Obviously, the French speak French and the English speak English. However, it is very interesting to see from Shakespeare’s plays, how little French has changed in 400 years in comparison with the English language. In Acts 3 and 4 of Henry V there are two scenes written in French (Scenes IV in both). Pistol, the English soldier says to a captured Frenchman, “Yield, cur”. We no longer use ‘yield’ but ‘surrender’. Nor do we use ‘cur’ for ‘dog’. The captured French soldier appeals to Pistol’s better qualities with, “Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité”. = ‘I think you are a gentleman of good quality.’ There is nothing in that sentence that cannot be understood by a modern French person. Pistol replies with, “Qualtitie calmie custure me. Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name? Discuss.” Language that is incomprehensible today. I will quote another exchange because ‘calmie custure me’ is debated as inaccurate by scholars.“Ô Seigneur Dieu!” says the Frenchman, to which Pistol retorts, “O Seigneur Dew should be a gentleman. Perpend my words, O Seigneur Dew, and mark: O Seigneur Dew, thou diest on point of fox, except, O Seigneur, thou do give to me egregious ransom.” In twenty-first century English we no longer use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ nor the ending ‘-est’ on verbs, and few would know that ‘a fox’ was a term for a sword! “Ô, prenez miséricorde! Ayez pitié de moi!” =Have mercy! Have pity on me.’ “Est-il impossible d’échapper la force de ton bras?” = ‘Is it impossible to escape from the strength of your arms?’ The Frenchman continues in language perfectly understandable 400 years later. We have to thank the members of the Académie Française, which was founded in 1635 for their work of codifying the rules of grammar and the spelling of the French language, for sticking to the task so tenaciously.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.