I've often wondered where the term « halles » came from. Did it come into being in the 19th century, when the architect Baltard designed and oversaw the building of the market pavilions, or halls, in the area now known as Les Halles? Was it a recent linguistic borrowing from English, with its word "hall"?
After all, the word « hall » exists in French, borrowed presumably from English, which got it from German. It was borrowed fairly late, I think, and is pronounced [OL] or [AWL] and is used in the expressions hall de gare (lobby, concourse) or hall d'entrée (entry hall, lobby, foyer), for example. It doesn't mean "corridor" which is couloir.
The title page of the old dictionary I found on the web here.
So I've been reading about the word halles. The term is much older than the 19th century, and it probably came from German. French, after all, is half German and half Latin in origin, with a lot of English thrown in over the past several decades and generations. The Franks were Germans.
One quote I found dates from the time of French King Philippe Auguste, who was a contemporary of Richard the Lionhearted — the two men were born just two years apart in the 1150s. A writer of the time wrote about « Duas magnas domos, quas vulgus halas vocat... » in which merchandise was sold. That's "two big buildings, which the people call halls," I think. The term halles or its older equivalent was used currently in the late 12th century, which is when the central market place that came to be known as Les Halles was originally set up (between 1110 and 1180).
Voilà. Some have tried to find a Latin root for the term halle, but one etymologist says (and I translate): "I don't see how one can doubt that the word halles comes from the German word hall, signifying a covered space, a house, a portico, a palace, and exactly what we call une halle in French. There is no need to search for any other derivation."
The singular form halle is really not used much any more, except historically, as when it is the name of a specific building, or in the name of some of today's stores (La Halle au Chaussures, for example). There's a beautiful old halle in the town of Bracieux, near Chambord, and another in Montrésor, not far south of Saint-Aignan, near Loches. I also remember such a covered marketplace in the town of Luynes, just west of Tours on the Loire, from a trip last summer.
In Tours, the central market, which is really just a single market pavilion, is called Les Halles. It's a newer building, but maybe it replaced two or three old market halls, hence the name in the plural. In Paris, the central city market came to be called Les Halles as well, and there of course there were many market halls or pavilions, so the plural made sense.
One of the main things to know about the word halle is that the initial H is what is called an « H aspiré ». The French H is never "aspirated" in the way the English H is, however. The aspirated French H simply prevents any kind of elision of preceding articles or any liaisons of the final consonants of preceding words.
In other words, Les Halles is pronounced [lay-AHL] and not *[lay-ZAHL]. And it's la halle [la-AHL], not *l'halle in writing and in pronunciation. That's the most important thing to know about the word if you are learning French. If you're going to the covered marketplace or to the Paris district called Les Halles, vous allez aux halles [voo-zah-ley-oh-AHL], not [oh-ZAHL]. There will be a test tomorrow.
The aspirated H of halles and other French words (le hangar, la Hollande, la haie, la honte, le hall, and so on) is a good sign that those words are derived or were borrowed from German or Germanic languages like English and Dutch, in which the H is physically, not just virtually, aspirated. That confirms the etymologist's statement. Latin words that begin with an H, like l'homme (from Latin homo, hominem) don't have the same kind of H, just a vestigial or historical H.
This is the kind of stuff I'm interested in, along with food and cooking.