I have recently heard about what my French teacher refers to as, "The Re-latinization" of French which was when, I believe in the 15th or 16th century some people reformed French to make it more latinized. I looked this up and found nearly no information whatsoever on this and the only thing I know about this is that because of the re-latinization, a circumflex was added to certain letters to make it know that there used to be an "s" there. For example "forêt" as opposed to, "forest".

Anyhow, what I'm wondering is whether there is another name that this relatinization is known by so that when I look it up I can find more information on the internet about it.

  • "Reformed latin to make it more latinized"....I like it. Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:26
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    @Aerovistae, Thanks, I was typing this question rather quickly and didn't see that mistake; thanks for telling me. :) Commented May 17, 2016 at 2:43
  • You didn't find anything because speaking about "re-latinization" is just wrong. The circumflex was introduced in the 1740 edition of the dictionary of the Académie Française (but had been used by the copyist monks since the Middle-ages) to replace the letter S in the words of Latin etymology that still had one in their spelling although it had stopped being pronounced since the 10th century. The only relationship to Latin could be said that it was a step away from Latin by removing a letter present in the Latin root.
    – None
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 6:04
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    There is a good post on the circumflex on FL, it's in French. Also wikipedia in English.
    – None
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 6:04
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    Found something about re-Latanization of French but as you see it has nothing to do with the circumflex.
    – None
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


This an interesting phenomenon that actually did occur with all Romance languages to different degrees, not solely French. The phenomenon of ''re-latinization'' is often a stronger term for what actually happened, aside from the Romanian context which was more preeminent, and operated a little bit more forcefully with languages having a linguistic superstratum like French, Spanish and Romanian (Romanian making the biggest 180 after a strong morphological change in their language, namely declensional patterns which they got from Slavic influence and not Latin as Vulgar latin was down to three cases and two distinct declensional endings).

The example you give isn't one of them, however. Quite the reverse, actually. The circumflex accent is actually a diacritic from Ancient Greek which indicated a hiatus (linguistic pause) as a remnant of the forgotten ''s'' often dropped when it was followed by a consonant, especially when followed by a t (difficulty to follow the s sound when followed by a consonne occlusive alvéolaire sourde, more often than not because of the articulatory defect exacerbated because of the Frankish superstrate influence. Ironically, it was integrated in the French orthography when people had stopped respecting the hiatus, but this is more of a detachment from Latin than anything else.

There are lexical, morphological and even etymological examples which give an understanding of relatinization for Romance languages, the lexicon being one they all share.

For instance, "doigt" French for "finger", was spelt, after linguistic transformations from the original Latin word (DIGITUM), -doi. Through etymological hyper-correction, some grammarians reintroduced the /gt/ as a graphical remnant of the Latin influence. This is a form of relatinization.

One all Romance languages share (and English!) is lexical reintroduction through doublets and triplets. For instance, the word "people", peuple, pueblo, popolo, etc. all come from the Latin word (POPULUS), late and archaic Latin already suffering from linguistic truncation <POPLUS.> Instead of creating new words with existing particles or compounding particles, we decided to give a new meaning to the original Classical Latin word and keeping it closer to the original orthography, (POPULUS) giving respectively: Population (ENG), Population (FR), población SPA, populazione ITA, etc. These are forms of lexical relatinizations, or "latinization" for ENG as it isn't a Romance language per se.


Actually I'm pretty damn sure the circumflex replaced the unpronounced instead of the s being deleted from spelling because at the time the vowels in question were still pronounced different, not "to make it know that there used to be an s there" (in fact in some cases the circumflex marked the merger of vowels, as in âge, and I'm pretty sure in one case the lost consonant was a c).

The s had existed for so long precisely because it still marked something useful in the spelling (at least until the 14th), not because of "latinization" (re- or otherwise). In fact, the circumflex still indicates difference in vowel quality in many dialects other than Southern or Parisian French (if someone can't spell pâte and patte apart, you can tell they're most likely to speak one of those two dialects!).

A difference which I believe is unique to Quebec is that the circumflex on and ê still mark a difference in several words so that the following words don't rhyme:

  • maître and mettre
  • faîte/fête and faite
  • bête and bette
  • même and m'aime
  • rêve and crève
  • See also voûte from old French volte and dîme from Old French dixme from Latin decima. The circumflex wasn't just for show, as both words are still pronounced with a long vowel by most Belgians. With that said, the presence or absence of a circumflex is sometimes baffling, compare voûte with douce, also deriving from a vocalized L (o.fr dulse), and also pronounced long where vowel length has been retained, yet lacking a circumflex. Commented May 17, 2016 at 17:43
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    Oh, and that bit with ê is true of Belgium and probably Switzerland too, although I have a long vowel in même and m'aime both, ditto rêve and crève. Commented May 17, 2016 at 17:48
  • As @Eauquidort mentions, it seems that there is not such a one-to-one correspondence between spelling and vowel length in many accents (also mentioned here: Pronunciation of “freiner”)
    – sumelic
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 19:37
  • @Eauquidort If I understand Grevisse (Bon Usage 14e ed.§104 H1) right, it is the accent in voûte, rather than its absence in doux, that seems to be anomalous and unexplained (as far as I can tell, by the time the circumflex was widely adopted, the word was no longer commonly written with a mute consonant to justify the introduction of the accent).
    – Circeus
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 0:25

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