I'll take a kick at this can, but it is pure speculation. Maybe someone can come up with a documented answer.
Firstly, we should understand that "back" and "backward" are both adverbs. Both have a meaning which is "away from the front; toward the back". In this definition, they are synonymous.
The implied verb in "back" and "forward" is go, as in "go back" or "go forward." The statement "go backward" is grammatically correct but idiomatically it's not how we would say it in English -- at least, the forms of English I'm familiar with. Native English speakers are more likely to say "go back." Look at this comparative chart of how often "go back" and "go backward" are used.
That being said, in English user interfaces we will also use "previous" and "next". This is used more for a sequence of pages, such as Google results pages.
As for French, "précédent" and "suivant" don't have a monopoly, either. I often see buttons like "< Retour" to mean "< Back". And in my Chrome interface right now, if I hover over the back and forward buttons, I get "Réculer d'une page" and "Avancer d'une page". Internet Explorer gives me a mix: "Retour" and "suivant".
At the end of the day, what matters from a UX perspective is:
- Your label is clear. "Backward" meets this criterion. A user would expect to go backward.
- Your label is natural. "Backward" could cause a momentary hesitation, just because the wording is not an established convention.
Hope that helps! Bonne chance !