It’s not the things you don’t know…

…that get you in trouble; it’s the things you know that aren’t true.

The Story of FrenchI’ve been reading The Story of French, by Nadeau and Barlow. Just as knowing another language is like knowing another form of thinking, learning about the growth of another language is like finding out how different someone else’s life history is from your own.

I’ve learned many things I hadn’t known, including how English was influenced by both Norman and Parisian French. As they note, warranty and guarantee “are the same word, pronounced with a Norman and a Françoys accent respectively.”

(Françoys was the Frankish language that by the 17th century would be spelled Français.)

But the thing I thought I knew was overturned by one passing comment. In part, the comment said that René Descartes was the first person to publish a philosophical treatise in French.

In his Discours de la méthode, the authors say, the lengthy preface included his famous formula:

Je pense, donc je suis.
(I think, therefore I am.)

As it turns out, Descartes included a justification for writing in French, saying in part:

…I hope that those who use their natural and pure sense of reason will be better judges of my opinions than those who only believe old books; and to those who join good sense with study, whom I prefer to have as judges, they will not be, I hope, so partial to Latin that they will refuse to hear my reasonings because they are expressed in popular language.

How surprising (at least to me) that he did not in fact write Cogito, ergo sum.