Serious issues in French

Some where at some time a article on pedagogical issues in French was illicitly copied by me. It had appeared in The Modern Language Journal in 1988. It was written by John E. Joseph and was titled New French: A Pedagogical Crisis in the Making. It interested me b/c I had been reading a lot on French and other Romance languages in our times as opposed to the histories of the languages. I was interested in major shifts occurring in those languages, e.g. the shift from SVO to VSO in Spanish. I knew French had moved far beyond the other Romance languages in recrafting the basic Romance patterns developed since Latin. The traditional and allowable observation was that the Romance languages had become more analytical, departing gravely from their Latin mother. However, any changes since the 17th century were regarded with something akin to contempt.
At the same time, annals of language students were full of comments about arriving in France with a B.A. in French and not being able to make their way in the language. I had slotted that into the way French (and all languages) were taught, at least by the mid-80s I was thinking that way, under the influence of Krashen. But I was also pulled by the possible schism between the written and the spoken or colloquial language. What was happening there?
So I read the article with such great interest that I kept it. So when I began teaching my granddaughter French, I pulled the article out and reread it. Already I had been reading Rodney Ball’s Colloquial French, a linguistic approach to contemporary French as spoken in France. The article’s thrust, though, was what do teachers of French do when confronted with the conundrum of the colloquial language spoken by most French persons drifting so far away from the literary standard, and just what were the specific features of this drift anyway?
I always check the bibliographies of books or articles I read and both Ball and Joseph share a number of works on current French in their bibliographies. Since few French teachers in the U.S. have a background in linguistics, Ball’s book would probably be of little interest to them. Joseph states that the most conservative of those involved in French are doubtless U.S. teachers of French, possibly because they are on shaky ground when dealing with anything outside the literary standard.
While it has been fun sorting through my own usages and realizing that many years ago I seem to have picked up some non-standard features, the real issue remains: what do we teach and can there be compromises? Joseph makes an extremely interesting remark: the French will use colloquial French with an American but judge poorly an American who uses non-standard forms! I had to read that twice. So in France, what is sauce for the jars is not necessarily sauce for the oie. Hmmm.

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