The French language evolved from a Vulgar Latin, "vulgar" referring not to the modern definition of the word ("dirty or uncouth"), but rather "popular or common." Thus French grew from a Latinized popular Italo-Celtic dialect. The language also still contains about 200 words of Gaulish origin. The name of the language itself comes from the Old French name, franceis (sometimes written francesc). As the area of France was once conquered by Germanic tribes, the language includes both words and grammatical structure that derive from Germanic dialects as well.

Around 1300, modern French began to emerge: Old French dropped away as the lingua franca and became a language of literature.