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The Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau

The Story of French

by Jean-Benoit Nadeau, Julie Barlow

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Made it about 2/3 the way through but I had to stop. What could have been an interesting book felt more like an advertisement. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
Francophile that I am (perhaps francophone, according to the authors' definition), I found this book about the French language fascinating from beginning to end. Nadeau and Barlow are comprehensive and thorough to the point of risking redundancy in their investigation of the history (past, present & future), structure (linguistics), culture, geopolitics, economics etc. of French. The authors' perspective is that of bilingual/ bicultural Canadians from Montreal, each having learned the other's mother tongue. Apparently, they alternate English and French at home, switching up at the beginning of each week. Their insider/ outsider stance as both native speaker and second language learner, coming from a French-speaking culture which is not that of France, causes them, I think, to investigate the language in a way that is fresh and exciting. This will become a "go to" book on my reference bookshelf I'm sure. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Currently, French is the fifth-most spoken language in the world. In the Middle Ages, it was the gateway to the aristocratic lifestyle and the lingua franca of the Western world. While it has been eschewed to the milieu of wine drinkers, film buffs, and expatriates, French is still as dynamic and contentious as it has ever been. There is even a group of people—the Academie Francaise—that presides over the language and sets the guidelines on new words and phrases that enter. Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, in The Story of French, try to do what many other linguists have done before them: make the early history and morphology of a language interesting and relevant to modern readers.

In the early days of the French language (the 11th and 12th centuries), the land of the Franks was littered with languages. There was Breton, Angevin, Gascon, Savoyard, Limousin, and even Picard French. Early French evolved from the combination of the Langues d’oil (in Northern France) and the Langues d’oc (in the South). The Crusade sent many Frenchmen to the holy lands in the Middle East, and men from all over France had to communicate with each other and their leaders had to relay messages from the monarch to the men. This combined with the creation of the Kingdom of France in 1204 spawned a unified nation that needed a unified language. The 1634 creation of the Academie arose amid a need to preserve the culture and language of the French against incursions from other nations.

Apart from the history of the language, Nadeau and Barlow also look at the spread of French across the globe, either through natural expansion or through colonial means. French is spoken not just throughout Europe, but also in the US, Brazil, Madagascar, Djibouti, and Vietnam (and many, many other countries). In many respects, the cultural aspects of the French language are far more interesting than its linguistic history. How French and French-speaking peoples are depicted is equally engaging. For the most, the authors keep the topics relevant, well-paced, and scholarly. There are moments of digression into minutia, but there are neither intrusive nor incompatible with the rest of the text. Overall, this was a decent and not too thick read. ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | May 2, 2014 |
Hard to believe now, when French has virtually been reduced to a boutique language for those who love French cinema, Edith Piaf, and being seen in fashionable Paris cafes, that it was once the Western world's no. 1 language. From the 16th to 19th centuries, anyone who had cultural or societal pretensions simply had to be conversant in French. Only the French themselves now regard their native tongue as a serious international language, although it is still ranked No. 5 in the world, after Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic. This book details how French gained its lofty position, and then lost it under a ferocious assault from that most unglamorous of languages, English, against which it is still fighting a desperate, but failing rearguard action, and does it in a most entertaining manner. A thoroughly enjoyable read. ( )
  drmaf | Sep 12, 2013 |
This book has a lot in it that is interesting and informative, but not as much as I had hoped. The first part of the book, on the history and development of the language in France, is useful if somewhat superficial -- and it does drive home the critical point that it was only after the mid-19th century that most French people could truly be said to speak French (for an exhaustive if exhausting discussion of the "Frenchification" of France, see Robb's "The Discovery of France"). The sections on the role of the Academy, and on the symbolism of the language as essential to France, were particularly interesting. The later part of the book, on the use of French outside of France, struck me as discursive and repetitive. Still, I learned a good deal from the book, and would recommend it to those who want an overall view of the language. ( )
  annbury | Jul 25, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Benoit Nadeauprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barlow, Juliemain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312341830, Hardcover)

Why does everything sound better if it's said in French? That fascination is at the heart of The Story of French, the first history of one of the most beautiful languages in the world that was, at one time, the pre-eminent language of literature, science and diplomacy.  Nadeau and Barlow chart the history of a language spoken as a native tongue by 130 million people around the globe. The first document written in the French was signed by the sons of Charlemagne in 832. After this, Latin was purged from the courts of France by Francois 1st, giving root to French speakers' 21st century obsession with language protection. The obsession progressed as Cardinal Richelieu established the French Academy, a group entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the language pure and eloquent. As French circled the globe, the international cast of characters included Montaigne, Catherine the Great, Frederic II of Prussia, the guides of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jules Verne, and others. Let Nadeau and Barlow guide you through the story of a language used to write some of the world's great masterpieces of literature, construct some of the most important documents of diplomacy, bedevil millions with its vagaries of pronunciation and beguile everyone with its beauty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:16 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Provides a fascinating history of the origins and evolution of the French language, from the first extant document written in French in the mid-ninth century and the purging of Latin from the French courts to the obsession of French speakers to preserve and protect the purity of the language and its role as the pre-eminent language of literature, science, and diplomacy.… (more)

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