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Study information

Evolution of the French Language

Module titleEvolution of the French Language
Module codeMLF2012
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Zoe Boughton (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

As an advanced learner of French, you will naturally be interested in the origins and history of the language. In this module we examine: 

  • how historical events and political decisions shaped the destiny of the medieval dialect that has become the modern standard language
  • what linguistic, especially phonetic, processes have occurred since spoken Latin, to make the sounds of French distinctive

We also explore etymology and the borrowing of vocabulary from various languages over the centuries. Prerequisites: a good command of French (e.g. MLF1001), and either MLF1103, or willingness to do two weeks ‘catch-up’ work before the module

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to introduce you to both the external and selected aspects of the internal history of the French language, building on knowledge of the phonetics and history of French acquired in MLF1103. The module aims to: 

  • develop your familiarity with linguistic concepts and terminology
  • enhance your understanding of the role of both external socio-political and internal linguistic influences on the historical development of the French language

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate familiarity with the external and selected aspects of the internal history of French
  • 2. Show an enhanced awareness of aspects of French history and society, particularly with regard to their role in the development of the standard language
  • 3. Gain an ability to analyse the sociolinguistic history of French and to give an account of selected linguistic developments, such as historical phonology [sound change] and lexical change

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Understand and use, in written and oral contexts, a range of linguistic terms, and demonstrate an ability to analyse texts linguistically
  • 5. Mount a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, mustering a range of textual or other evidence in its support
  • 6. Access and use critically printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutor(s), and, to a limited extent, discover other useful materials independently
  • 7. Show awareness of the origins and nature of cultural differences between the foreign country and your own
  • 8. Demonstrate an ability to make intelligent use of the Index and Contents of books to locate material relevant to a particular topic

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Acquire reading skills, analysis and evaluation, and presentation skills, written and oral
  • 10. Demonstrate an enhanced ability to monitor your own and others' spoken and written language

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • This module introduces you to both the external and selected aspects of the internal history of the French language. It builds on MLF1103 by allowing you to study the main stages of the development of French within France in greater depth, from the earliest French texts to the linguistic policy of the Revolution and its consequences, which can still be observed today. Where possible, links are established between social and political change and language change. In addition, attention is given to the historical development of the sound system and the vocabulary of French. Knowledge of the phonetics of contemporary French is applied to study of the processes of diphthongisation, palatalisation and nasalisation from Latin to Modern French. [No knowledge of Latin is assumed.]
  • You will become familiar with the influence of other European languages on the vocabulary of French and with some general aspects of etymology. The module is linked thematically with MLF2029 Varieties of French, MLF3034 Sociolinguistics of French and MLF3046 Dialectology in France, but it can be taken independently of these

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching51-hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching101-hour seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Conclusion
Guided independent study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essaexercises in the phonetic transcription of sound changes500 words1-10Individual and collective, written and oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination1002 hours1-10Individual and collective, written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination 1-10Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment. 

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading: 

  • Anthony Lodge, French: From Dialect to Standard [Routledge, 1993]
  • P Richard, A History of the French Language [second edition, Routledge, 1989]

 Recommended for reference: 

  • G Price, The French Language; Present and Past {Grant & Cutler, 1984]
  • G Zink, Phonétique historique du français [PUF, 1986]

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Detailed, topic-based reading lists are distributed in advance of seminars to enable you to make use of the library's rich holdings in the history of French Language, historical phonology and etymology.

Key words search

Historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, French, phonetics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

MLF1001 or equivalent, or native-speaker competence, and normally MLF1103 [students without MLF1103 must email Dr Boughton for permission before opting for this module].

MLF2012 may also be taken by students with both MLF1052 and MLF1103, on condition that a mark of at least 60% is gained in both modules

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date