Old Frankish

Old Frankish was the language of the Franks and it is classified as a West Germanic language. Once it was spoken in areas covering modern Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and adjacent parts of France and Germany.

The Franks are descended from Germanic tribes from the Nordic countries that settled parts of the Netherlands and western Germany during the early Iron Age. From the 4th century they are attested as moving from the Roman Empire into what is now the southern Netherlands and northern Belgium. In the 5th and 6th century they expanded their realm and dominated Roman Gaul completely as well as client states such as Bavaria and Thuringen. The main difference between Frankish and neighbouring Germanic languages is that it is thought to be more 'celticised', probably by Belgic peoples, like for example the Menapii, whose language persisted in the realm of the Franks.

The language of the Franks managed to survive as Old Low Franconian in the north but it was superseded by French in the south. It had some impact on Old French. Old Frankish is not directly attested and is reconstructed from loanwords in Old French, and from Old Dutch.

Old Frankish has introduced the modern French word for the nation, France, to mean "land of the Franks", but except from loanwords, French is not closely related to Frankish. By the year 900 Frankish had evolved into Old Low Franconian (including Old Dutch) in the area that was originally held by Franks of the 4th century, while in Valois and Île-de-France (Paris) it was replaced by Old French as the dominating language.

Old Frankish has also left many etymons in the Walloon language, even more than in French, and not always the same ones. 

The impact of Old Frankish on modern French

Most French words of Germanic origin came from Frankish (most of the others are English loanwords, see Franglais), often replacing the Latin word which would have been used. This can be shown with the examples in the table below.

