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Henriette Walter

Author of L'Aventure des langues en Occident

20+ Works 508 Members 16 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Works by Henriette Walter

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Walter, Henriette
Legal name
Walter, Henriette
Country (for map)
Sfax, Tunisia
Places of residence
Paris, France
Doctorat d'état, Linguistique
Université Paris-Descartes (Doctorat de 3e cycle, Linguistique et études italiennes)
Professor linguistics University Haute-Bretagne Rennes (France)
Walter Gérard (Epoux)
Obalk, Hector (Fils)
Martinet, André (Professeur)
Université de Haute-Bretagne, Rennes, Ille-et-Vilaine (France)
Ecole pratique des hautes études à la Sorbonne (Directrice de laboratoire)
Awards and honors
Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur‎
Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres‎
Short biography
Henriette Walter, née Saada, was born in Sfax, Tunisia to a French mother and an Italian father. She learned multiple languages at a very early age. At home she spoke Italian, at school she spoke French, and in the streets she heard Arabic and Maltese spoken. She has said, "As a little girl, I liked the idea that an object could have multiple names, that emotions could be expressed in different ways." She is a fluent speaker of six languages and has worked with dozens of others. She studied English at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she met her future husband, Gérard Walter, a physics and chemistry teacher. The couple married in 1954 and had two children. Prof. Walter passed a competitive exam for a diploma from the International Phonetic Association in 1963 and received her doctoral degree in 1975.
She became a close collaborator of famed linguist André Martinet, and published a large number of writings, some of them for a general audience that brought her worldwide recognition. She is former director of the Phonology Laboratory at the École pratique des hautes études
and now professor emeritus of French at the University of Rennes, where she taught for many years. She was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 1995 and Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1999.



Henriette Walter is said to be one of the (!) linguists in France, yet I had never heard of her. Thanks to an interview on France Inter, see here, my interest in the French language was peaked. Not knowing which of her works to start with, I found three of them, one being this one here, 'Le français dans tous les sens', reissued in 2016.

This is thus a reissue, though reworked/updated here and there. Minor updates, I'd say, as I saw only one or little more mentions with regards to the 21st century. This book remains aimed at a general public, not academics or amateurs interested in the technical aspects of French.

The book is divided into six digestible parts, each of which interspersed with maps, tables, a focus on specific topics or examples of said changes or evolution:

01) Where does French come from?
- A trip back in time, to the language's origins, conquests, Latin, dictionaries, l'Académie française, and so on. Very interesting to see the evolution and various changes throughout the ages. It has to be said, though, that (especially) the 17th century has been very important for the French language.

02) Dialects and patois
- There is no general version of a language without knowing where it comes from, and how people speak it in France and around the world. In addition, the written version always differs from the spoken version(s). Even today, regional languages/dialects are still under threat and have been since several centuries.

03) Le français en France
- Very much related to the previous chapter, yet with a focus on France in particular. Pronunciation, dialects, differences between the various regions, ...

04) Le français hors de France
- French is also spoken (and written) in Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Africa, the USA, Asia, ... all this has its historical reasons and causes. Each country/city/region also has its own vocabulary for the same things.

05) Qu'est-ce que le français?
- What makes French... French? What are its characteristics, its structures, ...?

06) Où va le français?
- As the French language too has been under the influence of other languages (English, Arabic, ...), and thus continues to change/adapt/evolve, just like other languages, what will French be like in the future?


As Laélia Véron and Maria Candea wrote in their highly recommended work, 'Le français est à nous !' (see my review here): "LE français n'existe pas." (Rough translation/interpretation: THE French doesn't exist, there is not ONE version of French, which is also the case for other languages, like English, Dutch, ...) That's why their book and Henriette Walter's 'Le français dans tous les sens' are perfectly compatible and complementary, especially for the general public.
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TechThing | 4 other reviews | Nov 5, 2022 |
I didn't manage to finish this, but what I did read was very interesting. It's neat to see how words went back and forth across the English Channel and the different approaches to standardizing the language, as well as the etymology behind common place names in England and France. And as an Anglophone, I liked reading a Francophone perspective on the English language. I could live without the interactive activities, although nerdier language buffs than me might find them fun to do. Recommended particularly for translators whose working languages include English and French, and people who like to read about the history of a language.… (more)
rabbitprincess | 2 other reviews | Jan 22, 2017 |
Often interesting in presenting the parallel mutual influences of the French and English languages from their earliest days, and useful for its references to early writers and thinkers, the book is flawed by a certain amount of repetition, by populist asides and distracting visuals. Still, valuable for bibliographical notes.
pieterpad | 2 other reviews | May 21, 2014 |
This was an excellent book on the origins and peculiarities of the French language. It's great reading for anyone studying French, even though it can be a bit hard going. Credit to this author, she does well to avoid getting too technical, and taking the reader through a broad look at the French language, it's origins, its particularities, and even it's evolution in the future. A lot of what she says can easily apply to other languages. It is funny to think that French as it is today, is actually based on the spoken dialect from I'le de France, where the French royalty once resided, that was imposed on all of France, like a common linguistic currency.… (more)
schtroumpf | 4 other reviews | Jul 14, 2010 |


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