In the backstory for my world, the British and French royal families married into one another in the early-mid 18th Century. By the early 20th Century, what would the main language be for official (political/academic/military) purposes? The scenarios I can think of are:

  1. One language dominates the other
  2. A hybrid language arises for official documentation (cf. Army Slavic)
  3. Both are in use (cf. Irish and English in modern-day Ireland, possibly Switzerland)
  4. They decide to use another language altogether (e.g. Latin...or possibly Irish :p)

I think 1) and 3) are the most likely ones. Are there others?


A few people have asked how this would happen, and I now have a rough idea thanks to @Patches's answer here. It starts out as a mutual enemy forcing them to join forces, and then becoming a formal union much later. This may change some answers *ducks*

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    $\begingroup$ Ireland isn't a very good example of co-existing languages: Irish is a compulsory subject in school but day-to-day life for the great majority of Irish people is entirely in English. Most Irish people don't speak Irish fluently. Or perhaps that's a perfect example of your scenario: the British learn French in school but aren't fluent, forget most of it but can make themselves understood when they visit France, and vice versa with the French learning English. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 13 '15 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ for a more accurate modern example, see Montreal for French/English co-existence and hybridation. $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Nov 14 '15 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't we have to know more to judge? How unified, legally and culturally, are the different kingdoms that compose this Empire? It's certainly possible to have empires composed of fairly distinct linguistic regions: see Austria-Hungary for an example. $\endgroup$ – zeta Nov 14 '15 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ Having the royal families marry is not the same as unifying the countries. In practice this would not be a marriage of equals: either Britain would have fallen under domination of the French or the other way around. So the answer depends a great deal on the politics. $\endgroup$ – Paul Johnson Nov 15 '15 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Wait a minute. There's a huge problem here. The whole set-up of the question would have been illegal in the UK from 1701 to 2015 because the French monarchs were Catholic. The British Bill of Rights (1689) stipulated that the monarch cannot be Catholic and the Act of Settlement (1701) forbade the British monarch from marrying a Catholic. The prohibition on marrying Catholics wasn't removed until this year, under the Succession to the Crown Act (2013). $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 15 '15 at 17:13

11 Answers 11


France would be France and French, England would be England and English. Officers, administrators and the educated upper class would be bilingual.

It wouldn't be a national state so they'd have no particular reason to adopt a national language. The language of the court and civilized intercourse would have probably, as AndreiROM said, ended up being French. English was already used for literature and was already a significant language, but French still had a commanding lead IIRC.

But having courts at both London and Paris with each using a different language would have been entirely possible. Similarly there might have been two parliaments or just one. Same with the Royal Academy and similar organizations. It depends on the terms of the union.

You could use Austria as a model, although there was a clear historical cause for German dominance there, that your scenario lacks.

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    $\begingroup$ The concept of the royal court was completely archaic in Britain in the early 20th century. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 13 '15 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Yes, it was. And your point? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 14 '15 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Well, you mention it not just once but twice in your answer, which suggests you think it's highly relevant. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 14 '15 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby I mentioned the British Court in the early 20th century? How is that even possible? According to the question the proposed alternate history diverges at early to mid 18th century. Minimum, actual divergence might have happened century or even two before. There is really no realistic correspondence to our 20th century. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 14 '15 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to distinguish between "the language of the court" and "the main language...for official (political/academic/military) purposes" in an empire. You do this to an extent by acknowledging that "officers, administrators and the educated upper class would be bilingual", however, I think it would be extremely unlikely for this to work out in practice, again on the scale of Empire. You'd have a sizable proportion (perhap, majority) of French only and English only officers/admin/elite. $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 15:37


If I'm not mistaken at the time French was already the language of the elite. You would have been more likely to speak French at the British court than English, if only because you desire to appear sophisticated.

This would only become more pronounced within elite circles, and thus influence government agencies and anyone aspiring to rise in the ranks.

The "plebs" would keep on speaking their own language, however keep in mind that a British noble would hardly speak the same English as an uneducated peasant anyway (think Pig-Latin vs the Latin spoken by Roman nobles).

Eventually, anyone who aspires to more in life would learn French simply to "fit in". Imagine a rich merchant having his children tutored in French language and customs, so that they might one day take the family business to the next level, and maybe marry into nobility.

The military is more tricky, but keep in mind that the officers would have been nobles, and thus most likely already speak French. The common soldiers wouldn't probably learn it, but any French officer commanding English troops (which seems unlikely due to the animosity between the common Englishman and Frenchman at the time) would either a) speak English himself, or b) have a subordinate who would serve as the go-between.

