The Story of French

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9780312341848: The Story of French

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.

In a captivating narrative that spans the ages, from Charlemagne to Cirque du Soleil, Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow unravel the mysteries of a language that has maintained its global influence despite the rise of English. As in any good story, The Story of French has spectacular failures, unexpected successes and bears traces of some of history's greatest figures: the tenacity of William the Conqueror, the staunchness of Cardinal Richelieu, and the endurance of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Through this colorful history, Nadeau and Barlow illustrate how French acquired its own peculiar culture, revealing how the culture of the language spread among francophones the world over and yet remains curiously centered in Paris. In fact, French is not only thriving―it still has a surprisingly strong influence on other languages.

As lively as it is fascinating, The Story of French challenges long held assumptions about French and shows why it is still the world's other global language.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Partners in life and in writing, Canadian journalist-authors JEAN-BENOÎT NADEAU and JULIE BARLOW are award-winning contributors to L'actualité. 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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Introduction
If there was one place in the world where we never expected to hear French, it was Tel Aviv. Julie had twice travelled extensively in Israel before we started to research this book, and it had simply never occurred to her that there was a significant francophone presence there. Most Israelis speak Hebrew and English, so it’s hard to imagine that French has even a fighting chance as a second language among them. Yet the first language we heard when we stepped out of our hotel in Tel Aviv was French—a pair of women chatting at a corner store across the street.
That was a surprise, since we hadn’t gone to Israel to meet francophones. Our goal was to visit the Hebrew Language Academy in Jerusalem. We had chosen it almost randomly from among some seventy bodies that regulate language across the world to illustrate the fact that France isn’t the only country with a language academy. But when we looked at Israeli society through francophone eyes, we discovered that ten percent of Israelis speak French, including almost all the Moroccan immigrants who live there. In fact, Israel has many more French speakers than Louisiana does.
It turns out there are French-speaking communities not only in the cities of Netanya and Ashdod, but also in urban centres. Tel Aviv has a substantial francophone population; Jerusalem has a vibrant French cultural centre, Le Centre culturel français Romain Gary; a French bookstore, Librairie Vice-Versa; and a large French expatriate community. When we strolled through the Arab quarter of the Old City chatting in French, merchants beckoned us into their shops in French. When we ran into communication problems with an Israeli taxi driver who didn’t speak English, French provided a miracle solution.
Our dip into the Middle East solidified an impression that got stronger throughout our research for this book: that French is more resilient than people generally believe. No matter how people feel about France, they are still interested in the French language. Israel was a case in point. Because of diplomatic tensions over the Palestinian question, very few Israelis hold France in high esteem today. But the reputation of the French language in Israel has suffered very little by association. Jerusalem’s Centre culturel français attracts enough students to offer French courses regularly, and Israel still has two French lycées, plus a dozen or so French schools run by Catholic religious orders referred to as les frères. While the use of French is probably not increasing in Israel, it is holding its own, as both a mother tongue and a second language.
This basic impression was confirmed everywhere we travelled to research this book, including Louisiana, the eastern United States, the Canadian Maritimes, northern Ontario, Senegal, Tunisia, Guadeloupe, Algeria, France, Belgium and Switzerland. In terms of relative numbers of speakers, French may be declining as an international language, but it has an enduring hold on the world, a level of influence that in many ways surpasses—and is even independent of—France’s.
When people think of the “French paradox,” they are usually thinking about how the French can eat rich foods and drink great quantities of wine yet somehow remain slim. But there is another French paradox, this one about the language: In spite of the ascendancy of English, French has held on to its influence. Where did this influence come from, and how has French retained it? These are the questions we set out to answer in The Story of French.
As an international language, French is said to be waning. English not so long ago surpassed French as the world’s lingua franca and is now the undisputed international language of business, diplomacy and academic exchange. In numbers of speakers, French ranks only ninth in the world, far behind Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English, and neck-and-neck with Portuguese. It has relatively little economic clout; the combined GDP of the countries where French is spoken places it far behind English, well behind both Japanese and German, and just ahead of Spanish. French speakers seem to be so insecure that they pass laws banning other languages and spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars making sure their language gets used in literature, music and film.
From other perspectives, however, French appears to be flourishing. Among international languages, French is in a class of its own. Of the six thousand languages now spoken on Earth, French is one of only fifteen spoken by more than a hundred million people, and one of a dozen used as official languages in more than one country. Among these, only four—English, French, Spanish and Arabic—have official status in more than twenty countries. French, with thirty-three countries, ranks second to English, with forty-five. Two G8 countries (France and Canada) are French-speaking, as are four member countries of the European Union (France, Belgium, Luxembourg and soon-to-be member Romania). French is the number-two second-language choice of students across the planet, attracting learners as far away as Lesotho and Azerbaijan, with two million teachers and a hundred million students worldwide. It is the only language besides English that is taught in every country of the world. Finally, there have never been as many French speakers in the world as there are today: The number has tripled since the Second World War. (For more details on these figures, refer to the Appendix.)
It doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to claim that French is another global language, and, as we have seen, perhaps the other global language, in an increasingly English-dominated world.     As two Canadians, we have a unique relationship with French that in some ways made us well-suited to explore its paradoxes. Along with Mauritius, the Seychelles, Cameroon and Vanuatu, Canada is one of five countries in the world where French and English are both official languages. Montreal, where we have lived for almost twenty years, is a rare bicultural metropolis, and the only one in the world where English and French co-exist almost equally in day-to-day life.
Jean-Benoît is a native French speaker. He was born and raised in Quebec, a Canadian province that was a French-speaking “Lost World” for two hundred years (it was cut off from contact with France from the end of New France in 1763 until the 1960s). His family is francophone, a term French speakers in Canada commonly use to distinguish themselves from both the European French, and North American English speakers, whom they refer to as anglophones. Jean-Benoît learned English when he was a teenager and decided to continue his studies in English at McGill University in Montreal. That’s where he met Julie, who, like him, had just enrolled in the political science program. Julie is an anglophone who was raised in English-speaking Ontario. She moved to Montreal to study (in English), but decided to stay and learn French after she graduated.
