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The Story of French


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Partners in life and in writing, Canadian journalist-authors JEAN-BENOIT NADEAU and JULIE BARLOW are award-winning contributors to L'actualite. Their writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, Saturday Night, The Christian Science Monitor and the International Herald Tribune, among others. In 2003, Nadeau and Barlow published their critical and popular success, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong. They live in Montreal.


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 2006 Reed Business Information.

This excellent book surveys the development of the French language from its beginnings, explains its expansion and adaptation throughout the world, and closes with four chapters on the language's future. Nadeau and Barlow (coauthors, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong) acknowledge that their approach is sociolinguistic, although they discuss linguistics in the first four chapters. By 1265, people spoke French in the modern sense; by the late 19th century, the French realized that their language needed to be cultivated and maintained. The French government therefore invented cultural diplomacy by establishing numerous branches of the Alliance Fran?aise worldwide, which opened large schools to teach French. The Francophonie, a French commonwealth made up of 53 countries, was also formed. Today French ranks second as the world's diplomatic language, a testimony to the French government's past efforts. As for the language's future, the world looks to Quebec, which has worked to protect French from outside North American influences. The authors conclude that the survival of French depends on francophones' desire to promote and spread it. An engaging and well-conceived book with broad appeal; highly recommended.-Bob Ivey, Univ. of Memphis Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"A well-told, highly accessible history of the French language that leads to a spirited discussion of the prospects for French in an increasingly English-dominated world." --William Grimes, The New York Times"Exceptionally told, a celebration of the lasting influence of la francaise." --Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review"Excellent...An engaging and well-conceived book. Highly recommended." --Library Journal"Fascinating . . . a fresh approach to both the language and the history. It combines a detailed and learned grasp of the evolution of the language in various parts of the Francophone world with a personal touch." --Mary Ann Caws, Distinguished Professor of French, English, and Comparative Literature, City University of New York"The Story of French hums with the spirit of a novel, the heart of a travel book and the brains of an essay. Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow have seized an ambitious theme and made it fascinating and easy to read. With a deft and energetic touch, the authors offer personality and wisdom in this wonderful tribute to the French language and the people who speak it." --Lawrence Hill, Author of Any Known Blood

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