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    $\begingroup$ Up until World War II, in order to be considered educated and part of "polite society", one would be expected to speak at least some French. This is due to the enormous French influence on culture, philosophy, science and culture starting during the renaissance and lasting up to WW II (and even now some would argue). $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Nov 13 '15 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby - excuse me, but this is taking place in "early-mid 18th Century", not the 1900's. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 13 '15 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby - Yes. Indeed. So the influence of French royalty in British society had 200 years to take it's course. Who knows how the politics of England and France evolved in this alternate timeline? You're accusing me of accounting for 200 years of imaginary changes? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 13 '15 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ I agree w/ D. Richerby that you are very seriously overestimating the number of people that would be able to speak a foreign language just because it was fashionable. There is a big difference between the number of "polite" people who might put on airs about their French and the number who actually could, which is what counts. Learning a language is not a casual pastime, and even given motive and opportunity, unless they are immersed in a native population, only a small percentage of people (regardless of class and education) will really do it. $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ Relevant answer from linguistics : linguistics.stackexchange.com/a/4182 $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Nov 14 '15 at 17:40

Born in Montreal, with time growing up in British schools and now living as I do in a city that borders Quebec and Ontario, my answer would be "Fringlish" which is what we call a conversation that incorporates both. While the level of cross-language fluency is quite varied here, we've almost all managed to develop some basic competency at the very least in both - although yes we will tend to speak our native tongue more often, and stick to that when at home or with friends.

But when fluently bilingual people interact, listening to a conversation ricochet between french nouns and english verbs (or vice versa) as the language flips back and forth between the two even sometimes in mid-sentence - it can be dizzying to those with a lessor grasp of the tongues.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't we say Franglais? Or Fringlish is more English than French? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 13 '15 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ And there is the divide lol. In my experience from an anglophone-born you're more likely to hear "Fringlish", whereas from a French-born you'll hear Franglais. But this all relates to personal interactions. For official communications the government will issue statements in both languages, delivered with French first in Quebec and New Brunswick, and English first everywhere else. $\endgroup$ – Michael Broughton Nov 13 '15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ And how do you call this? : youtube.com/watch?v=Exlos3s9ETY I get his point for doing this, but it's so annoying. Unilinguals can only understand half of it. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 13 '15 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelBroughton Interesting. In the UK, we refer to any mix of French and English as "Franglais". $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 13 '15 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's important to qualify the "we" in "we've almost all managed to..." as a very small group in relation to the population of Canada as a whole (if you want to talk scale of empires). Despite serious and prolonged effort by government at all levels, including mandatory public school education, French is not widespread outside of Quebec (and a decent % of Quebecers are not passable in English). No kind of social order is capable of creating bilingualism where it does not exist natively -- which doesn't contradict this answer, I think, since it is really about unusual areas. $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 14:29

Most (all?) of Europe's monarchs are related to each other anyway. The merging of the British and French royal families would have little linguistic effect.

For example, Great Britain has had German monarchs before, with no obvious impact on the English language.

Contrast this hypothetical merging of the monarchies with the events following 1066, which did lead to the creation of a new language. William the Conqueror originally intended to rule England as an English king, but a couple of factors intervened:

  • Rebellions forced William to oust the old English aristocrats
  • William needed to reward the supporters of the invasion by granting them titles of nobility in the conquered lands

As a result, the new government became Francophone, and Old English soon faded into history.

Peacefully merging two countries, though, doesn't produce that kind of social upheaval. You would just get a bilingual country, just like many other multilingual countries in the world.

Some of the more subtle effects that would be likely:

  • Increased bilingualism among the well educated and those involved in cross-Channel business.
  • Increased borrowing of vocabulary, notably French → English. For example, in Canada, English speakers use the word "toque", not just when referring to chefs' hats.

    English is a language that has grown organically, and it enthusiastically incorporates words from other languages that it encounters. This is likely due to the way the language came into existence as a hybrid of Germanic, Latin, Norse, and French influences in the first place.

  • Probably less English → French borrowing, though.

    French, in contrast, is much more conservative. In France, the Académie Française declares what is considered proper, and rarely adopts foreign influences. In Canada, the Francophone minority also tries to defend against the English onslaught, even through legal means.

  • In both languages, the accent of prestige would probably change. Even if English has a wide variety of accents, the Queen's English is still considered the most "proper". So, if the royal family develops a foreign accent, perhaps that change would find its way into the public's speech patterns.

