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Review of  Using French

Reviewer: Jim Walker
Book Title: Using French
Book Author: R. E. Batchelor Malcolm Offord
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 12.1925

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Offord, Malcolm (2001) French Words: Past, Present and Future.
Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN: 1-85359-469-2, viii+125pp, Modern
Languages in Practice series 14.

Reviewed by: Jim Walker, Universit� Lumi�re Lyon 2, France

[Another review of this book is posted at --Eds.]


This short text book is divided into a brief introduction and five chapters:

Chapter One "Words and Their Constituent Parts" is only a few pages long,
and provides a definitions of terms such as 'free and bound morphemes',
'stems', 'suffixes' and so on. All the illustrative examples provided are,
of course, in French.

Chapter Two, "Words" attempts to define what a word might be, and therefore
we review concepts such as the difference between 'orthographic words' and
'vocabulary items', 'word forms' and lexemes'. The chapter also looks at the
issues of semantic relationships, synonymy, hyponymy, antonymy, semantic
fields and so on, before closing on the vexed question of how we might
determine just how many words there are in the French language. These first
two chapters, then, might be more fruitfully considered to be general
introductory chapters on morphology, using French examples, than chapters on
the French language as such.

Chapter Three, "Words With A Long History" is a long and varied chapter. It
concentrates on the prehistory of French and its "formative period", tracing
the development of modern French words from their Latin, Celtic and Frankish
origins, among others. The author looks at morphological development, such
as the Vulgar Latin use of diminutive suffixes: CL sol > VL soliculum > MF
soleil, and of course, and much more extensively, at the various sound
changes that have occurred between the Gallo-Roman period and the present
The chapter then moves on to discuss how word meanings change over time. We
examine the difference between learned forms and popular forms and the
impact this has had on Modern French (for example the doublet ran�on
'ransom'/r�demption, both derived from Lat. redemptionem), and then the
various ways in words may see their meaning change, through specialisation
(Lat. trahere 'to pull' becomes MF traire 'to milk'), metaphor (Lat. testa
'jug' becomes MF t�te 'head'), metonymy, and so forth.

Chapter Four, "Words With A Foreign Origin", where the title is perfectly
self-explanatory. Here, of course, we look at words that have been borrowed
into French over the ages, and possibly more importantly, we examine the
various reasons why borrowings are made. An interesting and useful typology
of causes for and types of borrowing is provided at the beginning of the
chapter. There then follows a hugely impressive array of examples of words
of foreign origin, not only from the more obvious sources, such as English,
Italian and Arabic, but also from regional languages such as Breton and
Alsatian, and other sources such as Flemish, Frisian, Russian, Finnish,
Malgasy and Syriac, to name but a handful. It is very hard to see a language
which may have been omitted from this survey.

The final chapter is "Words with a Short History - Neologisms", and once
again the title has the merit of needing little in the way of explanation.
The author takes neologisms to be words which have entered French in the
past half century, hence the reference to a short history. Offord discusses
the various tools that Modern French has at its disposal in order to create
new words, ranging from derivational morphology in the shape of affixation,
through composition and on to blending and acronymy, not forgetting to nod
in the direction of verlanisation, the relatively modern French phenomenon
by which syllables or sounds in a word are inverted (this is a considerable
simplification, of course, of what is in fact an extremely complex subject),
such that for example the adjective pourri (corrupted, rotten) will be
converted to ripou.

The five chapters, then, cover a considerable amount of territory in a short
space of time (they account for some 120 pages). The constraints involved in
packing so much information into so small a space have necessarily given
rise to their fair share of problems, which I shall attempt to highlight
below, but I also hope to demonstrate that Offord is to be commended for
this book, which is a useful addition to the field.


Offord's book is designed using rather an original principle, which he
refers to in his Introduction (p. viii) as "text-bites". Most of the
paragraphs in the book are attributed a kind of ranking system. If they are
definitions, then they are framed with thick lines, whereas if they form the
'main thrust' of the explanation, they are accompanied by a vertical line in
the margin. Introductory paragraphs receive no marking at all, and there are
also exercises in dotted frames. The idea behind this is that it should make
the text easier to apprehend, but to my mind, it is possibly the book's
greatest failing. There seems to me no advantage whatever to this form of
typographical arrangement over what might be thought of as a more
traditional presentation. For example, almost the whole of the fourth
chapter, on foreign borrowings, is presented with a series of almost
uninterrupted vertical lines in the margins. It is hard to see what
disadvantage there would have been to removing them.

There is a hint in the introduction itself that even the author is a little
uneasy with this system, though I may of course be misreading his
intentions. It is difficult, however, for a prospective reader to feel
entirely confident when he or she comes across (again p. viii): "They [the
use of headings for the text-bites] also help signpost the drift of the
individual chapters - so, if you wish to skip a particular section, you are
free to do so (and almost invited to do so in Chapter 3!)." It is not clear
to me what problem there is in this infamous chapter 3 that might incite the
unwary reader into missing half of it out, at the behest of the author

As I suggested above, the first two chapters are less about French as such
than morphology in general, and they seem to me to be entirely adequate in
this respect, as long as it is borne in mind that this is not for the
student of morphology, but an introduction to basic themes in morphology for
the student of French vocabulary. It is here that the exercises provided are
the most plentiful, and without doubt the most useful for prospective
classroom use. Curiously, the exercises are numbered in the first chapter,
but not anywhere else.

