The Independent




Plus ça Change, by Jean-Benoît Nadeau & Julie Barlow

Revive la différence!

By John Lichfield

When I was three, I was fluent in French. Then my francophone Belgian granny died and my mother stopped speaking French at home. At 11, I had to start again with avoir and être like my schoolmates. All the same, French has never sounded like a foreign language. I adore the melody of its vowels, even if I cannot convincingly replicate them. My active French is functional. Passively, I am a francophone.

This linguistic schizophrenia may not be so unusual. Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow have in Plus ça Change written an excellent book on the history of the French language, stuffed with surprises, insight and humour. One of their theories is that all English speakers have a kind of background tape of French playing inside their heads. The two languages have been in a state of loving warfare for almost a thousand years, competing with each other, taking captives, despising and admiring each other. Read more »