Parlez-Vous Français: All Languages Blend Into Each Other

Eiffel tower

Parlez-vous français? Maybe not, but a lot of languages build off of each other through assimilation, and English is a great example. Quite a bit of the English language is derived from French. It began with the Norman Invasion, which brought William the Conqueror and a French nobility to rule over the English-speaking peasantry. Since French was never taught to the lower classes, it didn’t take hold as anything more than an aristocratic language. Nevertheless, the use of French trickled down and was absorbed into the Old English language that evolved to the modern English of today! And over time, the constant intermingling of British and French people added in more and more words. Some terms might be obvious derivatives, like envoy, ballet, and façade. But these four words below might be a bit of a surprise!

Bureaucracy: This word was adapted to English in 1818, from the satiric bureaucratie “rule of the office,” a term created by Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay in the prior century. Used in a critical manner from its first origins, it’s certainly a word we at college have become very familiar with!

Picnic: This word was adapted to English 1750s. It comes from the French pique-nique. Its exact components are contested; the most likely suggestion has been from French piquer “to pick at food” coupled with a rhyming compound or possibly nique as an obsolete Old French term for a “trifle.” Together, the words mean “pick a bit.”

Mortgage: This word was adapted to English in the late 1300s, from the French mort gaige, or a “dead pledge,” so-called because it “died” when the debt was paid or failed. A rather macabre beginning, but suited for a term many dread.

Entrepreneur: This word was adapted into English in 1828, from the French entrepreneur “one who undertakes/manages.” However, it had a very different meaning in English originally, as it denoted a theater manager. Around 1852, it took on the modern meaning of a business manager, particularly one who strikes out on their own to start a new business.

Learning a new language can open many doors. It can build up your resume, let you travel with ease in a foreign country, and let you connect with people in new ways. There’s also a theory called “sapir whorf,” that the syntax of a language affects the way you see the world. Picking up a different language and learning the history of words might just change your worldview. So why wait to start? Kennesaw State University offers students an array of foreign languages to learn from. Students interested in learning a language without the pressure of a syllabus can join KSU’s French Club, Chinese Club, German Club, Korean Club, Spanish Club, and more!

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Kristen Roberson
I’m an English major and professional writing minor with a life-long passion for writing. Writing comes naturally to me, and it is a skill and an art I hope to mold into a lasting career. I particularly enjoy fiction writing, but retain deep love for the research, study, and self-reflection that goes into composing articles, essays, and other nonfictional writing. I also love drawing; particularly people, cats, and landscapes. I hope to inspire others through my writing and art as I have been inspired, and encourage them to reach out, speak out, and build their own voices creatively and professionally.