French Old Low Franconian Dutch or Other Germanic Cognates Latin/Romance
alène "awl" (Sp alesna, It lesina) *alisna MDu elsene, else, Du els L sūbula
alise "whitebeam berry" (OFr alis, alie "whitebeam") *alísō "alder MDu else, Du els, elzeboom "alder", OHG elira, erila, G Erle "alder" non-native to the Mediterranean
baron *baro "freeman" Du bar "serious", OHG baro "freeman", OE beorn "noble" Germanic cultural import
bâtard "bastard" (FrProv bâsco) *bāst "marriage OFris bost "marriage", WFris boaste, boask "marriage" L nothus
bâtir "to build" (OFr bastir "to baste, tie together") *bastian "to bind with bast string" OHG bestan "to mend, patch" L construere (It costruire)
bleu "blue" (OFr blou, bleve) *blao MDu blā, blau, blaeuw, Du blauw L caeruleus "light blue", lividus "dark blue"
bois "wood; woods" *busk "bush; underbrush" MDu bosch, busch, Du bos "bush" L silva "forest" (OFr selve), L lignum "wood" (OFr lein)
broder "to embroider" (OFr brosder, broisder) *brosdōn, blend of *borst "bristle" and *brordōn "to embroider" G Borste "bristle", Du borstel; OS brordōn "to embroider, decorate", brord "needle" L pingere "to paint; embroider" (Fr peindre "to paint")
broyer "to grind, crush" (OFr brier) *brekan "to break" Du breken "to break" LL tritāre (Occ trissar "to grind", but Fr trier "to sort"), LL pistāre (It pestare "to pound, crush", OFr pester), L machīnare (Dalm maknur "to grind", Rom măcina, It macinare)
choisir "to choose" *kiosan "to taste, feel" Du kiezen "to choose", OS/OHG kiosan L eligēre (Fr élire "to elect"), VL exeligēre (cf. It scegliere), excolligere (Cat escollir, Sp escoger, Pg escolher)
chouette "barn owl" (OFr çuete, dim. of choë, choue "jackdaw") *kōwa, kāwa "chough, jackdaw" MDu couwe "rook", Du kauw, kaauw "chough" not distinguished in Latin: L būbō "horned owl", ōtus "id", ulula "screech owl", ulucus (cf. Sp loco "crazy"), noctua
cresson "watercress" *kresso MDu kersse, korsse, Du kers, dial. kors L nasturtium, LL berula (but Fr berle "water parsnip")
danser "to dance" (OFr dancier) *dansōn OHG dansōn "to drag along, trail"; further to MDu densen, deinsen "to shrink back", Du deinzen "to stir; move away, back up", OHG dinsan "to pull, stretch" LL ballare (OFr baller, It ballare, Pg bailar)
déchirer "to rip, tear" (OFr escirer) *skerian "to cut, shear" MDu scēren, Du scheuren VL extracticāre (Prov estraçar, It stracciare), VL exquartiare "to rip into fours" (It squarciare, but Fr écarter "to move apart, distance"), exquintiare "to rip into five" (Cat/Occ esquinçar)
dérober "to steal, reave" (OFr rober) *rōbon "to steal" MDu rōven, Du roven "to steal" L subtrahere "to remove" (It sottrarre "to steal")
écang "scutcher, swingle" *swank "bat, rod" MDu swanc "wand, rod", Du (dial. Holland) zwang "rod"; further to MDu swinghel, swenghel "swingle", Du zwengel, zwingel L pistillum (Fr dial. pesselle "scutcher, swingle')
écran "screen" (OFr escran) *skrank OHG scrank "barrier", G Schrank "cupboard", Schranke "fence" L obex
écrevisse "shrimp, crayfish" (OFr crevice) *krebit Du kreeft "crab", G Krebs "crab" L cammārus "crayfish" (cf. Occ chambre, It gambero, Pg camarão)
éperon "spur" (OFr esporon) *sporo MDu spōre, Du spoor L calcar
étrier "stirrup" (OFr estrieu, estrief) *stīgarēp MDu steegereep, Du (dial. West Flemish) steegreep LL stapia (later ML stapēs), ML saltatorium (cf. MFr saultoir)
flèche "arrow" *fliukka MDu vliecke, OS fliuca, MLG fliecke "long arrow" L sagitta (OFr saete, Pg seta)
franc "free, exempt; straightforward, without hassle" (LL francus "freeborn, freedman") *frank "freeborn; unsubjugated, answering to no one", nasalized variant of *frāki "rash, untamed, impudent" Du (dial. Flemish) vrank "carefree, brazen", OHG franko "free man"; MDu vrec, Du vrek "insolent" L ingenuus "freeborn"
frapper "to hit, strike" *hrappan "to jerk, snatch MDu reppen "to move", Du reppen "to hurry", OHG hraffōn "to snatch", G raffen "to grab" L ferire (OFr ferir)
frelon "hornet" (OFr furlone, ML fursleone) *hurslo MDu horsel, Du horzel L crābrō (cf. It calabrone)
freux "rook" (OFr frox, fru) *hrōk MDu roek, Du roec not distinguished in Latin
garder "to guard" *wardōn MDu waerden, OS wardōn L cavere, servare
givre "frost (substance)" *gibara "slobber" LG Geiber, G Geifer "drool, slobber" L gelū (cf. Fr gel "frost (event); freezing")
grappe "bunch (of grapes)" (OFr crape, grape "hook, grape stalk") *krāppa "hook" MDu crappe "hook", Du (dial. Holland) krap "krank", G Krapfe "hook", (dial. Franconian) Krape "torture clamp, vice" L racemus (Fr raisin "grape", Prov rasim "bunch", Cat raïm, Sp racimo)
guérir "to heal, cure" (OFr garir "to defend") *warian "to protect, defend" MDu weren, Du weeren L sānāre (Sard sanare, Sp/Pg sanar), medicāre (Dalm medcuar "to heal")
guigne "heart cherry" (OFr guisne) *wīksina G Weichsel "sour cherry", (dial. Rhine Franconian) Waingsl, (dial. East Franconian) Wassen, Wachsen non-native to the Mediterranean
hanneton "cockchafer" *hāno "rooster" + -eto (diminutive suffix) with sense of "beetle, weevil" Du haan "rooster", leliehaantje "lily beetle", bladhaantje "leaf beetle", G Hahn "rooster", (dial. Rhine Franconian) Hahn "sloe bug, shield bug", Lilienhähnchen "lily beetle" LL bruchus "chafer" (cf. Fr dial. brgue, beùrgne, brégue), cossus (cf. SwRom coss, OFr cosson "weevil")
héron "heron" *haigro, variant of *hraigro OHG heigaro "heron", G Häher "jackdaw", ON hegri "heron" L ardea
houx "holly" *hulis MDu huls, Du hulst L aquifolium (Sp acebo), later VL acrifolium (Occ grefuèlh, agreu, Cat grèvol, It agrifoglio)
jardin "garden" (VL hortus gardinus "enclosed garden") *gardo Du gaard "garden", OS gardo "garden" L hortus
lécher "to lick" (OFr lechier "to live in debauchery") OLFrk leccōn "to lick" MDu lecken, Du likken, OHG leckōn L lingere (Sard línghere), lambere (Sp lamer, Pg lamber)
maçon "bricklayer" (OFr masson, machun) *mattio "mason OHG mezzo "stonemason", meizan "to beat, cut", G Metz, Steinmetz "mason" VL murator (Occ murador, Sard muradore, It muratóre)
marais "marsh, swamp" *marisk "marsh" MDu marasch, meresch, maersc, Du marsk L paludem (Occ palun, It palude)
osier "osier (basket willow); withy" (OFr osière, ML auseria) *halster LG dial. Halster, Hilster "bay willow" L vīmen "withy" (It vimine "withy", Sp mimbre, vimbre "osier", Pg vimeiro, Cat vímet "withy"), vinculum (It vinco "osier", dial. vinchio, Friul venc)
patte "paw" *patta "foot sole" obs. Du (dial. Flemish) pad, patte, LG Pad "sole of the foot; further to G Patsche "instrument for striking the hand", Patschfuss "web foot", patschen "to dabble", (dial. Bavarian) patzen "to blot, pat, stain LL branca "paw" (Sard brànca, Rom brîncă, but Fr branche "treelimb")
poche "pocket" *poka "pouch" MDu poke, G dial. Pfoch "pouch, change purse" L bulga "leather bag" (Fr bouge "bulge"), LL bursa "coin purse" (Fr bourse "money pouch, purse", It bórsa, Sp/Pg bolsa)
sale "dirty" *salo "pale, sallow" MDu salu, saluwe "discolored, dirty", Du zaluw L succidus (cf. It sucido, Sp sucio, Pg sujo, Ladin scich, Friul soç)
saule "willow" *salha "sallow, pussy willow" OHG salaha, G Salweide "pussy willow", OE sealh L salix "willow" (OFr sauz, sausse)
saisir "to seize, snatch" (ML sacīre "to lay claim to, appropriate") *sakan "to take legal action OS sakan "to accuse", OHG sahhan "to strive, quarrel, rebuke", OE sacan "to quarrel, claim by law, accuse" VL aderigere (OFr aerdre "to seize")
tamis "sieve" (It tamigio) *tamisa MDu temse, teemse, Du teems "sifter" L crībrum (Fr crible "riddle, sift")
tomber "to fall" (OFr tumer "to somersault") *tūmon "to tumble" OS/OHG tūmōn "to tumble", Du tuimelen "to fall" L cædere (obsolete Fr cheoir)
troène "privet" (dialectal truèle, ML trūlla) *trugil "hard wood; small trough" OHG trugilboum, harttrugil "dogwood; privet", G Hartriegel "dogwood", dialectally "privet", (dial. Eastern) Trögel, archaic (dial. Swabian) Trügel "small trough, trunk, basin" L ligustrum
tuyau "pipe; hose" (OFr tuiel, tuel) *þūta MDu tūte "nipple; pipe", Du tuit "spout, nozzle" L canna "reed; pipe" (It/SwRom/FrProv cana "pipe")