When we moved in together in 1991, Julie’s French was still pretty shaky, so we started our own system of language exchange, alternating the household language weekly between French and English, starting every Monday morning. The system worked well. Jean-Benoît started publishing magazine articles in English in 1994, and Julie started publishing in French in 1995. We have been writing for national magazines in both of Canada’s official languages ever since. This is unusual, even in Canada, where only a small minority of Canadians are truly bilingual, and fewer yet are bicultural. But working in both media worlds has given us a first-hand understanding of how differently anglophone and francophone Canadians see the world.
In 1999 we added a European twist to our bilingual profile by moving to Paris. Jean-Benoît became a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. His mandate was to explain why the French were resisting globalization, a topic that was on everyone’s mind at the time. The problem was that, two weeks after we arrived in France, we realized that the French weren’t resisting globalization at all. Luckily Jean-Benoît was allowed to switch his subject, so we both spent the next two years writing about who the French are and explaining why they think and organize themselves the way they do.
That work inspired us to write a book, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, which we released in the middle of the Iraq crisis in 2003. Our objective was to explain the reality behind perceptions of the French, particularly to the Anglo-American press. The timing for the book turned out to be risky, but we survived the intense French-bashing at the beginning of the Iraq war and the book has been selling well ever since. It was translated into French in 2005, and turned out to be as popular in France as it is in the English-speaking world.
Although The Story of French was written after Sixty Million Frenchmen, we got the idea for both books at the same time. Four months after we arrived in France, Jean-Benoît visited Monaco to attend an international conference of finance ministers of the Francophonie, the organization of French-speaking countries that resembles the Commonwealth. During this conference he realized how much language had become a new political reality on the international scene, with countries aligning themselves on issues on the basis of their native or adopted tongues—many propagandists in favour of invading Iraq in 2003 did so on the basis of “Anglo-Saxon” solidarity. When he saw the Francophonie at work, Jean-Benoît also understood to what extent the French language had become a globalizing force of its own—with or without France.
We decided to write a book to explain how this happened, starting from the very beginning of the story. From the outset we wanted to explore a few large themes—or myths. One was the Académie française, the French Academy. When people think of the French language, this is often the first thing that springs to mind. The Academy has long been a pet peeve of Anglo-American commentators, who hold it up as proof that the French are stuck in the past. In a way, as we learned, critics are right to laugh at the forty “immortals” wearing Napoleonic hats and carrying swords who get together every week to root out unworthy words from the French language. The French Academy is a little obsolete.
At the same time, when they are ridiculing the Academy, commentators almost always miss the point. The Academy in no way “polices” French. Its main job has always been to produce a French dictionary, and that’s still mostly what it does. Insofar as it regulates the language at all, it has hardly played more than a symbolic role since the mid-nineteenth century. But that doesn’t make the Academy any less important, either historically or today.
The creation of the French Academy in the seventeenth century was actually a breakthrough for European languages, and one of the main factors that enabled French to become the language of Europe’s elite. That in turn was one of the reasons why French spread across Europe, and eventually the world. In other words, the Academy was progressive, and it played an important historical role in making French what it is today, not only grammatically but also geopolitically. Today it still functions, if only symbolically, as a kind of museum of French-language normes, or standards. While these are often ridiculed, especially in the English-language media, language norms are an important facet of francophone culture, a value that stands on its own.
As for language protection, another francophone society, Quebec, took that on in the twentieth century and did a much more thorough job of it than the French ever have. Along with many other countries in the world, France considers Quebec’s standards to be a reference point in the field.
One peculiar and often overlooked feature of French is that, unlike English, it is still very much associated with its European “mother” country. Indeed, of all the international languages, French is the only one of which the majority of native speakers are still in their country of origin. The French never migrated en masse, so all native francophones outside of France and Algeria form a minority in their respective countries. As a result, France and Paris still tend to dominate the world view of French speakers, unlike Britain, Spain or Portugal, which have been surpassed by larger nations that speak their tongues.
But all that is changing. As we discovered during our research, the French language is less and less “controlled” by Paris. While the French Academy continues to play its (largely symbolic) role in defining French, francophones the world over use the language as it suits them. Real French, the language spoken by 175 million people across the planet, is alive and kicking and readily adapting to different political, cultural and religious contexts. Under the influence of local regionalisms, argots, verlan (slang) and other languages such as English and Arabic—to name but the most important—French speakers communicate in their own versions of French, not the stiff parlance taught in schools. And, increasingly, francophone societies outside France are speaking with each other, often completely bypassing Paris.
This vitality is one of the reasons why francophones have their own star system in literature, film, music and more, in spite of the global reach of American pop culture. Céline Dion and Gérard Depardieu may be the only names known to non-francophones, but singers such as Garou and Johnny Hallyday, poets such as Luc Plamondon and Amadou Kourouma, authors such as Michel Houellebecq and Tahar Ben Jelloun, and actors such as Gad Elmaleh or Djamel Debbouze are household names among francophones all over the world.
There is no doubt that francophones are borrowing liberally from English. But is it fair to deduce that they are insecure about their language? Given the amount of time and energy francophone societies spend thinking and talking about their language, it’s not surprising that Anglo-American commentators have so often jumped to this conclusion. However, these commentators usually overlook an important phenomenon among francophones: their attachment to the norme, to language rules and standards. Far from being a defensive reaction to the growing influence of English—as it is often portrayed—attachment to the norme is a cultural feature among francophones that has its own history and significance.
While most native English speakers (and many French speakers as well) assume that the progress of English is hurting the prospects of French, we found that, globally, that’s just not happening. Language is not a zero-sum game. There definitely appears to be a struggle: Outside France and Algeria, most francophones in the world are a minority in their country and have long had to fight for their language. But with the exception of Quebec, most of these efforts by francophones have been, and continue to be, directed towards other languages, not English. The French themselves are not insecure about their language and are not particularly concerned about English, for a simple reason: So far, they have no need to be.     How did French develop, spread and acquire its own set of values? And why does it remain important? These are the central questions underlying The Story of French. Throughout this narrative we explain the events that spawned the different features of French: its intense politicization, the rigidity of its rules, the sense of cultural exceptionality that inhabits every French speaker, the centrality of France, the adherence of all franco...

