Langues d'oïl is the linguistic and historical designation of the Gallo-Romance languages originating from the northern territories of Roman Gaul, which today make up northern France, part of Belgium, and the Channel Islands. These languages have all been replaced by Standard French (an oïl variety itself) as the official and predominant language in their territories, except in the Channel Islands, where English is the predominant language.
Care should be taken to differentiate these three uses of the term oïl:
In the ninth century romana lingua (the term used in the Oaths of Strasbourg of 842) was the first of the Romance languages to be recognized by its speakers as a distinct language, probably because it was the most different from Latin compared with the other Romance languages (See History of the French language).
A good number of the developments that we now consider typical of Walloon appeared between the eighth and twelfth centuries. Walloon "had a clearly defined identity from the beginning of the thirteenth century". In any case, linguistic texts from the time do not mention the language, even though they mention others in the Oïl family, such as Picard and Lorrain. During the fifteenth century, scribes in the region called the language "Roman" when they needed to distinguish it. It is not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that we find the first occurrence of the word "Walloon" in the same linguistic sense that we use it today.
The term langue d'oïl was first used in the 1100s. In the 1300s, the Italian poet Dante explained this designation in his De vulgari eloquentia. The poet wrote in Medieval Latin: "nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil" ("some say 'oc', others say 'si', others say 'oïl'"), thereby classifying the Romance languages into three groups: oïl languages (in northern France); oc languages (in southern France) and si languages (in Italy and Iberia). Vulgar Latin had developed different methods of signifying assent: hoc ille ("this (is) it") and hoc ("this"), which became oïl and oc, respectively. Subsequent development changed "oïl" into "oui", as in modern French. Other Romance languages derive their word for "yes" from the Latin sic, "thus", such as the Italian sí, Spanish sí, Catalan sí, Portuguese sim, and even French si (used when contradicting another's negative assertion). Sardinian is an exception in that its word for "yes", eya, is from neither origin.
However, both lingua romana and langue d'oïl did not refer, at their respective time, to a single homogenous language but to mutually intelligible linguistic varieties. In those times, spoken languages in Western Europe were not codified (except Latin and Medieval Latin), people were far less numerous than today, and groups of people were more isolated from each other. As a result, mutually intelligible linguistic varieties were referred to as one language.
It is from this period though that definitions of individual Oïl languages are first found. The Picard language is first referred to by name as "langage pikart" in 1283 in the Livre Roisin. The author of the Vie du bienheureux Thomas Hélye de Biville refers to the Norman character of his writing. The Sermons poitevins of around 1250 show the Poitevin language developing as it straddled the line between oïl and oc.
As a result, in modern times the term langue d'oïl also refers to that Old French which was not as yet named French, but was already used before the late thirteenth century as a literary and juridical interdialectary language.
The term Francien is a linguistic neologism of the nineteenth century to refer to the hypothetical variant of Old French allegedly spoken in the ancient province of Pays de France, the then Paris region later called Île-de-France. This Francien, it is claimed, became the Medieval French language. Current linguistic thinking mostly discounts the Francien theory, although it is still often quoted in popular textbooks. The term francien was never used by the people supposed to speak it, but it could at least be used to refer to that specific tenth-eleventh century variant of langue d'oïl spoken in the Paris region which contributed to the koine, as both were called French at that time.
By the late thirteenth century the written koine had begun to turn into a spoken and written standard language, and was named French. Since then French started to impose itself on the other Oïl dialects as well as on the territories of langue d'oc.
However, the Oïl dialects and langue d'oc continued contributing to the lexis of French.
In the sixteenth century the French language imposed itself even more by the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts to replace Latin in judgements and official acts and deeds (although the local Oïl languages had always been the language respectively spoken in justice courts). It is argued that the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts was not intended to make French a national language, merely a chancery language for law and administration. Although there were competing literary standards among the Oïl languages in the mediaeval period, the centralisation of the French kingdom and its influence even outside its formal borders sent most of the Oïl languages into comparative obscurity for several centuries. The development of literature in this new language encouraged writers to use French rather than their own regional languages. This led to the decline of vernacular literature.
It was the French Revolution which imposed French on the people as the official language in all the territory. As the influence of French (and in the Channel Islands, English) spread among sectors of provincial populations, cultural movements arose to study and standardise the vernacular languages. From the eighteenth century and into the twentieth century, societies were founded (such as the "Société liégoise de Littérature wallonne" in 1856), dictionaries (such as George Métivier's Dictionnaire franco-normand of 1870) were published, groups were formed and literary movements developed to support and promote the Oïl languages faced with competition.
However, until the First World War, the regional languages of France were still the languages most used in the home and in the fields. This was also generally the case in areas where Oïl languages were spoken.
French is now the best-known of the Oïl languages.
For the history of phonology, orthography, syntax and morphology : see History of the French language and the relevant individual Oïl language articles.
Each of the Oïl languages has developed in its own way from the common ancestor, and division of the development into periods varies according to the individual histories. Modern linguistics uses the following terms :
And then for French:
Besides the influence of French literature, small-scale literature has survived in the other Oïl languages. Theatrical writing is most notable in Picard (which maintains a genre of vernacular marionette theatre), Poitevin and Saintongeais. Oral performance (story-telling) is a feature of Gallo, for example, while Norman and Walloon literature, especially from the early nineteenth century tend to focus on written texts and poetry (see, for example, Wace and Jèrriais literature).
As the vernacular Oïl languages were displaced from towns, they have generally survived to a greater extent in rural areas - hence a preponderance of literature relating to rural and peasant themes. The particular circumstances of the self-governing Channel Islands developed a lively strain of political comment, and the early industrialisation in Picardy led to survival of Picard in the mines and workshops of the regions. The mining poets of Picardy may be compared with the tradition of rhyming weaver poets of Ulster Scots in a comparable industrial milieu.
There are some regional magazines, such as Ch'lanchron (Picard), Le Viquet (Norman), Les Nouvelles Chroniques du Don Balleine (Jèrriais), and El Bourdon (Walloon), which are published either wholly in the respective Oïl language or bilingually with French. These provide a platform for literary writing.
Apart from French, an official language in many countries, the Oïl languages have enjoyed little status.
The French government recognises the Oïl languages as Languages of France but has been constitutionally barred from ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
The development of French in North America was influenced by the speech of settlers originating from north-western France, many of whom introduced features of their Oïl varieties into the French they spoke. (See also French language in the United States, French language in Canada)
The Oïl languages in their range from Belgium across northern and central France and the Channel Islands form a dialect continuum. The list takes into account a historical indexation: