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Question

Is there a foundational or uniquely preeminent body of writing to the French language in the order of what Homer, Cicero, Dante, Martin Luther, Shakespeare and Pushkin may be to their respective languages?

Background

I am not asking who is the greatest French writer. It's a question about reputation. I came to know of the "unique preeminence" of these other fellows just by living, not through any particular interest. (Sort of the same way I came to know about Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee or Jimi Hendrix.) If there is a similar name for French letters or the language, I wonder how I could have missed it.

Feel free to knock out any particular name from Homer etc.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

On désigne parfois en effet la langue française avec la périphrase « la langue de Molière » (18e), mais certains ont parlé de la langue de Voltaire, d'Hugo ; ou de la langue de Tremblay pour le joual québécois par exemple. D'aucuns l'ont dit, au delà de la périphrase, il s'agit d'une question de perspective, d'époque etc., c'est un choix. D'autre part, ce ne sont pas tous les auteurs dont la contribution est célébrée de leur vivant. Et il prend aussi un certain temps pour qu'on traite des auteurs au lexique selon l'époque : Victor Hugo par exemple, contemporain du Littré, n'y est pas un des principaux auteurs cités. On peut se prêter par curiosité à l'analyse quantitative des sources lexicographiques. Voici des données compilées à partir d'un petit échantillon de deux dictionnaires papiers bien connus, pour donner une idée :

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Tableaux extraits de L'exemple lexicographique dans les dictionnaires français contemporains : Actes des »Premières Journées allemandes des dictionnaires« (Klingenberg am Main, 25-27 juin 2004), Michaela Heinz, ed. de Gruyter, 2005

Il s'agit de l'impact au lexique, et non pas directement de l'impact sur la langue, mais ça reste intéressant. Au 19e, il est difficile de passer sous silence l'impact de Victor Hugo, un personnage aux dimensions historiques importantes, ou Émile Zola, avec l'affaire Dreyfus, en plus de son œuvre, parmi tant d'autres (pour un topo littérature, voir ceci) ; certains auteurs prennent part à l'histoire de manière marquante et en sont donc des auteurs emblématiques. Il y a aussi des maîtres classiques qu'on associe à certains types d'œuvres. Par exemple, on enseigne parfois les fables de La Fontaine aux enfants. Certains auteurs comme Jules Verne ont été beaucoup traduits et leur œuvre est très connue et populaire...

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We often call the French language "la langue de Molière".

Molière was a playwright and actor who lived in the 17th century, and he is well-known for his comedies such as "Tartuffe" or "L'Avare".

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5  
To make a comparison, we call French "la langue de Molière" and English "la langue de Shakespeare", so yes, in regard to the question, this answer is particularly relevant. – Chop Jan 29 at 11:43
3  
Even if we nickname French la langue de Molière, I don't think Molière was more foundational for French than a long list of authors; we can't say he shaped French like Shakespeare shaped English or Dante Italian. – Un francophone Jan 29 at 14:48
    
@Un francophone Do you mean: (a) Molière is generally thought to be a Shakespeare or Dante for French, but you disagree; or (b) people generally don't think his place in French is comparable to that of S. in English or D. in Italian? If (b), what does the nickname signify then? – Catomic Jan 29 at 15:03
6  
@Catomic, b. Molière is an important author among others. I don't think choosing Molière over Rabelais, Racine or others in that expression has any meaning. – Un francophone Jan 29 at 15:24

I'd like to mention La Fontaine -- a contemporary of Molière, but read in primary school (so arguably more "foundational"), and (like Shakespeare's in English) many of his phrases have become proverbial.

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Lately reading this question and its answers, precisely this:

I am not asking who is the greatest French writer. It's a question about reputation.

I suddenly came to my mind that probably none of them was really an answer to the question!

No offense to the authors: I find all answers pertinent.
The problem is that they all come from French sources (stated in profile for two authors, the third answer clearly identifyings its French sources), while French people obviously have a wider knowing of French writers, so it's quite difficult for them to designate one writer among a lot of them: I'm French and I feel so!

Now accurately looking at the question:

Is there a foundational or uniquely preeminent body of writing to the French language in the order of what Homer, Cicero, Dante, Martin Luther, Shakespeare and Pushkin may be to their respective languages?

then we must realize that it regards worldwide known people, and this is probably quite different from the reputation they have at French eyes.

So I actually think that, strangely, a truly good answer could only come from compilation of not French people, worldwide.

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I'm somewhat disconcerted: this answer has been downvoted, without any comment. I could understand that one disagrees, but he should explain why. – cFreed Feb 6 at 23:35
    
@comethapaxd'ajax Read your comment I realize I didn't be clear enough in the introduction of my answer. So I edited it: hopefully it'll explain you what I mean. – cFreed Feb 8 at 1:33

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