French Inside Out: The Worldwide Development of the French Language in the Past, the Present and the Future

French Inside Out: The Worldwide Development of the French Language in the Past, the Present and the Future

French Inside Out: The Worldwide Development of the French Language in the Past, the Present and the Future

French Inside Out: The Worldwide Development of the French Language in the Past, the Present and the Future

Synopsis

In this comprehensive introduction, Henriette Walter provides the reader with a panoramic view of the development of the French language in the past, present and future.

Excerpt

Human beings have a highly special relationship with the language they speak. They have learnt it without wanting to. It has been imposed on them by simple contact with the people around them. It coincided, for them, with their becoming conscious of the world they live in. How, in such circumstances, could they not come to identify the word with the thing? If they are afraid of the thing, then they will be afraid of the word: who has not shrunk with horror from the word cancer, that ‘protracted disease’ which usually ends in death? But on the other hand there are words which fill you with joy because they are identified with pleasure, happiness, love, or tenderness. What do the phrases ‘that’s a good sign’ or ‘that’s a bad sign’ mean if not that what they are describing will, at some point, become reality? Perhaps in this case, where thought is already involved, word and thing no longer coincide. But that is far from being the case in everyday life where we are confronted with concrete realities. Why should we dissociate the tree as an object from the sounds which refer to it? That would already be an act of reasoning, we would be doing ‘philosophy’, losing contact with reality, and common sense convinces us that a tree is a tree, just as a spade is a spade.

It is really only when we learn to read that distancing begins. Before then, a tree was only a vision of a trunk with foliage on top. Now we are given a visually perceptible equivalent in the shape of tree, a series of four letters that we rapidly come to perceive as a whole. It is then that, for some of us, language may take on an existence which is distinct from that of the world as we experience it. It should not, therefore, come as any surprise to learn that many people—or should I say everybody apart from a few eccentrics?—identify the French language with its written form. This language, with its spelling system which can pose so many problems for French schoolchildren, should not, of course be confused with the rough and ready writing of beginners, or even the hasty scribblings of adults. It found a respectable form only in the works of the great authors, and so represents an ideal towards which we must strive and which will, for most of us, remain unattainable.

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