The Occitanian languages evolved, across what is now France, following the end of the Roman empire, and both Oïl and Oc entered into literature separately by the 10th century. The names of the two languages, Oïl (langue d'oïl) in the north and Oc (langue d'oc) in the south were the words for "yes" in each of the languages. The language evolved from spoken Latin, but heavily influenced by the languages of the original pre-Roman tribes.
The Oc language resulted in a single literary community across all of Occitania, from the Atlantic coast to the Italian border. Provençal is a dialect of southern Occitanian, but was often used to mean the southern Oc language in general. It appeared in Latin texts in the 11th century and was common in courtly literature in the 12th century. Provençal was spread by the troubadours who travelled across this land with stories set to music and poetry. The word "troubadour" itself comes from the Provençal "trobar", meaning "to find".
In the Middle Ages, Provençal and Latin were the only two written administrative languages. Provençal was the language spoken at the pontifical court of Avignon, and was the language Dante nearly wrote his Divine Comedy in.
Provençal began declining as a literary form in the 13th century, with French influence pushing south with the Capetian monarchy and the Crusaders heading for southern ports. In the 14th century regional dialects, including Gascon in the west, Catalan in the south and Bas-Alpin, Gavon and Nissard in the east, began appearing, to the detriment of the langue d'Oc.
Provençal literature moved east to Italy and was revived largely due to the efforts of Dante. It made a comeback in the Rhône Valley thanks to Petrarch and his sonnets. Petrarch was exiled in Avignon and retired in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, and his Provençal writings included descriptions of Provençal life, shepherds, the Sorgue fishermen and Mont Ventoux.
The 1539 Edict of Villers-Cotterêts dealt the death knell to Provençal as an official language. The decree was that the Parisian (Ile de France) dialect would be used for all French administration. Provençal literature lived on, however, until the 19th century, with stories, legends, theatre and poetry, and Provençal dictionaries are published to this day.
At the end of the 19th century, Frédéric Mistral lead a revival of the Provençal language.