Monday, November 19, 2007

"The Story of French"

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 books include Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong and The Story of French.

They applied the Page 69 Test to the latter title and reported the following:
The Story of French is a popular history of the French language told from the perspective of the entire French-speaking world, and not just France. In it, we tried to explore – and debunk – the many myths about French. The thing we discovered when we were doing our research was that everybody has an opinion about French – they either think it’s a beautiful language and are dedicated to it, or they think it’s a dying language and feel it should give up its pretense of grandeur. In the book, we explain where both these perceptions come from, while we cover the history and evolution of the language “from Charlemagne to the Cirque du Soleil.”

Curiously, the first thing that comes to mind when people think of French is often the French Academy, that crazy, archaic, some would say obsolete group of old men (actually, there have been a few women members) who have been trying to “control” French for centuries. Well, I was a little surprised to see that page 69 is the beginning of our discussion of the French Academy.

This is pretty representative of the rest of the book. The Story of French is more about geopolitics than about linguistics, and here we give the little-known, behind-the-scenes story of the Academy’s formation, which had more to do with political power than language.

“The Academy started out as one of dozens of informal literary clubs in Paris in the early seventeenth century…”

In 1634, France’s prime minister, the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, decided to take it over and give it a sort of monopoly in the hopes of wiping out the other clubs, which were posing a threat to the King’s power. Hence it became “the” Academy. As you can read in the pages preceding page 69, the whole idea of making French “pure” came before the French Academy. The King just sort of cashed in on the movement to consolidate his power.
Read an excerpt from The Story of French and learn more about the authors and their writing at their official website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue