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Title: A Linguistic Archipelago: The Spread of European French in the Eighteenth Century
Authors: McDonald, Matthew
Advisors: Bell, David A.
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: French Empire
French Europe
French in Germany
History of France
Luxury and Courts
Subjects: European history
French literature
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores the history of French in the eighteenth century as Europe’s hegemonic language for intercultural communication and class-based distinction. French was spoken in courts and cities across the Continent, limited to an archipelago of elites scattered by a wide geography. Their interactions stretched across state borders and led to a gradual homogenization of the European upper classes. At the same time, French excluded many commoners and even French people who were ignorant of their own supposedly “national” language. This project is grounded in archival research conducted in six languages across half a dozen countries. It applies insights from the field of historical sociolinguistics to gain a new understanding of early modern cosmopolitanism. In contrast to Latin, Europe’s previous international language, French was increasingly taught to prominent women as well as men. It provided a vehicle for self-consciously polite conversation and gained associations with fashion and luxury throughout Europe and the Atlantic world. Most significantly, it provided an unprecedented means for elites in isolated areas to associate with an international community. These far-flung elites shared goods and ideas across national borders, and even began to describe themselves as connected “Europeans.” This cosmopolitanism came at a price, though. Even as political and cultural borders became more fluid, European Francophones used their language to preclude other classes and groups from a common sociability. By advancing a history of French from its linguistic periphery, this dissertation proposes a new approach to the transnational history of France. French cultural power reached its height in the period following the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), the same moment that France’s formal empire had shrunk to a series of small islands and trading posts. “A Linguistic Archipelago” builds on work by contemporary historians that explores how an informal French empire expanded beyond the country’s political borders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet by considering earlier instances of linguistic and cultural expansion without formal political control, this dissertation offers a different perspective. A variety of motivations and incentives to use French, which came from within many countries, ultimately came to interact in a European space.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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