How could language constitute a challenge when reading records created in France or French speaking countries? Most researchers might assume that fluency in speaking or reading French would be enough to interpret records of genealogical value. However, as people start reading older records, they quickly find out that the records are not written in a pure standard form of French, but in a variety of French influenced by other native languages and particularly by Latin, which was the main literary language used by Catholic priests.
Because rules regulating the spelling and grammar of French did not become more available and widespread until approximately the 19th century and because most people write the way they speak, spelling will prove a real challenge when reading old French documents. Adding to this challenge are factors such as the influence of Latin on the spelling of French words, and the several variations of French and the differences among them, such as differences in pronunciation resulting in different spellings.
A common example of the influence of pronunciation on the way priests used to spell words is the case of words ending in "y", which is commonly pronounced as the French "i," or the addition of "L" into certain words like ceulx (ceux). So, words like moi or aussi could appear spelled "moy" and "assuy". See the image below showing the word aujourd'hui spelled with a "y."
These French variations also came to the French colonies in Africa and the Americas as settlers and explorers arrived from all parts of France. Their writings in the Americas were also influenced by the tongues spoken by the native inhabitants, particularly in the use of native words and names.
The following map shows a simplified classification of the main languages and dialects found in France today, even though most Frenchmen speak and write the official French language.
This language diversity affected the spelling and grammar of records all throughout the Hispanic world in various degrees. The following Spanish language death record was created in 1837 in the parish of San Miguel in Anglés, province of Girona, Catalonia, Spain.
Because Girona is a Catalan speaking province, we may assume that the priest spoke Catalan, and a close examination of the record shows many instances of words that have been spelled in Catalan or with Catalan influence, such as:
|WORD FROM RECORD||WORD IN SPANISH||WORD IN CATALAN|
|lo||el||lo (dialect), el (standard Catalan)|
seu (standard Catalan)
|sementerio||cementerio||cementiri or cementeri|
|se li||se le||se li|