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The Story of French Paperback – Oct 9 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada (Oct. 9 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676977359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676977356
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #56,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James W. Derry on Oct. 31 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brave book.
Jean-Benoit Nadeau and his partner Julie Barlow, a young couple from Canada, have written an excellent history of the French language that is both accessable and engaging even to a reader with only a passing knowledge of the language. They have done this in order to help "retrieve" French for the world, which increasingly is going globally unilingual English. In the face of such competition, Nadeau and Barlow have staked their ground and state clearly that French is still alive, useful, and important.
The development of French through history is explored and is full of surprises. French at one time was spoken by a minority of the population of France. Although French was long the universal language of diplomacy, it was the French Revolution that standarized the language for all school children in the country. The famous Academie Francaise is hardly the language police that most people believe it to be. Strangely, French speakers outside of France are given less importance by France than would be expected.
In terms of Speakers, French ranks only number 9 in the world. But in terms of countries with official status, it is in second place. Quebec is in many ways in the vanguard of a modern and vibrant French and many countries with a French status look to Quebec now for learning instead of the "home" country.
Nadeau and Barlow have done important work in writing this book. If nothing else the reader will finally learn the difference between the Francophonie and the francophonie and perhaps, even reactivate their high school French.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 32 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
A la bonne heure March 29 2007
By Anson Cassel Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The authors of The Story of French are bilingual Canadian journalists who write intelligently and gracefully about how French has become a "globalizing force," especially through the influence of the francophonie beyond France. Beginning with a summary of language history, Nadeau and Barlow discuss the origins of the French Academy and the normative French of Paris--and of myth--before moving to the reasons why French continues to flourish despite the growing clout of English. Although the book is about a hundred pages too long, there are engrossing segments throughout. For instance, how many Americans know that ten percent of Israelis speak French, or that there is influential francophone community of Lebanese in Senegal, or that at the time of the Revolution, a majority of Frenchmen were unable to speak or write French?
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Great introduction to the history of French and French speakers Aug. 13 2008
By K G R - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a great introduction to the history and sociolinguistics of the French language. It gives a good history of French from its origins in vulgar Latin to the modern standard language. Differences in how the language is perceived by its native speakers (as opposed to how English speakers perceive English) is highlighted and explained. The role of French in the modern world, as well as the future of French as an "international" language and as a minority language are discussed at length.

I do have a few criticisms of the book. I find it bizarre that the case of Luxembourg, a Germanic country that uses French in higher education and government, was not discussed at all. A certain hostility to the increasing dominance of English can be felt at times. The authors seem to feel that French will retain its place as the world's "second" international language, despite the increasing prominence of languages like Spanish and Chinese, and English's ever-growing clout. The authors also appear to miss the point that most French speakers in Israel are first or second generation immigrants from Francophone countries, with little evidence that French, rather than Hebrew and English, will be passed on. I also think it unfortunate that France's policies of eliminating regional languages, such as Breton, Provencal, etc. were not adequately discussed while the anti-French policies in North America were (correctly) highlighted.

But still, overall an excellent introduction to the history and sociolinguistic situation of the French language today.
77 of 98 people found the following review helpful
Try again, authors ! Dec 25 2006
By Demarus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is largely an explication of francophone influences throughout the world, with special emphasis on Canada. That French is no longer the property of the French (sensu strictiori) is obvious. The authors have rendered a distinct service by telling readers in detail about the multifarious offspring of French language and culture. They discuss the origins of academic French from various antecedents on the territory that is now France. Other languages have risen in similar ways, then acquired separate lives. To some extent that is true of Joual in Quebec, more so of Cajun. The fact that speakers of the derivatives have learned to master academic French in school and may use it in excellent ways as their language of correspondence or in cultivated conversation and academic studies does not make it their mother tongue. One may point out that analogous considerations apply to relatioships between Alemannic Swiss German and High German, Danish and Norwegian, Dutch and Low German dialects: they are separate languages.

The authors have, however, rendered good service by their survey of "francophonie" throughout the world and by detailing its spread and importance, sociologically,economically, and in other ways. They have pointed out and attempted to clear up misconceptions about the distribution and political impacts of the French in North America, and have illuminated differences between past and present. Perhaps more emphasis should have been placed on the role of francophone universities and their graduates since the second world war. The weakest parts of the book are those dealing with French philology in its linguistic and its literary aspects. Evidently (see their bibliogrphy) the authors have not paid attention to rigorous reference works, e.g., M. K. Pope's "From Latin to Modern French with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman", or to others. Their treatment of the Germanic elements is too sketchy. Their consideration of Provençal is insufficient, even for a book addressed to general readers. Also, if one refers to the role of Latin in French and English, distinctions have to be made between classical Latin, Latin of northern Gaul, medieval Latin.

A more specific comment: "Ave maris stella" means "Hail, star of the sea", not "Hail star of Mary" (p. 217).
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Not a bad way to spend a weekend Aug. 19 2007
By Blair - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As an American who developed a distaste for French after suffering through years of dry, obnoxious French curriculum in high school, but who later actually learned the language from Francophone Africans in the Peace Corps, I picked up this book mostly to learn all the stuff I felt I had missed out on in my earlier years. The authors give a lot of very interesting insights about the origins of certain words (both French and English) and discuss the development of the French language from its medieval roots. Who knew that the French language was still only being consolidated from its precursor local tongues as late as the early 20th century? Cool!

I have two main complaints about the book, however, that lead me to the 3-star rating. First, the authors go way more into detail about Quebec and Francophone Canada than I care about - I did not pick up this book to learn about the legal history of les Canadiens - and either give way too little attention to the role of French in Africa, or write about it superficially. (I think they visited Senegal once, and Lesotho - which is Anglophone - too.) Seeing as there are *many* more African Francophones today than French-born ones (ignore the statistics they cite - almost all the numbers they quote seriously understate the number of French speakers in African countries, though they seem strangely bullish about Israelis), I think they could've focused a lot more on the continent where the future of the language truly lies. Secondly, while I never found the book anti-English, there was a strong note of apologeticism in the narrative that became somewhat onerous.

I also think their central thesis is flawed. Plurilingualism might be good for the French, but it sucks for the Danish, or Hungarians or Portugese. For the speakers of smaller languages which no one is going to learn, it makes perfect sense to have one international language which everyone can communicate in, even if that does afford some advantages to us native-born Anglophones (there are disadvantages too - I can't lean over and say something to my buddy in English that I don't want everyone else to understand, which most Ukranians, say, could with a great degree of confidence in their confidentiality).

So - for what it is, this is a good read. Especially if you're a Canadien fan. Go Leafs!
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
excellent learning tool for French people learning English March 4 2007
By Corinne Apostle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I gave this to my sister, who teaches English to French businessmen (and women) - they were all fascinated with the book, learned much from it, and their only disappointment was that it is not available IN French (tho she explained to them that if they could understand what was written, then they should read it in English!)

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