A word or two about the exercises throughout the book. The intention is
entirely laudable, of course, and many of the exercises are indeed useful,
either for the lone student or for classroom use. It is difficult, however,
to avoid the feeling that at times, the exercises are being used as
space-fillers, or at the very least are rather forced. An exercise p. 35, in
Chapter 3, begins with "Imagine the invasion of Gaul by the Romans." and
continues "What sort of people would be involved - in the military campaigns
and then as settlements were established?". Another in chapter 5 asks
readers to guess which of a series of words are likely to have disappeared
from dictionaries of modern French. The list includes missile de croisi�re
(cruise missile), festage (tax paid to lord when ridge-piece of roof is
laid), cong� de maternit� (maternity leave) and besanter (to decorate with
Byzantine coins). This is scarcely a challenging exercise.

Chapters 3 and 4 function very effectively, I feel, if they are regarded as
a reference source. As mentioned above in the synopsis, they are
impressively comprehensive and absolutely packed with examples of borrowings
from various languages (chapter 4) and useful summaries of historical sound
changes (chapter 3). It is in the light of the book's usefulness as a handy
reference guide that it is perhaps regrettable that no index is provided.
What is particularly refreshing in a work of this nature, in which so many
examples are given, is the quality of the proof-reading. As far as I can
establish, the book contains almost no errors in the lists of examples.
There are some minor mistakes: on page 70, Offord refers to the verb
asticoter as meaning 'to polish'. In fact, the verb means 'to irritate', 'to
annoy', and the similar astiquer means 'to polish'. On page 90, Offord
translates bled, borrowed from Arabic, as 'rolling countryside', but modern
French usage is either 'small town/village', often with pejorative
undertones, or used to refer to the homeland of North African immigrants,
who in the summer holidays 'retourner au bled'. Finally on p. 110, the
author writes une axe rouge, when 'axe' is in fact masculine. There is also
a curious reference on the same page 110 to a 'hair lip' in English, as a
translation of French cheveu lingual, which was unfamiliar to me. I only
know of 'hare lip' in English.

However, I might quite rightly be taken to task for churlishness were I to
attach too great an importance to these slips, because they must be seen
against the light of an impressive array of examples and illustrations.

The final chapter, on neologisms, is in many ways the most interesting
chapter in the book. Very little of what has gone before is original - many
of the examples of foreign borrowings may be found in other works, such as
Walter 1998 or Guiraud 1965. Many of the examples in the final chapter,
however, are considerably more original. It is for this reason that I regret
that no sources were provided, apart from, rather curiously, on the very
final page, where a handful of words which have recently changed word class
(e.g. classe, a noun which has adjectival uses now - Ils sont classe) are
given, along with references to the newspapers or magazines in which they
were found.

The author shows most ably in this chapter how neologisms in modern French
have been created in the same way, using the same tools, as in the past. The
structure of this chapter reflects that of the first and second chapters, as
we look at neologisms by affixation, composition, metaphor and metonymy.
Space is given to more genuinely new forms of word creation, such as
acronymy and verlanisation. Once again, the examples are in no short supply.

It is a shame, in my view, that the author has had to play within the
constraints of space in this chapter, a factor which leads to a "shopping
list effect", by which I mean that we are almost overwhelmed by the wealth
of neologism in modern French, but that there is very little space for
discussion. For example, the question of composition in modern French is
extremely interesting. There are some views to the effect that the
'traditional' French pattern of Determined-Determiner (e.g. sauce tomate
'tomato sauce' has undergone the influence of English composition such that
there are now a greater number of compositions in French which follow a
Determiner-Determined pattern (e.g. Peugeot Assistance 'breakdown service
provided by Peugeot' (PICONE, 1987 ; 8). Offord gives examples of both
patterns, but they are not differentiated (homme grenouille 'frogman', a
more traditional French composition, is in the same category as a�loi-rock
'music from Marseilles')

There is also little discussion of the question of register in neologisms,
such that we find primo-migrant, a learned term referring to a first
generation immigrant, placed in the same category as pifom�trique, a highly
familiar term translated as 'intuitive', but is much closer to the idea, and
register, of 'following one's nose'. These two words are indeed
morphologically similar, but it would have proved useful to at least mention
other issues.

Finally, it is not entirely clear to me how the creation of adjectives from
town names (p. 107, an inhabitant of Bourg-la-Reine, near Paris, is a
R�ginaborgien) can really be considered in the category of neologisms, given
that this latter term was defined as a word created within the last 50

To sum up, then, Offord's book certainly has its limits, because I feel that
too much has been attempted in too short a work. This has led to a
frustrating tendency to give precedence to example over discussion. However,
the prospective reader should bear in mind that the wealth of detail here is
impressive, and that this book could be an extremely valuable reference
resource for many a student of the French language.


Guiraud, P., 1965, Les Mots �trangers, Paris: PUF, Que Sais-Je?

Picone, Michael, 1987, De l'anglicisme et de la dynamique de la langue
fran�aise, th�se de troisi�me cycle sous la direction du Professeur F.
Deloffre, Paris IV Sorbonne.

Walter, Henriette, 1998, Le fran�ais d'ici, de l�, de l�-bas, Paris: JC

The reviewer: Jim Walker holds a PhD in French sociolinguistics from the
Sorbonne. He teaches linguistics and translation at the English Department
of Universit� Lumi�re Lyon 2. Research interests include language
attitudes (particularly with regard to English influence -- PhD subject),
links between political attitudes and attitudes to language; translation


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