Oïl language: Wikis


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The geographical spread of the Oïl languages (except French) can be seen in shades of green and yellow on this map

Langues d'oïl (pronounced: [lɑ̃g ˈdɔɪl]) is the linguistic and historical designation of the Gallo-Romance languages originating from the northern territories of Roman Gaul, which today make up northern France, part of Belgium, and the Channel Islands. These languages have all been replaced by Standard French (an oïl variety itself) as the official and predominant language in their territories, except in the Channel Islands, where English is the predominant language.


Meanings and disambiguation

Langue d'oïl (in the singular), Oïl dialects and Oïl languages (in the plural) refer to all the ancient northern Gallo-Romance languages as well as their modern-day descendants. They share many common linguistic features, one of them being the word oïl for yes (oc was and still is the southern word, hence langue d'oc or Occitan language). The most widely spoken modern Oïl language is French (oïl was pronounced [o-il] or [o-i], which has become [wi] in modern French oui).

There are three uses of the term oïl:

  1. Langue d'oïl
  2. Oïl dialects
  3. Oïl languages

Langue d'oïl

In the singular, Langue d'oïl refers to the reciprocally intelligible linguistic variants of romana lingua spoken since the ninth century in territories now occupied by northern France and part of Belgium (Wallonia), as well as those spoken since the tenth century in the Channel Islands, and between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries in England (Anglo-Norman language). Langue d'oïl has been used, in the singular, since as far back as the twelfth century to refer to this ancient linguistic grouping as a whole. Consequently, with this meaning, in the singular, it is sometimes used to refer to Old French (see History below).

Oïl dialects

In the plural, Oïl dialects refer to the varieties of the ancient langue d'oïl.

Oïl languages

In the plural, Oïl languages refer to those modern-day descendants considered as having evolved in their own way separately from the varieties of the ancient langue d'oïl. Consequently langues d'oïl is used to apply either to all the modern-day languages of this family except the French language, or to this family including French. Oïl dialects is also used to refer to the Oïl languages (except French) as some modern-day Oïl languages are very close to French. However, the term dialect is sometimes considered pejorative, and since the latter half of the twentieth century the tendency in French has been to refer to these languages as langues d'oïl rather than dialects.


Romana lingua

In the ninth century romana lingua (the term used in the Oaths of Strasbourg of 842) was the first of the Romance languages to be recognized by its speakers as a distinct language, probably because it was the most different from Latin compared with the other Romance languages (See History of the French language).

A good number of the developments that we now consider typical of Walloon appeared between the eighth and twelfth centuries. Walloon "had a clearly defined identity from the beginning of the thirteenth century". In any case, linguistic texts from the time do not mention the language, even though they mention others in the Oïl family, such as Picard and Lorrain. During the fifteenth century, scribes in the region called the language "Roman" when they needed to distinguish it. It is not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that we find the first occurrence of the word "Walloon" in the same linguistic sense that we use it today.

Langue d'oïl

The term langue d'oïl was first used in the 1100s. In the 1300s, the Italian poet Dante explained this designation in his De vulgari eloquentia. The poet wrote in Medieval Latin: "nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil" ("some say 'oc', others say 'si', others say 'oïl'"), thereby classifying the Romance languages into three groups: oïl languages (in northern France); oc languages (in southern France) and si languages (in Italy and Iberia). Vulgar Latin had developed different methods of signifying assent: hoc ille ("this (is) it") and hoc ("this"), which became oïl and oc, respectively. Subsequent development changed "oïl" into "oui", as in modern French. Other Romance languages derive their word for "yes" from the Latin sic, "thus", such as the Italian , Spanish , Catalan , Portuguese sim, and even French si (used when contradicting another's negative assertion). Sardinian is an exception in that its word for "yes", eya, is from neither origin.