Frankish also had an influence on Latin itself; Latin words with Frankish roots include sacire, meaning "seize" (from Frankish sekjan, related to English "seek").

English also has many words with Frankish roots, usually through Old French eg. random (via Old French randon, from rant "a running"), scabbard (via Anglo-French *escauberc, from *skar-berg), grape, stale, march (via Old French marche, from *marka) among others.

Most Germanic words (especially ones from Frankish) with the phoneme w, changed it to gu when entering French and other Romance languages. Perhaps the best known example is the Frankish werra (compare English "war"), which entered modern French as guerre and guerra in Italian, Occitan, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese.

There were five primary sources for Germanic borrowings in French:

  • early borrowings that were either widespread in Late Latin or at least common to a large part of the Mediterranean (S. Gaul, Spain), from Goths or Visigoths
    • choisir, guerre, heaume, riche, rôtir
  • Germans from around the Rhine, when Trier became the capital (also counterbalanced by mutual borrowing INTO Western Germanic)
    • blesser, fourbir, garder vs. Kampf, kaufen, Kelch, Keller, Essig, Winzer
  • confederates, settlers, liegemen (læti)
    • bâtir, maçon, crosse, haie, grêle, jardin
  • Salian Franks (Merovingian period) 6thc-9thc
    • gagner, haïr, laid, Chilperic, Merovingian-period onomastics
  • Rhineland Franks (Carolingian period) 9thc.-early10thc.
    • tiois, and cavalry vocabulary - éperon, étrier, haubert

Notes and References

See also

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