Older French texts often use defunct spellings, such as -oi instead of -ai in verb conjugations or spellings that contain consonants that were later dropped, like in doubter. When these texts are read aloud by modern French speakers, are these words read as if they were written with the modern spelling, or is there generally some attempt to pronounce the words according the old spelling? In other words, does one read déchiroit as déchirait and laissoit as laissait in the following?

Pendant que la guerre civile déchiroit la France, sous le regne de Charles IX, l'amour ne laissoit pas de trouver sa place parmi tant de désordres, et d'en causer beaucoup dans son empire.

If yes, does this change with even older texts, where the text cannot be made to fit the conventions of modern French simply by modifying certain (relatively predictable) spellings? For example, at the beginning of Roman de Fauvel, does one read Sui entrez en merencolie (or Sui entres en milencolie, in some other versions) as Suis entré en mélancolie?

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    Some of the spellings changed much later than the pronunciation. You are probably not going to be able to pronounce them authentically without either doing a lot of research or finding expert help. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 11:59
  • @PeterShor I’m not interested in authentic pronunciation here; I’m interested in how modern speakers who discuss these texts read them aloud.
    – Maroon
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


I'm no expert in old French so I can't tell you if we should, but we'd definitely pronounce it as it is written, but following the pronunciation rules of modern French.

So "déchiroit" would be pronounced as "déchiroit" and "entrez" as "entré". That's what a native would say naturally, but I have no idea if that's how they should.

I say "would" because it's really not something we do often, and it would most likely be in the context of studying old texts with a French or history professor (that could probably correct us). We'd be hesitant over the pronunciation of "doubter" (b or no b?) and it would be really hard to guess that "Sui entres" should be pronounced "Suis entré" (if that's the case).

Again, French speakers today don't know how to pronounce old French.

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    Did you mean déchirait above? Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 12:01
  • @PeterShor Nope, if I see -oit I don't have any good reason not to pronounce it -wa. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 12:54
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    But déchirait is the modern French. I see what you're saying, though; you're pronouncing it like the spelling would indicate to in modern French. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 12:58
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    @PeterShor Modern French rules, I mean. Such as "-oi is pronounced wa". We (non-expert French speakers) have no idea how it was actually pronounced at that time, so it's safer to use current French rules. Btw it's not a safe either to assume it was pronounced "-ait" . From what I've seen it seems that it was pronounced "-oé" Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 12:59
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    I don't think there's a "should" here; in English, for anything from Shakespeare's time or later we simply modernize the spelling and pronounce it like we would today (except for cases like porpentine instead of porcupine, where the pronunciation has changed unpredictably). And we generally translate anything substantially older than Shakespeare. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 14:28

Cela dépend d'abord de la compétence du lecteur en matière de prononciation ancienne: s'il ne connaît pas les règles anciennes de prononciation, il n'y a aucun risque qu'il les utilise. Son choix reste donc soit de prononcer comme il lit, soit de prononcer comme si le texte était écrit en français moderne. En l'espèce, il me semble que le -oi- ne se prononçait d'aucune de ces deux façons.

Cela dépend aussi des importances respectives du fond et de la forme dans le contexte de la lecture. On ne lira pas de la même manière au cours d'une conférence de recherche en littérature ancienne, dans un spectacle moderne avec des vrais morceaux d'ancien français dedans, lors de la représentation d'une ancienne pièce de théâtre ou encore pour illustrer une information historique dans un cadre autre que la littérature.

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    Pour clarifier, donc on lit peut-être “laissoit” comme “laissait”, ou “sui entrez en merencolie” comme “suis entré en mélancolie”?
    – Maroon
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:48

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