Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French ( Ch. 8 )

Photo: Veronica Louis

Between 1800 and 1860 no fewer than a thousand French grammars were published. The most influential was La nouvelle grammaire française, by François Noël and Charles Pierre Chapsal, published in 1823. It was followed by an abridged version, and the book went through more than eighty editions, including two translated American versions, one abridged and the other full-length.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the flurry of activity in language instruction materials was phenomenal. In 1834 the Bescherelle brothers came out with another grammar, La grammaire nationale. Although Le Bescherelle now specializes in verb conjugations, today it is still one of the most important names in French grammar. In 1849 an enterprising school director, Pierre Larousse, came out with the Lexicologie des écoles primaires, the first full method for teaching French grammar and spelling ever published. Three years later he published the Dictionnaire complet, which bore the motto “A dictionary without examples is a skeleton.” At about the same time the lexicographer Émile Littré published the Dictionnaire de la langue française. With its original definitions, etymology and examples from authors, it set a new standard in the field. Larousse and Littré are still among the biggest names in today’s dictionary business, and until the creation of Le Robert in 1967, Larousse enjoyed a virtual monopoly in schools.