However, neither lingua romana nor langue d'oïl referred, at their respective time, to a single homogenous language but to mutually intelligible linguistic varieties. In those times, spoken languages in Western Europe were not codified (except Latin and Medieval Latin), the region's population was considerably lower than today, and population centers were more isolated from each other. As a result, mutually intelligible linguistic varieties were referred to as one language.

French (Old French/Standardized Oïl) or lingua Gallicana

In the thirteenth century these varieties were recognized and referred to as dialects ("idioms") of a single language, the langue d'oïl. However, since the previous centuries a common literary and juridical "interdialectary" langue d'oïl had emerged, a kind of koiné. In the late thirteenth century this common langue d'oïl was named French (françois in French, lingua gallica or gallicana in Medieval Latin). Both aspects of "dialects of a same language" and "French as the common langue d'oïl" appear in a text of Roger Bacon, Opus maius, who wrote in Medieval Latin but translated hereafter: "Indeed, idioms of a same language vary amongst people, as it occurs in the French language which varies in an idiomatic manner amongst the French, Picards, Normans and Burgundians. And terms right to the Picards horrify the Burgundians as much as their closer neighbours the French".

It is from this period though that definitions of individual Oïl languages are first found. The Picard language is first referred to by name as "langage pikart" in 1283 in the Livre Roisin. The author of the Vie du bienheureux Thomas Hélye de Biville refers to the Norman character of his writing. The Sermons poitevins of around 1250 show the Poitevin language developing as it straddled the line between oïl and oc.

As a result, in modern times the term langue d'oïl also refers to that Old French which was not as yet named French, but was already used before the late thirteenth century as a literary and juridical interdialectary language.

The term Francien is a linguistic neologism of the nineteenth century to refer to the hypothetical variant of Old French allegedly spoken in the ancient province of Pays de France, the then Paris region later called Île-de-France. This Francien, it is claimed, became the Medieval French language. Current linguistic thinking mostly discounts the Francien theory, although it is still often quoted in popular textbooks. The term francien was never used by the people supposed to speak it, but it could at least be used to refer to that specific tenth-eleventh century variant of langue d'oïl spoken in the Paris region which contributed to the koine, as both were called French at that time.

Rise of French (Standardized Oïl) versus other Oïl languages

For political reasons it was in Paris and Île-de-France that this koine developed from a written language to a spoken language. Already in the twelfth century Conon de Béthune reported about the French court who blamed him for using words of Artois.

By the late thirteenth century the written koine had begun to turn into a spoken and written standard language, and was named French. Since then French started to impose itself on the other Oïl dialects as well as on the territories of langue d'oc.

However, the Oïl dialects and langue d'oc continued contributing to the lexis of French.

In the sixteenth century the French language imposed itself even more by the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts to replace Latin in judgements and official acts and deeds (although the local Oïl languages had always been the language respectively spoken in justice courts). It is argued that the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts was not intended to make French a national language, merely a chancery language for law and administration. Although there were competing literary standards among the Oïl languages in the mediaeval period, the centralisation of the French kingdom and its influence even outside its formal borders sent most of the Oïl languages into comparative obscurity for several centuries. The development of literature in this new language encouraged writers to use French rather than their own regional languages. This led to the decline of vernacular literature.

It was the French Revolution which imposed French on the people as the official language in all the territory. As the influence of French (and in the Channel Islands, English) spread among sectors of provincial populations, cultural movements arose to study and standardise the vernacular languages. From the eighteenth century and into the twentieth century, societies were founded (such as the "Société liégoise de Littérature wallonne" in 1856), dictionaries (such as George Métivier's Dictionnaire franco-normand of 1870) were published, groups were formed and literary movements developed to support and promote the Oïl languages faced with competition. Until the First World War, the regional languages of France were still the languages most used in the home and in the fields. This was also generally the case in areas where Oïl languages were spoken.

French is now the best-known of the Oïl languages.


