 1959–64.
Grand Larousse de la langue française, en sept volumes. Paris, 1971–.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A unit of length used to measure small diameters, especially those of fiber optic bundles, equal to ⅓ millimeter.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Fast-forward to today, Excuse My French proudly offers a collection of innovative and extremely comfy signature t-shirts, dreamt up in Paris and crafted in Los Angeles.
Excuse My French is on BBC Two from Tuesday July 18.
ESTHER Rancid advising a lady who complained about her husband's demands (Excuse My French): "I know it's hard for you."
"If you excuse my French it has gone a bit t**s up for them and I hope if we do the same here that things don't change so much here.
Just as French dressings have improved our salads, French polish our furniture and excuse my French has enlivened our conversation.
We're not having, excuse my French, people taking the pee out of us anymore.
An atrocious track called Excuse My French was "leaked" on the net and paraded as Kylie's new single.
This week saw the first episode of Excuse My French - a BBC documentary about Esther Rantzen and Ron Atkinson learning French.
A camera up your bum - excuse my French - with a large piece of cable attached proved to me once and for all I was right to be heterosexual.