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Plus Ca Change: The Story of French from Charlemagne to the Cirque Du Soleil [Hardcover]

Jean-Benoit Nadeau , Julie Barlow
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Oct 2006
"The Story of French", like any good story, tells of spectacular failures and unexpected success. This is the story of the French language - second only to English for the number of countries where it is officially spoken. A language that is the official tongue of two G-7 countries and three European nations. A language with rules so complex that only a few people ever completely master it. Nadeau and Barlow show the readers -- through their own experiences of living and travelling to French-speaking countries -- how the French language developed and changed over the centuries, how it came to be spoken in the Americas, Africa and Asia and how it gained and maintained its global appeal - unravelling the mystique of a language that has been mysterious for too long. Written in a chronological narrative spanning more than 10 centuries, from ancient French dialects of the 8th century to the present-day French spoken in Quebec, Algeria, Beirut and more. While the story of the French language may have began over a thousand years ago, it is far from over...

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Robson Books Ltd; First Edition edition (26 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861059175
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861059178
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 652,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Exceptionally told, a celebration of the lasting influence of la
française." -- Kirkus Review

About the Author

Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1964, Jean-Benoit Nadeau holds a bachelor's degree in political science and history from McGill University. A journalist since 1987, he has been the recipient of 17 journalism awards.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant breadth and analysis 25 Dec 2008
This book is fantastic, both for the story of French and the history around it. I attempted the book by Graham Robb and gave up, this book I couldn't put down. Quite simply this is the best book I'm likely to read on this subject. Five+ stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About much more than simply the French language 29 Oct 2007
By Mr X
This book is about much more than one might assume from its title plus what is written on the back cover. It is true that it does describe the evolution of the French language from long ago to the present day but it also talks about the promotion of the language and its spread, initially in the area of Western Europe that is now France but also globally during the last 300 years.

Most interestingly, it gives a good insight to the use of language to spread influence and cultural ideas. For example, France was devastated by the Second World War but and at the end of that war found its global influence much diminished. However, through the promotion of French the Frence government saw a way of spreading French culture and influence aborad without any hope of doing so in other traditional ways. This policy of using "soft power" has been relatively successful too with French cinema being far more developed than say that of the British, and the Alliance Francaise being an institution much better known than the British Council (which I, as a Brit had not heard of until I read this book).

The book is written in a readable style and does not become involved in detailed discussion of grammar but focuses far more on the bigger picture. Also it is a book written by French-Canadians and is therefore much more global in perspective than "France-centric".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frankly French! 21 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting attempt to clarify the formative years of the french language. LOADS OF very interesting facts emerge making the Tome readable throughout at once as a sourcebook and as a secular entertainment. It adds considerable perspective for all french language enthusiasts. Enjoyable throughout!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plus ca Change 6 Dec 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An excellent and informative book which gives a fair and accurate history of the French language and its former, and present, place in the linguistic and political world. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in French, or even with an interest in language generally. I am sure it is a book that I shall return to many times in future.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A la bonne heure 29 Mar 2007
By Anson Cassel Mills - Published on Amazon.com
The authors of The Story of French are bilingual Canadian journalists who write intelligently and gracefully about how French has become a "globalizing force," especially through the influence of the francophonie beyond France. Beginning with a summary of language history, Nadeau and Barlow discuss the origins of the French Academy and the normative French of Paris--and of myth--before moving to the reasons why French continues to flourish despite the growing clout of English. Although the book is about a hundred pages too long, there are engrossing segments throughout. For instance, how many Americans know that ten percent of Israelis speak French, or that there is influential francophone community of Lebanese in Senegal, or that at the time of the Revolution, a majority of Frenchmen were unable to speak or write French?
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the history of French and French speakers 13 Aug 2008
By K G R - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a great introduction to the history and sociolinguistics of the French language. It gives a good history of French from its origins in vulgar Latin to the modern standard language. Differences in how the language is perceived by its native speakers (as opposed to how English speakers perceive English) is highlighted and explained. The role of French in the modern world, as well as the future of French as an "international" language and as a minority language are discussed at length.

