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Review of  European Francophonie


Reviewer: Judith Bridges
Book Title: European Francophonie
Book Author: Vladislav Rjéoutski Gesine Argent Derek Offord
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Czech
Dutch
English
French
Italian
Piemontese
Polish
Prussian
Romanian
Russian
Spanish
Swedish
Turkish
Issue Number: 27.363

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

“European Francophonie: The Social, Political, and Cultural History of an International Language”, edited by Vladislav Rjéoutski, Gesine Argent, and Derek Offord, surveys the usage of French beyond France mostly between the mid-seventeenth century and the nineteenth, but at times as broadly as the Middle Ages and the twentieth century. The volume arose from a series of seminars and commissioned papers from various scholars on francophonie in Europe; it comprises twelve chapters, each examining a different language community. Accompanied by two introductory chapters and a conclusion chapter, this volume provides a robust depiction of the topic of French in European language communities outside of France. The volume also provides notes on contributing authors and an index.

As the title conveys, the volume explores the history of social, political and cultural issues of French as an internationally prestigious language. Some of the sociolinguistic matters covered include the multilingualism of European communities, French as a language of prestige and as a lingua franca, the usage of French and its connection with speakers’ class, gender, language ideologies and level of education, and the choice of French among the nobility, in the courts, and as a method of cultural transmission. French usage in these dimensions is investigated amongst twelve linguistic communities: medieval English, Piedmontese, Italian, Dutch, German (Prussian), Bohemian, Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Romanian, Imperial Russian, and Ottoman Turkish.

The first of two introductory chapters is authored by the co-editors Gesine Argent, Vladislav Rjéoutski and Derek Offord. I dwell on this chapter at some length because it is fundamental. First the reader is afforded with a useful overview of the term ‘francophonie,’ plus how and why this term can be problematic depending on the time frame. The authors then establish an impression of the attitudes towards the French language in the seventeenth century as an idealized notion of a universal syntax and pure, polite, and unambiguous expression. These ideologies often impacted some previous sociolinguistic studies of francophonie. The chapter summarizes some past attempts to paint an all-inclusive picture of French and its influence in Europe, many of which fell short of explaining why French and its reputation developed in the matter that it did, other than ‘by its own virtue’.

This chapter additionally explains that while there is an abundance of literature on the spread of English and other languages, as well as modern language spread and multilingualism, there is a dearth of works examining historical francophonie across Europe from a sociological point of view. It proceeds to define the dimensions, paradigms, and relevant questions explored by scholars of historical sociolinguistics, and precisely how the volume – despite the limitations of having no access to reliable spoken data – was able to examine the history of French as a language of civilization, while dealing with the fact that languages do not simply become prestigious on their own. In sum, this chapter provides a marvelous introduction to historical sociolinguistics and orients the reader for the rest of the volume.

The second chapter by Peter Burke continues as a very useful overview of the concept of diglossia. Like the first chapter, this chapter prepares the reader for the following chapters. Burke concisely describes the extensive subject of diglossia, taking into account the complexity of diglossia’s geopolitics and sociology. In this chapter, the reader learns that French is a very famous example of a High form language used on a multinational level in early modern Europe.

In Chapter Three, the volume begins its focus on individual linguistic regions. “The French of Medieval England”, by Marianne Ailes and Ad Putter, focus on the centuries immediately after the Norman Conquest. This chapter examines why French became a major language in medieval England, who used French and why, what impact did francophonie in England have on francophone literature elsewhere, and why English increased as a written language while French ceased to be a mother tongue by the mid-thirteenth century. Finally, despite the ascendancy of English, the authors show that the French language continued to thrive as a useful language, spoken and written, all the way through the fifteenth century. This chapter thoroughly portrays the duration of francophonie in England with each claim illustrated by specific examples of letters, literature, chansons, instruction manuals, and various chronicles.

Chapter Four, “Knowledge of French in Piedmont” by Alda Rossebastiano documents the manifestation of francophonie in this uniquely situated region that bridges the Italo-Romance and the Gallo-Romance territories. Rossebastiano begins the treatment of French in Piedmont by summarizing the decline of French as a common tongue especially in higher society, to eventually yielding to Italian as Italy became unified in 1860. The chapter continues on to describe the earlier periods when French was more present in Piedmont, such as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when French was used in the court system, in official documents, or for scientific, historical, military, or administrative subjects. The author argues for the strong interference of the French and culture with numerous examples of loan words, quantitative information such as the percentage of French books in circulation during the sixteenth century, and a table that shows the prevalence of French in onomastics.

