Jean-Benoit Nadeau



Born in Sherbrooke, Québec, and now based in Montreal, Jean-Benoît Nadeau completed a degree in Political Science and History at McGill University in 1992. Since then, he has published six books and some 900 magazine articles, and won more than 30 awards and mentions in journalism. He is a regular contributor to Canada’s national French language magazine, L’actualité, and ranks among the few Canadian journalists to publish both in French and in English.

With his wife and colleague, Julie Barlow, he published a study of the French, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong (Sourcebooks, Chicago 2003) – now translated into French as Pas si fous ces Français ! (Seuil). Both a critical and public success, it has sold more than 200 000 copies in English, French, Dutch and Chinese. The couple’s new book, The Story of French, was published in the fall of 2006 and was reviewed in the New York Times, The Independent, the Globe and Mail and more. The French edition will be released in September 2007 by Québec publisher Québec-Amérique with the title La Grande Aventure de la langue française.

A popular speaker known for his humorous style, Jean-Benoît Nadeau has also given seminars and lectures on topics related to France, the French, the French language and professional writing. In October 2004, he gave a tour of 15 lectures with the Alliances française in the United States.




1. French : the other global language

Commentators across the planet seem convinced the French language is on the decline. Au contraire, say the authors of The Story of French: more people speak and are learning French today than ever in the history of the language. In spite of the influence of English, and partly because of it, French remains an important language of diplomacy, trade, industry, science, artistic creation and intellectual exchange. Even in the United States, where Spanish is now the number one second-language choice, the number of people learning French has remained constant. In the global view of French, North America plays a special role. It was one of the few places where French was marginalized, a situation that only began to change 50 years ago in Canada with Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. Yet at the same time, francophones and francophiles in North America have spawned some important developments in the recent history of the language, both political and linguistic. French today is showing vitality that surprises even francophones. But will French speakers be up to the coming challenges, like improving the international distribution of French-language cultural products? 


2. French: where is it going?

There is a widely held belief that French is a static, frozen language. The authors of the Story of French lived in both Paris and Montreal and traveled from New Orleans to Dakar, and from Sudbury, Ontario, to Dakar, to write a history of the French language, spanning 10 centuries. They discovered that French is not only the world’s other global language; it has lost none of its vitality, and has remained modern and is constantly changing. But history cannot be erased: from its very beginnings, French has always been more political than English; demographics are such that it remains dominated by its country of origin; and the influence of Purists has always been strong. Yet while Francophones are obsessed with Anglicism, French has had a lot more influence on English than the contrary. And while Francophones cling to their Academy and their language laws, they are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that there are many acceptable ways of speaking and writing French.


3. Hot issues for France: from the veil to Europe

Riots in the suburbs, laws banning religious symbols, rejection of the European Constitution, strong anti-capitalism, the rise of the far right... What’s got into the French? Often accused of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, racism and anti-European feelings, the French consider the challenges of today’s world with a look that is theirs, and very distinct from that of Americans. The evolution of France was such that words like Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité actually took on different meanings than the words liberty, equality and fraternity have in the United States – and the French words can only really be understood in the French context. Combining their own observations with analysis, the authors of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong explain how the French deal with minorities, Europe and the United States. Because the “problem with the French” is not necessarily what we think...


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