THE STORY OF FRENCH by Jean-Benoît Nadeau
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A linguistic quest that charts the development, spread and future of the French language.

As you’d imagine, French emerged from the efforts of poets, rebels and kings. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476, the Franks consolidated power in Western Europe. Under their influence, the language of the area began to evolve away from Latin. First described as “rustic Roman,” the label for the new form of speech quickly became Romance. In the 11th and 12th centuries, wandering troubadours sang poems in Romance that honored love. Their compositions were celebrated and repeated at court, a high-level influence that hastened the spread of the new language. When French king François I ordained the power of the State in 1539, he restricted the influence of the church and laid the foundation for modern French. The state rejected Latin and embraced its own preferred form of expression. If people wanted to conduct business or communicate with those in power, they needed to speak French. It gave rise to the salon, where Francophiles debated and discussed the topics of the day. Conversation became high art. Between the influences at royal courts near and far, in commerce and among the intellectual elite, French solidified its standing as the international language of diplomacy. Even the French Revolution was first and foremost about the language of the people. Article 1 of the first French constitution set the primary goal of the republic to teach its citizenry to read and write in the mother tongue. Nadeau and Barlow nimbly explore the spread of its usage through the Crusades, colonialism and affairs of court. They also extensively examine the ups and downs of its international influence. The essence of modern French remains strong in the face of competing languages, and the authors rather convincingly argue that it remains the language of intellectuals and gentlemen.

Exceptionally told, a celebration of the lasting influence of la française.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-34183-0
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2006


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