02 January, 2012

Language lists!

False Friends; Faux Amis
Ellie Malet Spradbery

Whoops, i wrote this a few days ago and never got around to posting it.  No time like the present to correct that error!
A curious review to write, as it is a little contrary to mine usual practice in that i have not fully read the book; this is acceptable, however, as it is a reference book, and thus not really subject to a complete reading such as i usually give the books i review. In fact, the only reason for this writing is that i received the thing from the publisher via the Early Reviewers programme of Library Thing, and am therefore morally bound to write and post a review. Nevertheless, i give it my best, as if i’d actually read every word.
The purpose of this little tome is to guide the visitor to France ~ or at least the infrequent speaker of the language ~ into not making embarrassing slips, led astray by similar words & phrases with different meanings. As i am not likely to visit France, or need to speak that language, at any time in the close future, it is a little purposeless for me, yet full of fascination anyway.
I am reminded as i look at the book of one i used to own (possibly still do, in New York State, among those i fear i shall never again see) which was similar in concept, and because of the situation in which i acquired that one, this one gives me happy feelings. It was as we were getting ready to move to Rome that i bought a book also called, if i am right, False Friends; it aimed to help the learner of Italian not be caught out by words which are similar in sound and spelling ~ etymologically related words ~ yet with differences in either meaning or precise structure. The catch, however, was that this was written for people who already spoke French and were likely to be caught out by Italian’s resemblances to that language. The one pair i remember with glee was formaggio, with the same meaning but a subtly different spelling from fromage. The difference here, of course, is the target audience, the English speaker speaking French.
Lists, in and of themselves, are innately interesting (that’s mine opinion, and i’m sticking to it!); lists of words and, perhaps even better, phrases, are more so, clearly. Where this book possibly fails is not in its structure, but in the fact that, as betrayed by the subtitle Book Two, there has been a previous book, in which probably Spradbery mined most of the more obvious false friends, so here she is left with some which i cannot really see people confusing (entraîner/to train, armoire/armoury), which rather defeats the purpose, i fear. She has filled out the book with several other sections, giving French expressions and their English equivalent and vice versa, and nice series of lists of various types of word (insects, football, diseases).
All in all, a worth-while book, though perhaps a little less useful than i imagine Book One to have been; the back cover blurb talks about “this series” which leads me to wonder if there is a Book Three in the works, and if it also will be a shorter list, with more padding. The problem is that despite their partially common ancestry, English and French are not really that similar; my French/Italian book makes perfect sense because, seen in the broad picture, the two languages are almost just different dialects, so share a huge number of potential pitfalls. One could imagine a smiliar series of books between German and Dutch, or Danish and Swedish. Unless one goes down the English/North American English route, our language doesn’t lend itself hugely to this, because of its highly eclectic history.


Stephanie Rae Pazicni said...


Just one of the mysterious and fascinating lists on the floor of The Glitter Globe. I'd think they write themselves, Elsie, except that oddly enough, they appear to all be in my hand. I like to write lists, not read them, because frankly these make no sense at all.

Elsie Wilson said...

Ha, we'd be perfect friends, then: You write lists, i'll read 'em!

I do like writing them, too; thee is something satisfying in a well constructed list.