I do have a few criticisms of the book. I find it bizarre that the case of Luxembourg, a Germanic country that uses French in higher education and government, was not discussed at all. A certain hostility to the increasing dominance of English can be felt at times. The authors seem to feel that French will retain its place as the world's "second" international language, despite the increasing prominence of languages like Spanish and Chinese, and English's ever-growing clout. The authors also appear to miss the point that most French speakers in Israel are first or second generation immigrants from Francophone countries, with little evidence that French, rather than Hebrew and English, will be passed on. I also think it unfortunate that France's policies of eliminating regional languages, such as Breton, Provencal, etc. were not adequately discussed while the anti-French policies in North America were (correctly) highlighted.

But still, overall an excellent introduction to the history and sociolinguistic situation of the French language today.
77 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Try again, authors ! 25 Dec 2006
By Demarus - Published on Amazon.com
This book is largely an explication of francophone influences throughout the world, with special emphasis on Canada. That French is no longer the property of the French (sensu strictiori) is obvious. The authors have rendered a distinct service by telling readers in detail about the multifarious offspring of French language and culture. They discuss the origins of academic French from various antecedents on the territory that is now France. Other languages have risen in similar ways, then acquired separate lives. To some extent that is true of Joual in Quebec, more so of Cajun. The fact that speakers of the derivatives have learned to master academic French in school and may use it in excellent ways as their language of correspondence or in cultivated conversation and academic studies does not make it their mother tongue. One may point out that analogous considerations apply to relatioships between Alemannic Swiss German and High German, Danish and Norwegian, Dutch and Low German dialects: they are separate languages.

The authors have, however, rendered good service by their survey of "francophonie" throughout the world and by detailing its spread and importance, sociologically,economically, and in other ways. They have pointed out and attempted to clear up misconceptions about the distribution and political impacts of the French in North America, and have illuminated differences between past and present. Perhaps more emphasis should have been placed on the role of francophone universities and their graduates since the second world war. The weakest parts of the book are those dealing with French philology in its linguistic and its literary aspects. Evidently (see their bibliogrphy) the authors have not paid attention to rigorous reference works, e.g., M. K. Pope's "From Latin to Modern French with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman", or to others. Their treatment of the Germanic elements is too sketchy. Their consideration of Provençal is insufficient, even for a book addressed to general readers. Also, if one refers to the role of Latin in French and English, distinctions have to be made between classical Latin, Latin of northern Gaul, medieval Latin.

A more specific comment: "Ave maris stella" means "Hail, star of the sea", not "Hail star of Mary" (p. 217).
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad way to spend a weekend 19 Aug 2007
By Blair - Published on Amazon.com
As an American who developed a distaste for French after suffering through years of dry, obnoxious French curriculum in high school, but who later actually learned the language from Francophone Africans in the Peace Corps, I picked up this book mostly to learn all the stuff I felt I had missed out on in my earlier years. The authors give a lot of very interesting insights about the origins of certain words (both French and English) and discuss the development of the French language from its medieval roots. Who knew that the French language was still only being consolidated from its precursor local tongues as late as the early 20th century? Cool!

I have two main complaints about the book, however, that lead me to the 3-star rating. First, the authors go way more into detail about Quebec and Francophone Canada than I care about - I did not pick up this book to learn about the legal history of les Canadiens - and either give way too little attention to the role of French in Africa, or write about it superficially. (I think they visited Senegal once, and Lesotho - which is Anglophone - too.) Seeing as there are *many* more African Francophones today than French-born ones (ignore the statistics they cite - almost all the numbers they quote seriously understate the number of French speakers in African countries, though they seem strangely bullish about Israelis), I think they could've focused a lot more on the continent where the future of the language truly lies. Secondly, while I never found the book anti-English, there was a strong note of apologeticism in the narrative that became somewhat onerous.

I also think their central thesis is flawed. Plurilingualism might be good for the French, but it sucks for the Danish, or Hungarians or Portugese. For the speakers of smaller languages which no one is going to learn, it makes perfect sense to have one international language which everyone can communicate in, even if that does afford some advantages to us native-born Anglophones (there are disadvantages too - I can't lean over and say something to my buddy in English that I don't want everyone else to understand, which most Ukranians, say, could with a great degree of confidence in their confidentiality).

So - for what it is, this is a good read. Especially if you're a Canadien fan. Go Leafs!
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent learning tool for French people learning English 4 Mar 2007
By Corinne Apostle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I gave this to my sister, who teaches English to French businessmen (and women) - they were all fascinated with the book, learned much from it, and their only disappointment was that it is not available IN French (tho she explained to them that if they could understand what was written, then they should read it in English!)
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