'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 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. 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 begun over a thousand years ago, it is far from over.
In the early days of the French language (the 11th and 12th centuries), the land of the Franks was littered with languages. There was Breton, Angevin, Gascon, Savoyard, Limousin, and even Picard French. Early French evolved from the combination of the Langues d’oil (in Northern France) and the Langues d’oc (in the South). The Crusade sent many Frenchmen to the holy lands in the Middle East, and men from all over France had to communicate with each other and their leaders had to relay messages from the monarch to the men. This combined with the creation of the Kingdom of France in 1204 spawned a unified nation that needed a unified language. The 1634 creation of the Academie arose amid a need to preserve the culture and language of the French against incursions from other nations.
Apart from the history of the language, Nadeau and Barlow also look at the spread of French across the globe, either through natural expansion or through colonial means. French is spoken not just throughout Europe, but also in the US, Brazil, Madagascar, Djibouti, and Vietnam (and many, many other countries). In many respects, the cultural aspects of the French language are far more interesting than its linguistic history. How French and French-speaking peoples are depicted is equally engaging. For the most, the authors keep the topics relevant, well-paced, and scholarly. There are moments of digression into minutia, but there are neither intrusive nor incompatible with the rest of the text. Overall, this was a decent and not too thick read.