Synopses & Reviews
Imagine a language watched over by a group of “Immortals” wearing Napoleonic hats and brandishing swords, one with rules so complex that mastery is a farce, and one whose speakers spend millions of dollars yearly to place it artfully in literature, music, and film. Now consider that this language is second only to English to the number of countries where it is officially spoken and has tripled in use in the last fifty years. Simultaneously frightening users with its delicately nuanced vowels, it is also beloved by millions for its romantic associations. The language is French, and this, is its story.
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 historys 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 worlds other global language.
"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 française."—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review
"Excellent...An engaging and well-conceived book. Highly recommended."—Library Journal
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. Nadeau and Barlow chart the history of a language spoken as a native tongue by 130 million people around the globe. The first document written in the French was signed by the sons of Charlemagne in 832. After this, Latin was purged from the courts of France by Francois 1st, giving root to French speakers' 21st century obsession with language protection. The obsession progressed as Cardinal Richelieu established the French Academy, a group entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the language pure and eloquent. As French circled the globe, the international cast of characters included Montaigne, Catherine the Great, Frederic II of Prussia, the guides of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jules Verne, and others. Let Nadeau and Barlow guide you through the story of a language used to write some of the world's great masterpieces of literature, construct some of the most important documents of diplomacy, bedevil millions with its vagaries of pronunciation and beguile everyone with its beauty.
About the Author
Partners in life and in writing, Canadian journalist-authors JEAN-BENOÎT NADEAU and JULIE BARLOW are award-winning contributors to Lactualité. 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 Cant Be Wrong. They live in Montreal.