Just having the royal families related doesn’t mean much actually. After all, England has been ruled by German houses for 300 years now in OTL. But let’s assume, in your ATL, Great Britain and France (instead of Hanover) shared more than just the ruler and became an actual union, a single country even. There also seems to have been no democratic revolution in 1789 or otherwise, so we’re probably still dealing with a feudal aristocracy or even an absolute monarchy. Whatever actually happened in your ATL has a lot of influence on the best answer to this question.

Since industrialization already was in its beginnings in England at the time of diversion, we can assume that this double-nation would still be on the forefront of it, but the continental part would benefit sooner than in OTL. Without support by the French, the war for independence of the colonies in North America would probably have happened differently, least because they could have been joined by Louisiana which now had the same motherland. Except for religious minority groups, other migrants (e.g. famine victims and politic refugees) would have gone there in different waves.

My best guess is that French remained the dominant language among the nobles, in diplomacy and politics, even gaining more influence on internal affairs of the island part and in the colonies, established and new. The military would be divided, with the navy traditionally being anglophone, the army francophone. Science at first still leant on Latin as a lingua franca across Europe, but slowly adopted the closer, Romance alternative. Technology, however, was driven by English inventors in the beginning, and so was commerce and trade. Germany, confronted with such a powerful neighbor, had to unite earlier than in OTL and became the common archenemy for centuries. Anything German and Germanic was of low prestige and so French finally gained dominance in even more fields.

Today, French and English still exist as separate languages. Both are full of loan words from each other in particular areas. They also sound a bit different than in OTL. Especially non-noble, educated English native speakers adopt a more nasal and word-blending dialect over time. For English nobles, it is fashionable now, but not at all required, to learn the language spoken by peasants in their lands (like the prince of Wales learned Welsh), but they are raised in French of course. English pupils all study French, but hardly any French pupil takes English lessons.

So option 1 for the most part.

  • $\begingroup$ "Whatever actually happened in your ATL has a lot of influence on the best answer to this question." I haven't entirely figured this out yet; from the perspective of the main characters (all of whom are native Irish speakers), it doesn't make much difference at the moment. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Nov 14 '15 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ French and English in OTL are kind of full of loanwords from each other. There are even ones that have gone back and forth, like French bifteck "steak", from English beefsteak, where beef comes from French boef/buef/boeuf "cow". $\endgroup$ – zeta Nov 15 '15 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ Britain was neither a feudal aristocracy nor an absolute monarchy in the 18th century so I don't see why you're assuming that an Anglo-French alliance would suddenly become one. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 15 '15 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby France was absolutist, newly formed Great Britain I would consider aristocratic (maybe not so feudal), but I’m really neither a political scientist nor a historian (e.g. just had to read up on the 7-Year War), more of a linguist. $\endgroup$ – Crissov Nov 15 '15 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Crissov Feudalism in England was legally abolished in 1660 and had been on the decline for 350 years before that. England in the 18th century was governed by a democratically elected parliament that was sufficiently powerful that it, not the monarch, set the rules of succession to the throne. OK, it was far from universal suffrage -- you had to be male and own property worth at least 40 shillings but that included large numbers of merchants and industrialists. By the early 20th century (which the question asks about), the electorate had widened to 60% of the male population. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Nov 15 '15 at 22:40

Since I added a string of perhaps opinionated but very fact based comments on other people's answers, I thought I should add my own.

3. Both are in use.

In my comment on the Q I said this would be unlikely to happen for any given part of the population at large (as in Canada) but in terms of governance, it is the most sensible approach (as in Canada), because it means the population at large could, in all places, officially communicate with, and understand, the local ruling elite.

To be clear, I don't mean that the governing "political/academic/military" class would as a rule be bilingual (and it is a great stretch of the imagination to claim that in Canada). I mean the members of such a class in an Anglo-French Empire would not adopt one language exclusively for governing the entire Empire. So, contra the currently top voted answer here, I do not think the aspirations of a far away central court could prevail for long if that meant enforcing official use of only French over all colonies regardless of what language was spoken predominantly by the immigrant population. By "immigrants" I mean French or English natives who have populated outlying parts of the Empire.

Part of my reasoning is that for such colonies to be successful, unless immigration to them is forced (e.g., as with prisoners sent to Australia), a certain amount of respect from and integration with the ruling elite must be in evidence or you would not have many colonists participating in an "Anglo-French Empire". So this is distinct from areas where the Empire is really military outposts presiding over a mostly native, non-French, non-English population, where no pretense of respect or integration would be necessary -- those people have no where to go, and if you can dominate them by force and conduct official business in a foreign language native to the ruling elite, there won't be any issues the "force" part doesn't cover.

