Appendix:Old French spellings

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search
Wikipedia has an article on:


Old French was a Romance language spoken from approximately 842 to 1339, when it became Middle French. Old French is best described as a dialect continuum with the spelling and pronunciation differing from region to region. Old French was primarily a spoken language and relatively little literature survives. Along with anonymous works, there were some well known authors, notably Marie de France, Thomas of Britain, Rutebeuf, Jean Bodel and Chrétien de Troyes.

Regional variations[edit]

While spelling could vary a lot from one author to another, certain spelling "rules" do exist.

Latin Île-de-France Anglo-Norman Picard Modern French English
camera chambre chambre canbre, cambre chambre bedroom; chamber
jardin jardin gardin jardin garden
ratiō raison, reson raisun reson raison reason
senior seignor, segnor seignur, segnur seignor seigneur lord, sire
computō conter cunter conter compter, conter to count; to tell
*gamba jambe gambe, jambe ganbe jambe leg
habeō avoir aveir avoir avoir to have
dīrectus droit dreit droit droit right; law

  • The Anglo-Norman dialect is characterized by two main features in comparison with "Parisian" Old French. Early Old French -ei- remains in Anglo-Norman but becomes -oi- in standard Old French in the latter half of the 12th century, in words like avoir, droit and savoir (Early Old French and Anglo-Norman aveir, dreit and saveir). This includes conjugated/declined forms:

Franceis veient que paiens i ad tant.

(La Chanson de Roland, circa 1150)

  • The Picard dialect retains the /k/ sound from Latin in words like cevalier, canter and canbre. -iau- replaces -eau- in words like beau (biau). It also uses the -g- where other dialects would use a -j- in words like gardin and ganbe.

Other spellings[edit]

  • Almost all Latin words are greatly reduced, losing their ending, beginning or often both. Latin avunculus becomes oncle, by drop the av-, the -us and changing the u to an o.
  • In some dialects, especially Anglo-Norman, -e- is interchangeable with -ie- in many words, especially words ending -er.
  • Such variation is found much less in standard Old French, and the forms with -ie- are considered standard and should be preferred.
  • Spellings vary not only from text to text, but also within the same text. For example the word moult can be attested as molt, mult, mout, mot and mut. (Standard spelling is early molt, late mout.)
  • An initial h is silent, except in Germanic borrowings. Hence hoste and oste are entirely interchangeable, but honte cannot be spelt onte, because the h is aspirated.

Inflected forms[edit]

Old French inflected forms are sometimes irregular.

  • Words ending in c, f, p usually drop the final letter when an s is added:
  • Words ending in a vowel plus l or il replace this with u when an s is added (which appears as z after il), unless the preceding vowel is also a u in which case the l or il is simply dropped:
  • Words ending in a consonant plus il drop the l before adding s or z (z appears when il indicates a palatal -l- [iʎ], but s appears when il indicates a normal -l- [il]
  • Wording ending in t, the ts is almost always replaced by z, but pronounced /ts/:
  • Wording ending in -al have multiple plurals. Cheval ("horse") has the plurals chevaus, chevals and chevax. X can replace us at the end of a word.
  • Conjugated forms of verbs ending in -der/-dier like comander replace the d with a t or froz for some of the singular present tense forms as following:
  • Similar changes happen to verbs ending in many consonants. In all cases the second and third singular present indicative are regular.
  • Verbs in -ter/-tier like chanter behave much like those in -der.
  • Verbs in -ber, -fer, -per, -ver lose the final consonant in the second and third singular present subjunctive, and devoice the final consonant in the first singular present, e.g. sauver:
  • Verbs in -mer change -m- to -n- before s and t:
  • Verbs in -rmer lose the -m- before s and t:
  • Verbs in -rner similarly lose the -n- before s and t:
  • In general, the changes before inflectional s and t are similar to what happens to nouns and adjectives.