Reading Old French Aloud

The French language was used throughout Europe in the high middle ages (c. 1000-1250), though the language was not standardized in writing or pronunciation. Several dialects of French find their way into surviving manuscripts. The Francien dialect was spoken in the area surrounding Paris, and it forms the basis for modern French.

Historical linguists have carefully reconstructed the sounds of Francien, leaving us with a good sense of how the language sounded at the time. During the twelfth century, only a very small percentage of the population could read and write, so public performances and readings were vital to spreading the vibrant literary culture of the period. Without hearing these stories aloud, we miss much of the texture of medieval life.

Unfortunately, few are trained in the prosody and pronunciation of medieval French literature.

This site aims to provide students and researchers with tools to facilitate reading the twelfth-century Francien dialect of Old French aloud. We selected Chrétien de Troyes’ twelfth-century “Philomène” as our base text. The story is relatively short, making it an ideal text for classroom use. We assume a basic knowledge of modern French, using it as a comparison to cover basic grammatical structures and pronunciation. A basic introduction to manuscript culture and paleography is also provided. This site is designed to be used independently, allowing users to teach themselves to read passages aloud and transfer those skills to other twelfth-century texts written in the Francien dialect.

It should be noted that Francien refers to a dialect associated with the region including Paris, but scholars have recently called into question the existence of a stable dialect over time in this area. Regardless, we refer to Francien out of tradition and convenience. In fact, Chrétien de Troyes is more readily associated with Champenois, and he would have likely performed his poems in that dialect. Nevertheless, this particular manuscript is written in Francien and our pronunciation guide will help scholars looking to approximate the sound of this and many similar texts.

Site navigation is provided through the menu bars, and while users can jump directly to areas of interest, the beginner will find it useful to start with the first lesson and move sequentially through the site.