Why Is French So Different From Other Romance Languages?

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| By : Louise
Born in Cameroon and adopted at 1 year in France. I spent all my childhood in Alsace before studying in Paris. I like to defend my beautiful country with its strengths and weaknesses. Find me on Linkedin and CV.

Bonjour bonjour, its Louise !

The other day during a discussion with Tim, an american friend who was visiting France, we were talking about learning languages and especially French.

Tim knows more than 5 languages but he asked me a question about French language :

Why is French so different from other romance languages?

Tim (my friend!)

So I tried to explain it to him in my own way and with my little knowledge of French history !

Don’t hesitate to complete or rectify my words in comments 😉


why is french so different from other romance languages?

1. Welcome To France And Its Unique Language

Welcome to France, a country rich in history and culture!

While you’re here, you’ll have the chance to explore the beautiful and charming French language.

Overview of Romance languages

French is part of the Romance language family.

Romance languages include other popular languages like : Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Although they share similarities, each has its unique features.

French’s distinct sound and its appeal

French is a beautiful and romantic language.

French captivates many with its unique pronunciation and intonation.

Delve into the intriguing history that has shaped the distinct sound of French.

2. Historical Influences Shaping French

Gaul and its Celtic origins

Before France became France, it named as “Gaul“, a region inhabited by Celtic tribes.

The Celtic language spoken in Gaul influenced the local dialects.

It planting the seeds for the unique features of the French language we know today.

Roman conquest and the Latin influence

As the Romans expanded their empire, they conquered Gaul and introduced Latin to the region between 57 and 51 before JC.

Over time, Latin mixed with the local Celtic language.

It creating a distinct blend of sounds and grammar rules that laid the foundation for Old French.

Frankish invasions and Germanic impact

French was further shaped by the Germanic language of the Franks, a group of people who invaded Gaul (year 405-406).

Their influence is still felt in modern French, with many words and sounds stemming from the Old Frankish language.

For instance, the French word “guerre” (meaning “war“) comes from the Frankish word “werra.”

3. Phonological Peculiarities

Nasal vowels

One unique feature of French is its nasal vowels.

They occur when air passes through the nose and mouth while pronouncing certain vowel sounds.

For example, the French word “vin” (meaning “wine“) showcases a nasal vowel in its pronunciation.

Consonant shifts

French has experienced several consonant shifts that differentiate it from other Romance languages.

Lenition softened some consonants, while palatalization changed others’ pronunciation.

Many final consonants in French dropped over time.

Take the word “petit” (meaning “small“), where the final “t” is silent.

French liaison and elision

Liaison and elision are two phonetic phenomena that impact French pronunciation.

Liaison occurs when a consonant at the end of a word is pronounced with the following vowel.

Like in “petit ami” (meaning “boyfriend“), while elision is the removal of a vowel sound before another vowel.

4. Spelling and Orthography

French diacritics and accent marks

Diacritics, or accent marks, play a vital role in French spelling and pronunciation.

They indicate changes in pronunciation, distinguish homonyms, or affect word meaning.

Examples : the acute accent (é) and grave accent (è) in “élève” (meaning “student“) differentiates it from “élevé” (meaning “raised“).

Silent letters

Silent letters are a common feature of French spelling.

They often appear at the end of words and can provide important grammatical information.

Example : in the word “chat” (meaning “cat” for male), the final “t” is silent We said “/cha/” in masculine form.

In feminine form, we said “chatte” (meaning “cat” for female).

5. Vocabulary Influences and Lexical Borrowing

Old Frankish’s impact on French vocabulary

The Germanic influence of Old Frankish shaped French vocabulary.

Many words in modern French have Germanic origins, such as “guerre” (meaning “war“), which comes from the Frankish word “werra.”

Loanwords from other languages

French has borrowed words from various languages throughout its history, enriching its vocabulary.

Some examples include :

  • weekend” from English
  • jazz” from American English
  • caravane” from Arabic
  • ballet” from Italian.

Comparing lexical borrowing in French and other Romance languages

While French has a significant number of loanwords, other Romance languages have also borrowed vocabulary from different sources.

For example, Spanish has adopted words like fútbol” from English and “naranja” from Arabic.

This constant exchange of words across languages adds to the richness and diversity of the Romance language family.

Learning French :

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