Because of this logic, I don't think the ruling elite of the Empire would for long aspire to using only one language or the other; they might in fact come into conflict with one another on the issue but presuming the more competent prevail (without which the Empire would be short lived), they would quickly realize that an official mix of French and/or English, appropriate to the local population, would be most expedient.

This would require that the imperial government everywhere would need at least a few people capable of translating from one language to the other, and that communication between regions/persons could be conducted in either or both languages.

  • Native English Lord A could send native French Lord B messages in English, confident that B or one of his retinue could deal with this.

  • French Lord B could reply in English or French.

  • Native English Lord C, who is proud of his French, might choose to use French with everybody all the time.


It's worth noting that in Canada, getting many/most(?) federal jobs requires proof of bilingualism. However, it's also worth noting that one thing which qualifies as proof (for a native English speaker) is having completed French to the end of high school -- which sounds like a long time, but it does not, in fact, mean that everyone who did so can actually speak or understand French, particularly once they've been out of school a few years. So the requirement, and the qualification, are often a pretense. I mention this as an example of how aspirations of this sort don't prevail, reality does, and to make an empire work over the long term you do need to take the latter into account.

  • $\begingroup$ Making an answer does make a better job of explaining your thinking than comments did. Although, I am still bit puzzled wheteher we actually disagree about anything of substance. The length of your comments suggests so, but I don't really see what. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 14 '15 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi I'm kind of in a haggling/procrastinating mood ;) Based on that discussion I think I should clarify this vis., by "both" I don't mean the government everywhere would do everything in both languages (such that the elite was always bilingual), I mean they would regard using either language as appropriate. Probably that is a bit nit-picky, but part of this is I am very dubious that sufficient numbers of the British ruling classes would ever evolve such that they used French as an official domestic language of domestic governance, any more than the general population would. $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ That is what bilingual means in practice. You can use either language. Using both languages only happens in formal speeches where it is protocol. Many European countries have more than one official language, and that is how it generally works. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 14 '15 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Okay, consider this: Here we're sort of officially bilingual, but that doesn't mean members of the ruling elite are (this is the difference I think you are indicating). When you break it down further, that we use both French and English as official languages doesn't necessarily mean "bilingually": In many instances it means only one of the two in particular, e.g., public signage must be in English some places... $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ ...some French -- but often enough (get this) it cannot be in the other (roll eyes). We still have one cohesive "empire" that uses both languages -- just not always bilingually. If Lord A says his corner of the Empire operates in English, then it operates in English. Not French. But he may still have to use French when communicating with Lord B. $\endgroup$ – goldilocks Nov 14 '15 at 20:20

Not so apparent these days but the industrial revolution saw an influx of Europeans to S Wales which was a world centre for coal, iron ore and other materials. Most arrived expecting to hear English and got Welsh. They would have had English speaking employers (owners) and Welsh speaking locals.

The result was a curious mix of English that followed Welsh grammar rules. The English government tried to eradicate the Welsh language and nearly succeeded. The Welsh were having none of it.

The French were largely successful in unifying their language though there are a number of pockets where people will be more comfortable in the local 'patois'. Haute Savoie for example.

The point being that people tend to be very attached to their mother-tongue and find themselves surprisingly proud of it when threatened. If France/UK fell under a single government then eventually you might get a common language. Its a brave government that forces that kind of change.

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    $\begingroup$ You've got some a fine story that addresses the question indirectly, but your answer is a little vague. Great history, informative and interested, but recommend you reword for clarity. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 13 '15 at 23:35

Post Hastings (1066), English (previously the Old High German derived Old English) blended with... (some name I've forgotten) French because it was the court language of the new Frank kings. That was a Romanticized German. The classic Battle of Agincourt? That was due to a legal inherited title owned by the king of England.

They've been interbreeding for centuries. The results of this were 1 leading to 2, but regionally, so 3. Assuming a more peaceful unity than reality's, I'd expect even more (and faster) homogenization.

There were anti-France sentiments in England and anti-England sentiments in France predominantly as a result of their bloody wars. The biggest change I'm seeing, then, is the likelihood that they would be less hostile.

Accordingly, I'd look at Gaelic (esp. the Scottish branches) for a more amicable example of what that might look like. The independent tongues may still exist, but a merged language would form, and the groups would tend towards being dialects of that. Some would still speak the original with lots of loan words, but most would speak the major hybrid tongue which they would probably call by whatever name they identify with. These would merge over time, though possibly not so much as to be called a common tongue.