Five different zones of Oïl languages have been proposed[1]:

Picard, Walloon, Lorrain, Norman (north of the ligne Joret), eastern Champenois
  • Francien zone (zone francienne)
varieties of the Île-de-france: Orléanais, Tourain, western Champenois, Berrichon, Bourbonnais
Burgundian, Franc-Comtois
Gallo, Norman (south of the ligne Joret), Angevin
  • Poitevin-Saintongeais zone (zone poitevine and zone saintongeaise, after the former provinces of Poitou and Saintonge)

For the history of phonology, orthography, syntax and morphology : see History of the French language and the relevant individual Oïl language articles.

Each of the Oïl languages has developed in its own way from the common ancestor, and division of the development into periods varies according to the individual histories. Modern linguistics uses the following terms :

And then for French:

  • Middle French for the period fourteenth-fifteenth centuries.
  • Sixteenth century : "français Renaissance" (Renaissance French language).
  • français du 17e et du 18e siècle or français classique (Classical French).
  • Then the terms : français du 19e siècle, nineteenth century French, français du 20e siècle, etc.


The Oïl languages have literary traditions, as for example seen in this nineteenth century collection of Jèrriais short stories

Besides the influence of French literature, small-scale literature has survived in the other Oïl languages. Theatrical writing is most notable in Picard (which maintains a genre of vernacular marionette theatre), Poitevin and Saintongeais. Oral performance (story-telling) is a feature of Gallo, for example, while Norman and Walloon literature, especially from the early nineteenth century tend to focus on written texts and poetry (see, for example, Wace and Jèrriais literature).

As the vernacular Oïl languages were displaced from towns, they have generally survived to a greater extent in rural areas - hence a preponderance of literature relating to rural and peasant themes. The particular circumstances of the self-governing Channel Islands developed a lively strain of political comment, and the early industrialisation in Picardy led to survival of Picard in the mines and workshops of the regions. The mining poets of Picardy may be compared with the tradition of rhyming weaver poets of Ulster Scots in a comparable industrial milieu.

There are some regional magazines, such as Ch'lanchron (Picard), Le Viquet (Norman), Les Nouvelles Chroniques du Don Balleine [1] (Jèrriais), and El Bourdon (Walloon), which are published either wholly in the respective Oïl language or bilingually with French. These provide a platform for literary writing.


Bilingual street sign for market square in French and Walloon

Apart from French, an official language in many countries, the Oïl languages have enjoyed little status.

Currently Walloon, Lorrain (under the local name of Gaumais) and Champenois have the status of regional languages of Wallonia.

The Norman languages of the Channel Islands enjoy a certain status under the governments of their Bailiwicks and within the regional and lesser-used language framework of the British-Irish Council.

The French government recognises the Oïl languages as Languages of France but has been constitutionally barred from ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. [2]


Signage in Gallo in the metro of Rennes

The English language was heavily influenced by contact with Norman following the Norman Conquest and much of the adopted vocabulary shows typically Norman features.

The French spoken in Belgium shows some influence from Walloon.

The langues d'oïl were more or less influenced by the native languages of the conquering Germanic tribes, notably the Franks.

The development of French in North America was influenced by the speech of settlers originating from north-western France, many of whom introduced features of their Oïl varieties into the French they spoke. (See also French language in the United States, French language in Canada)

List of Oïl dialects and Oïl languages

Modern linguists still divide the Romance languages spoken in France (especially Medieval France) into three geographical subgroups: Langue d'oïl and Langue d'oc are the two major groups; the third group, Franco-Provençal (Arpitan), is considered a transitional language between the two other groups.

The Oïl languages in their range from Belgium across northern and central France and the Channel Islands form a dialect continuum. The list takes into account a historical indexation:

  • Southern Oïl languages

Creoles derived from French

Creole languages and pidgins developed from a basis of French are sometimes included among the Oïl languages (see French-based creole languages).

Languages/dialects with significant Oïl influence

See also


  • Paroles d'Oïl, Défense et promotion des Langues d'Oïl, Mougon 1994, ISBN 2905061952
  • Les langues régionales, Jean Sibille, 2000, ISBN 208035731X

External links


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