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Review of  Using French

Reviewer: 'Helene Knoerr' ['Helene Knoerr'] Helene Knoerr
Book Title: Using French
Book Author: R. E. Batchelor Malcolm Offord
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): French
Book Announcement: 12.592

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R.E. Batchelor & M.H. Offord (2000) Using French: A Guide to Contemporary
Usage, Cambridge University Press, 333 pages.

By H�l�ne Knoerr, University of Ottawa


This is the third edition of this guide, and it differs substantially from
the previous editions in that it attempts to integrate vocabulary and
grammar in everyday language while paying special attention to language
levels ("levels of register") in French. It also includes new sections on
idiomatic expressions, semi-technical vocabulary ("the sort of vocabulary
that every educated person ought to be familiar with"), and a largely
rewritten section on gender. As was the case before, the target audience is
advanced students ("[with] a certain expertise in the French language"). The
book's main objective is to help students avoid the most common mistakes by
explaining their sources and providing extensive rules.

The guide is divided into three parts of varying length. Section one, the
shortest (30 pages), deals with register. Section 2 (over 160 pages) is
devoted to vocabulary. Section 3 (about 150 pages) is about grammar.

Most of the content is presented in tabular form, and extensive use of bold
or italic typeface is made throughout the book to differentiate examples
from explanations and translations.


Part One, Register, explains what register is and describes the different
varieties of language. It lists a number of factors that impact on the use
of a particular variety - e.g., subject matter, purpose, medium,
relationship between speakers - and explains how the book will refer to
these registers: R1, R2 and R3, from extreme informality to extreme
formality. It gives extremely useful examples of each register in
pronunciation and liaison (although one may disagree with the syllabic
division in the phonetic transcriptions), as well as in vocabulary and
grammar. These are clearly presented in tabular form. A whole section then
provides sample (i.e., fabricated) dialogues as well as authentic examples
excerpted from newspapers as well as literary works, each followed by an
exhaustive list of the characteristics specific to the corresponding
register. This first part ends with a very interesting contrastive study of
how two major French newspapers report on a weekend of accidents in France,
highlighting the stylistic techniques used by each.

Part Two, Vocabulary, opens with the main sources of vocabulary mistakes,
such as deceptive cognates and homonyms. It then presents paronyms and
synonyms. Other sections list complex verbal expressions as well as idioms,
similes and proverbs, with systematic indication of non-standard registers.
Special attention is given to proper names of famous people and
international places and how they are spelled and pronounced in French. A
very useful section lists the most commonly used acronyms and sigles that
permeate everydaylife in France, and another one introduces useful
abbreviations, whether used in newspaper ads or in typical conversations.
Latin expressions commonly found in formal as well as informal interactions
are also presented (some indications on how to pronounce them would have
been useful, since they sound quite different in French). A catchall section
presents interjections (with a very questionable list of highly offensive
words and phrases and no indication of their grammatical nature - and
therefore of the proper way to use them in a sentence -), fillers,
transition words and forms of address (how to initiate, maintain and close
an interaction, for example). A very short subsequent section is devoted to
numbers and their various uses in everydaylife: units of measurement,
currency, time, telephone numbers and clothing sizes in particular differ in
France and in the United Kingdom. Then comes what the authors refer to as
"semi-technical vocabulary" but what really is indispensable vocabulary
related to everyday life: managing finances, shopping for insurance, paying
taxes (lots of inappropriate capitalizations in these tables), using
computer equipment, understanding welfare benefits and contributions,
managing a business or an investment portfolio, and understanding the
justice system in how it is present in daily news (crime, going to court,
for example). A healthcare component would have been a useful addition. This
second section closes on another catchall section dealing with quite
interesting aspects of the language: a contrastive list of frequency of
occurence between French and English (cases where the French word is used
more often than the English cognate, or vice versa) - which would have been
better placed in the Cognates part of this second section; spelling
differences between cognates - again, this would have been better placed in
the Cognates subsection; a list of recently coined compound words (and no
mention of the new recommendations on how to form the plural of such words);
and a very short mention of Verlan (which I would have placed in the first
section about Registry, since it is always and only R1).