There are loads of examples of distinct languages that grew together so neighbors and allies could communicate. Spanish and Portuguese or Russian and Ukrainian are a couple example pairs. They are not the same languages, but learning one tends to permit some meaningful communication in the other. Further, people living in the adjacent regions tend to pick up some of the rest.

Merchants are going to adopt the languages that they need to trade, which will push homogenization among anyone of their social standing. If the noble classes have similar pressures, they will adopt, as well. If the government adopts such a hybrid, it will apply a gentler pressure on the people, in addition to the concept of airs. (being like the nobles)

I'd never expect a complete expunging of the former languages, but would expect (after a handful of decades) that anyone who spoke the common tongue could travel anywhere in the empire and communicate in at least a basic sense to pretty much anyone, and find someone who could speak fluently, as well. It would be a remarkable experience to find a backwater that this was not true of.


In the 1700's, the international language of diplomacy was still French so there would be a strong pull for upper class members of both societies to be fluent in French, not just to communicate with each other, but also to communicate with the courts of the various German principalities, Russia, Sweden and every other European nation that was considered worth dealing with.

OTOH, even in the 1700's, England was much richer than France, and had a more developed merchant class, as well as powerful institutions like Parliament, the courts and professional guilds, which would certainly have a lot of influence in how a combined Anglo-French kingdom would operate. The French institutions had decayed badly (which is why in our timeline, the French Revolution occurred in 1789), so the influx of vitality from imported British institutions would rapidly overtake and replace many French ones.

French merchants would start adopting British practice, the French army would be modeled after Fairfax's "New Model Army", the French navy would become part of the Royal Navy and so on. French children would probably be sent to British schools and universities in order to absorb the more successful models of British society (note also that many of the institutions we associate with France today were created after the Revolutionary period, either during the reign of Napoleon or during the many Republics).

In this case, the English language would start infiltrating French, especially among military officers, the merchant class and in schools and universities. This would also affect the French language in other ways; prior to the Revolution there were many dialects of French, many of which were almost incomprehensible to other Frenchmen (the Revolutionaries standardized the "Parisian" dialect of French as the one and only "French language"). The hybrid "Franglish" would tend to standardize the "English" portions across France, and British merchants, officers and scientists would probably have only the standard "diplomatic" French as their French portion, so there would be a long period of time where "Franglish" became standardized throughout both France and Britain.

There would also be a third "underclass" of people like farmers and common labourers, who would not learn the foreign languages (except for the occasional loan word which might be encountered in markets). They would be unilingual French or English speakers, and unless they were drafted or press ganged into the military, or sought employment in the factories of the cities, they would never be exposed to Franglish or diplomatic French. Even if they were exposed in the military or in the factories, they would start learning later in life, and might not be very fluent in Franglish.


They would use both languages.

Look at modern-day Belgium. It uses French and Dutch. Both languages prosper, and many people know both. Why wouldn't this apply to your world?

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    $\begingroup$ French and Dutch both have a “center” that is politically independent and culturally influential to support them. Ditto for the languages spoken in Switzerland. By contrasts, many dialects that could have developed into a full fledged modern standardized language haven't and are currently waning (e.g. several Germanic dialects in Switzerland or Northern Germany that are not closer to standard German than Dutch is or was). The question is what would become of the English and French languages without an independent France and an independent England/Britain to promote them. $\endgroup$ – Relaxed Nov 14 '15 at 23:43

Look at real history around that time and beyond: French was used for "standard" stuff because they police the language and the meaning of a contract or treaty can be precisely understood and will still mean the same thing when the document is reviewed later.

But English is "open source" and can be bent and mutilated to fit a group's need. It was the coming of rapid-changing technology and the industrial revolution that made it desirable to speak of new things, and the rapid pace of change made people want to change the language more rapidly in general.

If the story is set when lingua Franca was still the case, then the story picks up there. But, with a spreading empire, with French and British together, the French would object to the language being butchered while the English would embrace the pigeons and creoles in the colonies and trading partners. So with both groups together you'll still get an effect like in the real English empire, with English becoming the second language of everyone and a base for new dialects.

You might have a split that gets re-enforced with the now-intended uses of each: to be expressive and original you use English and English-based mixtures; but then to write the contract you use French with expert scribes (lawyers) who can point to a dictionary meaning of every word used, and a precedent w/extensive commentary for every expression in contract law.

The names of goods and such being traded might be listed separately from the main contract, so new things are not much of a problem. But new ways of trading, and new ideas regarding commerce, law, and transportation might cause problems since there are no "official" words for those.


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