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Description du livre St Martin s Press, United States, 2008. Paperback. État : New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. In a captivating narrative that spans the ages, from Charlemagne to Cirque du Soleil, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow unravel the mysteries of a language that has maintained its global influence despite the rise of English. As in any good story, The Story of French has spectacular failures, unexpected successes and bears traces of some of history s greatest figures: the tenacity of William the Conqueror, the staunchness of Cardinal Richelieu, and the endurance of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Through this colorful history, Nadeau and Barlow illustrate how French acquired its own peculiar culture, revealing how the culture of the language spread among francophones the world over and yet remains curiously centered in Paris. In fact, French is not only thriving--it still has a surprisingly strong influence on other languages. As lively as it is fascinating, The Story of French challenges long held assumptions about French and shows why it is still the world s other global language. N° de réf. du libraire ABZ9780312341848

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Description du livre St Martin s Press, United States, 2008. Paperback. État : New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. In a captivating narrative that spans the ages, from Charlemagne to Cirque du Soleil, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow unravel the mysteries of a language that has maintained its global influence despite the rise of English. As in any good story, The Story of French has spectacular failures, unexpected successes and bears traces of some of history s greatest figures: the tenacity of William the Conqueror, the staunchness of Cardinal Richelieu, and the endurance of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Through this colorful history, Nadeau and Barlow illustrate how French acquired its own peculiar culture, revealing how the culture of the language spread among francophones the world over and yet remains curiously centered in Paris. In fact, French is not only thriving--it still has a surprisingly strong influence on other languages. As lively as it is fascinating, The Story of French challenges long held assumptions about French and shows why it is still the world s other global language. N° de réf. du libraire ABZ9780312341848

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