Historical frame

Addressees: Students and teachers

The European tradition – Antiquity, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, secularization and scientification, the ‘Age of Discovery’, industrialization and a modern Western lifestyle – have bound our European cultures and languages together, far beyond the Romance family. In the vocabulary of German, Polish, Russian and Dutch… there are large portions of similar words (cognates), especially derived from Latin and ancient Greek.

In Romance territories, Vulgar Latin has always accompanied peoples‘ daily life. Concerning pronounciation, word formation and sentence building, the vernaculars were far from classical patterns (cf. especially the so called “popular words” or mots populaires like lat. AQUA > fr. eau, MAND(U)CARE > fr. manger, it. mangiare), encountered in literature and today’s teaching. These word, particularly present in the spoken registers, must be distinguished from words conveyed by writing and reading. Often, these “learned words” or mots savants have a long-reaching tradition (etimologia remota), enriched by the adaptation to the designation needs of new epochs and societies: To provide two striking examples: The Hellenic ΔEMOKPATÍA/DEMOKRATIA of the Attic polis does not correspond to what means modern democracy with the benchmarks of human rights, people’s sovereignity, one citizen-one vote, separation of powers, political representation allowing the control of large territories. In order to illustrate how far connotation change could go, let us take the example of POPULUS. The mot populaire gave fr. peuple, en. people,… but ge. Pöbel (mob, people with bad manners) as well. The enrichment, conveyed by reading competence of ancient and modern languages, covered wide thematic areas: theology, philosophy, sciences, religion, arts and applications of all kinds, trade and education. Learned words like geometry, astronomie, humor, enthusiasm, Komödie, police, biblioteka, Extase… are of international spread (“de caractère international”). Romance linguistics speaks of “learned filiations” (migrazione dotta). – Furthermore, reborrowing from ancient languages explains duplicates: mère beside maternité, maternel. Obviously, the occidental respublica literaria picked up new vocabulary when times came to meet new naming needs. And modern life asked for new creations, mostly composed of Latin elements (liberalism, communism, digitization…), whereas exotisms like tea, kimono, samovar, potatoe, macho… can be taken as early witnesses of a future globalization.