First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics. © 2000 Jean-Marc Dewaele and Penny Sewell.
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This reference grammar is an invaluable tool for advanced students of French, their teachers, and translators. It combines traditional grammar, modern linguistics and even philosophy of grammar. The book starts with a general linguistic framework with definitions of the parts of speech, an explanation of syntax and grammatical functions and finally a brief presentation of crucial facts on pronunciation, spelling, registers and punctuation. Chapter 2 deals with verbs, Chapter 3 with determiners and prepositions, Chapter 4 with nouns, pronouns and modifiers and the final chapter with sentences and text. The order in which the parts of speech are presented shows that the author wanted to make a learner-centered grammar and deliberately deviated from the traditional order (nouns, articles, adjectives) which is followed in more traditional grammars like Grevisse (1980) or Hawkins & Towell (1996) which is aimed specifically at English speakers. Mastering forms and functions in the French verb system is notoriously hard for language learners (Bartning, 1997) so it makes sense to put that at the front. Seven pages are devoted to the use of the imperfect with linguistic explanations and many examples. This is most useful as recent research (Kihlstedt, 1998) shows that advanced learners of French use the imperfect for only a limited range of values. A contrastive approach and an abundance of examples help the learner understand subtle differences between English and French. The expression "pendant", for example, in "pendant 1 heure" has to be translated in "for an hour" while "pendant qu'ils travaillent" gives "while they worked". The author also emphasizes the link between verbs and prepositions, determiners and nouns, i.e. lemmas are presented with all relevant syntactic information so that they can be acquired simultaneously and linked in the mental lexicon. This is precisely what we recommended after an extensive analysis of morpholexical errors in advanced French interlanguage (Dewaele, 1996). Learning a language is more than acquiring a set of abstract grammatical rules. It combines the learning of lemmas with all relevant diacritic information (cf. Pienemann, 1998) and the acquisition of increasingly complex rules. Monique L'Huillier also presents a number of very useful "rules of thumb" to help recognize the gender of words according to their morphology.
Sociopragmatic information about certain lemmas and expressions is provided, giving the learner guidelines about how and when to use these particular words and structures. Of particular interest is also the section on the different types of reported speech with their defining characteristics and clear examples. The lay-out and typography are excellent and help the reader to identify the relevant information at a glance. The use of bold characters helps to underline the morphemes under discussion.
Monique L'Huillier opted, contrary to Hawkins & Towell (1996), against conjugation tables which is a pity because they would allow the reader to have a clear overview of the conjugation system. The mistakes are few in number but some are puzzling: why illustrate relative clauses without antecedent with the examples "ce que vous dites n'est pas exact" (p. 23) and "j'ai acheté ce qu'il y avait" (p. 30) ? We agree that "qui dort dîne" is a good example of a relative clause without antecedent, but "ce" would be the antecedent in the two former examples. Why also say about presentative forms that "il est can only be conjugated in the present of the imperfect" (p. 37). And what about the sentence "il sera bientôt sept heures" ?
The section on elision (p. 50) contains a paragraph (iv) with examples of absence of elision like "le hibou". It would also have been useful to have a list with the words with aspirated "h" and one with disjunctive "h". There also is a small error in the section concerning nouns indicating nationality (p. 555): "il est français; ils sont français": if "français" is used as a noun, it should have a capital letter as is the case on the following page "C'est une Française d'Outre-Mer" (p. 556). Interestingly, Hawkins & Towell distinguish between "elle est américaine" and "c'est une Américaine" (1996 p. 89) thus classifying the first "américaine" as an adjective, not a noun.
Advanced French Grammar is a perfect compromise between the traditional non-linguistic grammar in the style of Grevisse (1980) or the more modern, and more compact, grammar by Hawkins & Towell (1996) and the highly scientific grammar of Wilmet (1997). It is a well structured, rich and original work, perfectly suited for English learners of advanced French.
Dewaele, J.-M. 1996. `Effet de l'intensité de l'instruction formelle sur l'interlangue orale française de locuteurs néerlandophones' in F. Myles and D. Engel (eds.), Teaching Grammar: Perspectives in Higher Education. London: CILT, 122-134.
Grevisse, M. 1980. Le bon usage. Gembloux: Duculot.
Hawkins, R. & Towell, R. 1996. French Grammar and Usage. London: Arnold.
Kihlstedt, M. 1998. La référence au passé dans le dialogue. Etude de l'acquisition de la temporalité chez des apprenants dits avancés de français. Stockholm: Akademitryck.
Pienemann, M. 1998. Language processing and second language development: processability theory. Amsterdam-Philadelpia: John Benjamins.
Wilmet, M. 1997. Grammaire critique du Français. Louvain-la-Neuve, Paris: Duculot-Hachette.