Monday, November 19, 2007

Pg. 69: Nadeau et Barlow's "The Story of French"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow's The Story of French.

About the book, from the authors' website.

Imagine a language that is watched over by a group of forty “Immortals” wearing Napoleonic hats and carrying swords, with rules so complex that few people ever completely master it. Its speakers are so insecure they pass laws banning other languages while they spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars making sure their own language gets used in literature, music and film.

Now imagine a language that is second only to English for the number of countries where it is spoken officially, a language that is the official tongue of two G-8 countries and three European nations — with two million teachers and 100 million students worldwide, and whose number of speakers has tripled in the last fifty years, reaching 175 million, in sixty-three countries.

This paradoxical picture is the backdrop for The Story of French. In a narrative that spans from Charlemagne to the Cirque du Soleil, Canadian authors Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow unravel the mysteries of French and answer the question: why has French remained so influential even though it’s only the world’s 9th language in number of speakers?

As in any good story, The Story of French has spectacular failures and unexpected successes: the tenacity of William the Conqueror, the staunchness of Cardinal de Richelieu, the personality clashes of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Quebec Premier René Lévesque, and the activism of figures like Senegal's president Léopold Sédar Senghor or U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Through this colourful history, Nadeau and Barlow show how French acquired its own peculiar culture – one that includes intense politicization of language, rigid grammar rules, and a sense of cultural exceptionalism.

Nadeau and Barlow show how French became the first language of a state, then the language of Europe’s elite, of international diplomacy, of liberty and the rights of man, and of travel, cuisine, luxury and high culture. They explain how the culture of the language spread among francophones the world over, yet why it still remains curiously centered on Paris. As the authors discovered traveling not only in France, but in Algeria, Tunisia, Israel, Senegal, Monaco, Belgium, Louisiana, New Brunswick, Sudbury and more, French is thriving, and still maintaining its centuries-old influence on English.

As entertaining as it is fascinating, The Story of French challenges certainties about French and shows why French is still the world’s other global language.

Among the praise for The Story of French:

"...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, New York Times

"...fascinating reading for French immersion school teachers and students, and actually for everyone with a personal interest in culture and linguistics."
--Lysiane Gagnon, Globe and Mail

"...a mind altering experience... Every Canadian should read this book."
--Pat Donnelly, The Montreal Gazette

"...clearly written, well-organized ... an illuminating portrait of Gallic sensibility."
--Publishers Weekly

"...chockablock with [...] intriguing facts about the language and its evolution."

" excellent book on the history of the French language, stuffed with surprises, insight and humour."
--The Independent
Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the International Herald Tribune and the French Canadian public affairs magazine L’actualité. Their first book was the bestselling Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.

Read an excerpt from The Story of French and learn more about the authors and their writing at their official website.

The Page 69 Test: The Story of French.

--Marshal Zeringue