By investigating into historical documents like Oaths of Strasbourg and applying the comparative method, modern linguists are able to know French is a Romance language. When the components of historical linguistics were not yet available, what were educated people's opinions towards the relation between French and Latin?

When, for example, priests were instructed to give their homily in "rustica lingua romana" by Council of Tours in 813, did they know that the various "rustica lingua romana" were descendants of Latin, and the word "Romance" is not only a geological concept but also an appropriate label for genetic relations of vernaculars?

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    Not sure who wants to close this as opinion based, but I'm not sure it's suitable for linguistics. This is more of a historical question, and in my opinion should be moved there. But it is interesting to ask. I believe that knowledge never was truly lost, but I'm not sure of any primary sources offhand that directly discuss the matter.
    – cmw
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 4:28
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    @Cerberus But it's not really asking from a linguistic perspective, but a historical one. When did X people think Y, not when did x language change to Y.
    – cmw
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 4:49
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    Of course literate persons like priests and monks knew the vernaculars like Spanish and French and Italian and Portuguese etc. came from Latin. I suggest you read "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 14:53
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    @cmw: The history of linguistics, then?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 15:56
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    I agree that this question is asking for a historical perspective, rather than a linguistic one, so would be better served on that site
    – Tristan
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 8:27

1 Answer 1


It was the other way around: at some point people realized that French was not Latin (i.e., it was no more vulgar Latin=colloquial language, but a language in its own right.) Similar thing happened to other descendants of Latin - like Spanish or Portuguese.

Wikipedia on the History of French:

Frankish had a determining influence on the birth of Old French, which partly explains that Old French is the earliest-attested Romance language, such as in the Oaths of Strasbourg and Sequence of Saint Eulalia. The new speech diverged so markedly from the Latin that it was no longer mutually intelligible. The Old Low Frankish influence is also primarily responsible for the differences between the langue d'oïl and langue d'oc (Occitan) since different parts of Northern France remained bilingual in Latin and Germanic for several centuries, which correspond exactly to the places in which the first documents in Old French were written.

(emphasis is mine)

Note that the name of the language itself, français is a reference to Franks (aka language of the Franks), of which the most famous is Charlemagne (Karl the Great), who has personally done quite a lot to encourage literacy. In particular, the description of one of his minor military campaigns, The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland), is regarded as the first major work in the French language.

Rusticam romanam linguam

A Council of Tours in 813 decided that priests should preach sermons in rusticam romanam linguam (rustic romance language) or Theodiscam (German), a mention of Vulgar Latin understood by the people, as distinct from the classical Latin that the common people could no longer understand. This was the first official recognition of an early French language distinct from Latin.

In other words, up to this point Old French and Latin had been treated as the same language.

The Oaths of Strasbourg, considered as the first extant text in French, was written in 842, i.e., after the council of Tours of 813. The text was apparently explicitly written in the local Romance dialect, rather than in proper Latin.

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