Part 3 - Grammar - starts with comprehensive lists of masculine and feminine
simple and compound nouns, including "doubtful" and "variable" genders;
explanations of the gender of nouns that are derived from brand names fail
to mention that whether such nouns are masculine or feminine simply depends
on which underlying noun is implied (e.g., la Renault because voiture is
feminine, le Concorde because avion is masculine, la Saint Valentin because
f�te is feminine, etc.). A section on number follows, listing general rules,
exceptions, and giving examples for simple, compound, foreign words as well
as proper names; a very useful subsection deals with words that are singular
in French but plural in English and vice versa. The next section is about
word order for adjectives with respect to the nouns they qualify (including
those adjectives which change their meaning according to their position),
for adverbs with respect to the object of the verbs they modify, for
personal pronouns with respect to the verb; it also deals with word order in
interrogative, exclamative and emphatic sentences ("highlighting"). The book
then focuses on prepositions and gives the usual endless alphabetical lists
of verbs, nouns and adjectives followed by �, de, par, etc. A more useful
and original subsection highlights verbs and verbal expressions that can be
followed by a number of preposition depending on meaning, and gives several
examples along with their translations as needed. Prepositional expressions
are then presented quite extensively, with an attempt to classify the
examples according to the relationship expressed between the preposition and
the noun; the authors have also included long lists of English prepositions
along with examples and their French counterpart. The next item is negation,
with emphasis on register. Then the focus is on verbs, but only for
"significant differences between French and English usages", such as the
expression of time (present, future, past) with incomplete emphasis on
sequence of tenses (e.g., in sentences with a hypothetical clause introduced
by Si, but no mention of indirect style); verb forms are also discussed, as
well as reflexive and non reflexive verbs, verbs of movement - which are a
real source of mistakes. The subjunctive mood has its own separate
subsection, with the usual lists of verbs and conjunctive expressions but an
interesting link with register; this reviewer however questions the advice
to avoid using the subjunctive "(b)ecause of uncertainty over correct forms
and grey areas of usage" and disagrees with what the authors give as
equivalent replacements (for example, "� mon insu" is much more formal than
"sans que je le sache"). The next section is about pronouns; one may be
surprised that the difference between Tu and Vous is still addressed in an
advanced level text; the appropriate uses of Il and Ce, on, soi, en, y, are
described. Then it is back to prepositions again, this time with the names
of countries and geographical places. The final section of this third part
is about changes of word class.

A vocabulary list of words and expressions contained in four sections of the
second part is a useful closing to the book.


Using French is a dense, comprehensive guide to contemporary usage. As a
reference book, it has everything one would expect, as well as some more
unusual but highly useful sections and highlights, particularly with respect
to pronunciation and lexical errors. Overall, no groundbreaking system has
been found to explain or simply present the typical problems facing
students, especially in grammar. The tabular form of most of the book is
generally a good format choice. The main criticism this reviewer would make
is the apparent lack of structural strength in the book's organization. Some
parts are catchall sections with little or nothing in common. Other sections
would have been more logically placed in other parts of the book. Of course,
grammar and vocabulary are intricately linked together and trying to
separate them poses certain challenges. The same goes for register, which
accounts for a mere 30 pages in the first part but is everpresent throughout
the book. All in all, a useful addition to one's library.


H�l�ne Knoerr was born, raised and educated in France. She holds a Ph.D. in
Applied Phonetics and currently teaches French as a Second language at the
Second Language Institute of the University of Ottawa. Her research
interests include integrating phonetics in the language curriculum, teaching
pronunciation through multimedia, and developing multimedia course material
for French as a Second Language. She has authored several books and
textbooks, published many papers and given a number of presentations at
international conferences on those topics.


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