The fifth chapter is Nadia Minerva’s “The Two Latin Sisters: Representations of the French and the French Language in Italy,” in which Minerva shows the influence of ‘Gallomania’ and ‘Gallophobia’ in Italy. Specifically, the chapter covers the history between Italy and France from the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century, when resistance movements increased during the era of Napoleonic invasions. Minerva demonstrates the prestigious status of French, how it evolved and came to impose on national identity, and how the obsession with French gradually dissipated. The information in this chapter is supported with a synthesis of some previous research on the topic, and plenty of examples that aid in illustrating each step of the evolution of the French language’s prestige and usage in Italy.

In the following chapter, Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau offers an overview on how French was used among the Dutch elites in the eighteenth century. The chapter begins its treatment of French in Holland with a portrayal of the more overarching historical and linguistic background, explaining how French spread and by whom. French acquired certain features as a language for international connections, in literary societies, and in the private dimension of letters and personal journals. The Dutch elite were mostly bilingual, and, similar to elsewhere in Europe, by the end of the Napoleonic era French as a symbol of cosmopolitanism began to fade, and French became primarily a foreign language learned in school.

In Chapter Seven, “The Domains of Francophonie and Language Ideology in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Prussia,” Manuela Böhm sketches the usage and the role of the French language, as well as the traces that francophonie left behind, in four different domains: the nobility, the sciences and scholarship, higher education, and Berlin (where French usage trickled down even to the informal language of the lower social classes). For each domain, Böhm outlines how French usage in Prussia was linked to both the speaker’s being part of a particular social group, and the speaker’s being in a certain location, consolidating each point with various examples.

The eighth chapter explores “Aristocratic Francophone Literature in Bohemia,” in which Ivo Cerman refers frequently to French as the “aristocratic sociolect” of eighteenth-century Bohemia (p. 209). In other words, French was a language which was used to demarcate the separation between the aristocracy and the general public. This chapter outlines the two contradictory functions of French: first, as a language of the private sphere, such as performative literature of aristocratic women; and secondly, a scholarly language used in the literary public sphere. Cerman addresses the roles of francophonie in Bohemia all the while retaining the cultural multilingualism and diversity of the Bohemian Lands as other languages, namely German, Latin, and Czech, were used for essentially all other spoken and written functions of the public sphere, even among the aristocracy.

In Chapter Nine, “Francophonies in Spain,” the authors Amelia Sanz-Cabrerizo, Begoña Regueiro-Salgado, Luis Pablo-Núñez and Silvano Carrasco trace the importation of the French language and culture into Spain. This chapter discusses first how French was used and played a role as a second language of culture in Spain and separately treats each period from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. While considering the political and geographical factors, the authors outline the flux of linguistic and imperial hegemony in Europe from Spain to France during the seventeenth century, and the role of the Bourbon dynasty that has been on the Spanish throne since 1700. Next is a discussion on immigrant groups from France before the French Revolution, the subsequent transculturation of French culture into Spain, and how the French culture far outspread the reach of the French language in Spain, differentiating Spain from other European countries.

Margareta Östman addresses the structure of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century Swedish francophonie in the next chapter, or more specifically, in which ranks of Swedish society the most French was used, and for what motives. First Östman provides some historical background of Sweden in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, during which francophonie enjoyed its glory days in Sweden. Östman provides a variety of stances on Swedish francophonie. First, the instruction of French was undertaken by people from a range of social positions. Östman evidences Swedish francophonie with tables and charts based on a compilation of over 450 texts, showing the francophone population in Sweden from a sociological perspective. The linguistic and orthographic quality of French writing by Swedes is examined, and the chapter concludes with an analysis of how Swedes perceived the influence of French in their country.

In Chapter 11, Maciej Serwański and Katarzyna Napierała contribute to the volume with “The Presence of Francophonie in Poland from the Sixteenth Century to the Eighteenth.” Serwański and Napierała begin by describing early modern Poland and its political, social, and cultural characteristics, followed by the relations between the Nobles’ Republic of Poland and France during the time period at hand. The authors set up the background context of French in Poland with the courts of two French queens of Polish kings during the era. Various perspectives of the manifestation of French in Poland is examined, including the way it was learned, how well it was acquired, and the cultural role it played such as in literature, theatre, and the press.

The twelfth chapter, “The Beginnings of the Golden Age of Francophonie among the Romanians” by Ileana Mihaila examines the spread and influence of French in Romania, and the development of a tradition of francophone writing in Romania from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Like other chapters, this one begins with a historical sketch. Against the background of the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the 1848 revolutions across Europe, the author offers a historical review of francophonie in the Romanian Lands, its reception and the ideologies towards it, and its usage there. The chapter also describes the public instruction and private tutoring of French across Romania and its cultural impact. Finally, Mihaila explains the impact of a high demand for the works of French authors which subsequently, through translation efforts, had a positive linguistic impact on Romanian literary language.

