History of French in Neuchâtel

1st Century B.C. to 15th Century A.D.

The population of Switzerland was “Romanized” at the end of the first century A.D. During the Great Invasions (5th century AD), the invaders “Germanized” the east of the country, whereas those who invaded Western Helvetia adopted Gallo-Roman (the future French) language spoken here. So, the linguistic borders of Switzerland were already drawn up. At the time of its first mention in historical texts in 1011, Neuchâtel was already part of the French-speaking domain.

16th to 17th Century

At the beginning of the 16th century, Neuchâtel became an important international center for religious Reformation texts in French. It was in Neuchâtel that the Bible was first translated into French and printed. Education, which was centered in Neuchâtel, expanded into the countryside at the beginning of the 17th century. Not only the aristocrats were literate, but also a large percentage of the population. Since that time foreigners have been coming to Neuchâtel to learn French.

18th Century

From the 18th century, French was used as the diplomatic and cultural language of Europe. Neuchâtel then knew an intense intellectual activity thanks to the great freedom of speech it offered. Voltaire settled near Geneva and Rousseau lived for a while in the canton of Neuchâtel.

19th to 21st Century

In 1814, Neuchâtel became a Swiss Canton. Public schooling has existed in Neuchâtel since 1850. During the 19th century, many people from Neuchâtel went to teach French abroad, and from that time until the present day, thousands of students have come to Neuchâtel to learn French.

Between the two World Wars and during World War II, Neuchâtel publishing companies were very active and published well-known works in the fields of science, literature and the arts.

Since the end of the 19th century the École supérieure de commerce (now the Lycée Jean-Piaget) has integrated and continues to develop the teaching of French as a foreign language for the benefit of its students.