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The Story of French (2006)

by Jean-Benoît Nadeau, Julie Barlow

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3841647,288 (3.84)18
'The Story of French', like any good story, tells of spectacular failures and unexpected success. This is the story of the French language - second only to English for the number of countries where it is officially spoken. A language that is the official tongue of two G-7 countries and three European nations. A language with rules so complex that only a few people ever completely master it. Nadeau and Barlow show readers - through their own experiences of living and travelling to French-speaking countries - how the French language developed and changed over the centuries, how it came to be spoken in the Americas, Africa and Asia and how it gained and maintained its global appeal. Written in a chronological narrative spanning more than 10 centuries, from ancient French dialects of the 8th century to the present-day French spoken in Quebec, Algeria, Beirut and more.  While the story of the French language may have begun over a thousand years ago, it is far from over.… (more)

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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
What I personally took from this read were two significant details about French today: first, that Quebec keeps French modern and up-to-date, and second, that France cares more about considering its language defeated by anglomania than making sure "French from France" is the most modern, efficient French to speak. ( )
  tag_h | Apr 18, 2017 |
As a double major in French and linguistics, this was right up my alley. This book traces the fascinating history of the French language, debunking myths and dropping interesting anecdotes along the way. ( )
1 vote Katya0133 | Aug 21, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Benoît Nadeauprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barlow, Juliemain authorall editionsconfirmed
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