The Story of French Paperback – Oct 9 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
That major historical moments affect a language's development seems to be self-evident. But in the case of French, as Canadian authors Nadeau and Barlow (Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong) exhaustively illustrate, this notion shouldn't be taken for granted, since an insistence on linguistic purity influences how French is taught, spoken and written. What began as a loose confederation of local dialects became mired in a particularly French obsession with linguistic propriety. Despite the natural development of French over time, "[in] the back of any francophone's mind is the idea that an ideal, pure French exists somewhere." Nadeau and Barlow traveled the world to research what they call "the mental universe of French speakers" from its center in France to such places as Canada, Senegal and Israel. "French carries with it a vision of the State and of political values, a particular set of cultural standards," the authors write. They have managed to corral what could be an ungainly subject—both the history and the present day—in a clearly written, well-organized approach to the lingua franca of millions of people. Francophiles will be well-served by the care and detail with which the authors handle their subject, while English speakers will find an illuminating portrait of Gallic sensibility. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
There are more French-speaking people in Israel than there are in Louisiana. The number of French speakers in the world has tripled since World War II. Nadeau and Barlow's history of French is chockablock with these sorts of intriguing facts about the language and its evolution (contrary to common belief, English was a major influence on French, not the other way around). The authors also offer fascinating commentary on the politics of language: despite the best efforts of purists, French, like other languages, is constantly changing and not just cosmetically--new and unconventional words are being adopted, as are new spellings and new grammatical constructions. From its mysterious origins as a conglomeration of other languages to the current squabble over the need to preserve its integrity, French has led one heck of an event-filled life. Sure to please fans of such language histories as Nicholas Ostler's Empires of the Word (2005). David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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).
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!