By approximately when had Franks and Goths stopped speaking Germanic?

This question is mainly in reference to the Franks, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, who took control of France, Italy, and Iberia in the fifth century CE. While the native Romance-speaking elite did manage to hold onto a considerable amount of its wealth and influence, all of the rulers in the early Middle Ages seem to have been members of Germanc tribes that had moved in. Presumably in the early years they spoke their respective Germanic dialects, and if I recall my reading, Charlemagne in the late 700s still spoke Franconian as his native language and not proto-French.

How and when did the rulers of these places change over to speaking only the Romance languages then current among the general population? It’s interesting that in the Mediterranean countries, the native language of the conquered inhabitants won out, while in England, the Germanic language of the invaders won out. Interestingly, the process of language substitution was repeated in Normandy in the 800s, when William the Conqueror’s Danish forbear received the region in fee from the French king, who was himself not so far distant from his Germanic speaking ancestors. Yet by William’s time, nobody in Normandy appears to have been speaking Danish anymore.

Interesting question!

Well with the Franks, it probably has to do with the fact that the Western Empire was still a functioning entity when they settled there, I think it was in the 4th Century. Instead of expelling the Franks, the Romans made them foedreati and they grew very close to the Roman Empire.

How nice of you to post a question about Franks on National Veggie Hot Dog Day!

Thanks for participating. :slight_smile:


Interesting question, I’ve often wondered the same about Greek and Latin in the Eastern Roman Empire. Sorry I don’t have any kind of answer for you.

Are you referring to Old English being mostly Frisian, with some Angle, Jute, and Saxon? IE not Celtic? My take would be because the Germanic invaders drove out the Celts to the margins (Man, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Wales) rather than absorbing and being absorbed by them as occurred with the Danes, Norwegians and Normans.

Essentially, yes, although I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that Old English was mostly Frisian, even though Frisian today is the language most like English. AFAIK Old English was mostly a mix of Angle and Saxon, as the name implies, since that’s who most of the migrants were. The Frisians, as the Jutes, only composed a minor portion of the people involved.

Still, unless I’m mistaken, Frankish royalty was still speaking Franconian in the time of Charlemagne, neary 400 years later.

Charles III the Fat, the last Carolingian emperor to reunite the entire Carolingian state ( briefly ) almost certainly spoke Franconian as his first language. A great-grandson of Charlemagne, he was raised in the court of his father Louis the German, king of “East Francia” ( Germany, essentially ), where Franconian was the lingua franca. Even beyond that his first appanage and longest association as a ruler was with Allemania in southwest Germany. He died in 888.

So Franconian was still spoken in the late 9th century by at least one king who ruled in the west as well as the east. But it was probably already dieing out even then. The Oath of Strasbourg in 842 was famously signed by Charles the Bald in the Latinate language of the great majority of his subjects and while Charles himself was certainly a Germanic as well as Latinate speaker, some of his nobility may not have been. The great magnates of the Carolingian realm up until that point had in fact frequently owned estates in both the Germanic east and the Latin west ( seperated roughly at the Rhine ). But Louis the German and Charles the Bald’s near half century struggle for dominance increasingly infringed on such widespread liberties, as each sought to root out the allies and proxies of the other in their respective territories. By the 10th century I expect the “French” and “German” nobility were probably fairly well differentiated in mother tongue.

Gothic was hit even earlier - unlike the Franks, the Goths retained no permanent connection to the German homeland. Instead they were discrete groupings of 80,000-100,000 individuals. By the 6th century I think Gothic was already on the decline in Iberia and by the 8th it was still hanging around only as a remnant. But in the Crimea a Gothic dialect supposedly hung on into the 18th century.

  • Tamerlane

I think the OP was asking about southern Britannia having been Romanized, therefore Latin-speaking, sorta. After the Empire pulled out, I wonder how much Latin continued to be spoken in everyday life in say Aquae Sulis than the Celtic British vernacular. Anyway, good question. The novel That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis speculated that the Vulgar Latin spoken in 5th century Britain would have been “something that sounded vaguely like Spanish” to a modern English person.

I posted a similar question a few months ago (though more focussed on the British situation). For those that are interested, here the link:


No, I was specifically not asking about that, because what happened there runs the opposite way to what happened around the Mediterranean. In Brittania the immigrants’ language won out and Celtic was rather marginalized; in the Mediterranean countries the immigrants’ language died out and everybody spoke Romance.