The next chapter, by Derek Offord, is “Francophonie in Imperial Russia.” Offord begins the account of French in Russian courts and among the Russian nobility by describing its development, its maintenance, and then its decline. This historical context focuses mainly on the period from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth, during which French went from being widely used among the social elite to being restricted in usage, as a result of major sociocultural changes. The reader is presented numerous examples of the impact of French on the Russian lexicon and various social elements of French usage in Russia. Lastly Offord discusses francophonie in Russian literature, specifically some major works, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The works were written after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, which led to deep reflection on national identity. The result was a shift away from a culture dictated by the social elite and towards linguistic unity.

The fourteenth chapter focuses on the volume’s last of twelve linguistic communities. “French in Ottoman Turkey: ‘The Language of the Afflicted Peoples’?” by Laurent Mignon outlines a story of francophonie that is different from the others previously described. Unlike other regions whose accounts necessarily center largely on the social elite and cultural authority of French, the context of Turkish francophonie was mostly that of ambivalence regarding cultural hegemony spread via French. After an introduction of the multilingual history of the Ottoman Empire and where French fit therein, Mignon documents the Ottoman Turkish literary domain who engaged in translating works from French to promote a contemporary progression in Turkish literature away from Ottoman mystical literary traditions, arguably to stimulate enlightenment and democratization. The chapter next turns to the Ottoman Jewish intellectuals and their undecided attitudes towards French, and its usage in schools over Hebrew, Turkish, or Judeo-Spanish. Mignon lastly discusses some Ottoman writers who wrote in French, specifically İzzet Melih and Abdullah Cevdet.

The three editors, Argent, Offord, and Rjéoutski, return to conclude the volume in the fifteenth chapter. Cautious not to take away from the distinctive circumstances of each linguistic case examined in the volume, this chapter aims at some generalizations about the spread of French. First, European francophonie existed in particular domains and served similar functions. Francophonie was widely associated with nobility, courts, and other higher echelons of society, which subsequently lead to French’s profound value in cultural capital. French ventured from prestige and the haut monde to being a resented, and at times, stigmatized language. French was useful as a lingua franca and for making countries known in Europe; however, Europe began to realize that using French did not embrace plurilingualism and diversity. Disproportionate use of French and its numerous words streaming into home languages and cultural influence in numerous domains – these factors all provoked a negative perception of French. Alongside a movement of cultural nationalism, the mid-nineteenth century saw an increase of English as the choice foreign language and lingua franca. In sum, this volume portrays the complex factors that allowed French to enjoy a status of prestige from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in Europe.

EVALUATION

This book provides a valuable overview to linguists who wish to understand the complexities of how French arose as a lingua franca and a language of cultural, political and social prestige in early modern Europe. This book could be useful to readers with a variety of interests including historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language choice, language variations, language ideologies and the role of language in social, national, and international identity.

The volume states it aims to explore issues concerning the role and outcome of French in schools, in international scholarship, as a lingua franca, and as a prestige language. It aims to treat francophonie not as a monolithic entity. It also aims to avoid the idea that linguistic prestige is related to intrinsic qualities of language, but instead to focus on how people use language and how their discourse customs spread. Indeed this book succeeds in providing a tour d’horizon of French usage, examining francophonie across European linguistic communities in an appropriately multidimensional nature. Each chapter is careful to discuss francophonie as a construction of linguistic diversity, regarding a delocalized notion of intertwining cultural groups that exist within and beyond national boundaries.

One good aspect of the book is that each chapter sets up the historical context. Some chapters’ background is densely filled with names of historical figures and family trees, showing the diligence and expertise of the authors and achieving a thorough and irrefutably factual account; for some readers not so erudite in history, these areas may be slightly heavy. Another positive attribute is that many chapters begin with an anecdote that sets up the context of francophonie in their particular region, which offers insight into the complexity or importance of French and its role in the region’s history. Lastly, some chapters also provide a good deal of quantitative data, namely the chapters on Sweden and Bohemia.

Overall, the book is exactly what it claims to be: a volume of European francophonie from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries and from social, cultural, and political perspectives. The volume discusses who spoke French, under what circumstances, and to whom they spoke it, as well as what the sociocultural impact was. The contributors all succeed in answering these questions, each describing their particular linguistic case in a unique way, always providing numerous illustrative examples and supportive evidence from a wide range of sources.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Judith Bridges is a doctoral student of Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida. Her interests include sociolinguistics, language ideologies, language teacher identity, and French as a foreign language.

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