The Story of French by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau
Winner of The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 2007
An exploration of the historical and cultural development of the French language from the bestselling authors of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.
Imagine a language that is watched over by a group of forty “Immortals,” a language with rules so complex that few people ever completely master it, whose status as the world’s lingua franca has been declining for two centuries, whose use in global institutions is waning and whose speakers are so insecure they pass laws banning the use of other languages and spend millions of tax-payers’ dollars to make sure it 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, surpassing both Spanish or Arabic, a language that is the official tongue of two G-7 countries and three European nations, that is employed alongside English in most international institutions and that is the number-two choice of language students across the planet – a language with two million teachers and 100 million students worldwide, and whose number of speakers has tripled in the last fifty years.
This paradox is the backdrop for The Story of French, in which bilingual Canadian authors Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow unravel the mysteries of a language that has maintained its global influence in spite of the ascendancy of English. Mixing historical analysis with journalistic observation, and drawing on their experiences living in and travelling to French-speaking countries, they explore how the French language developed over the centuries, how it came to be spoken in the Americas, Africa and Asia, and how it has maintained its global appeal.
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