Batchelor, R. E. and M. H. Offord (2000). Using French: A guide to
contemporary usage, 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. xiv + 333 pp. Hardcover $64.95;
Reviewed by: Sharon L. Shelly, College of Wooster, Ohio (USA).
Synopsis: This book is designed as a reference tool for English-
speaking students of French at the advanced level. The general
approach, format and organization of the text are unchanged from
previous editions (1982 and 1993). Content has been updated to
take into account changes in contemporary usage (for example,
the section on gender and professional titles has been revised and
The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 ("Register")
provides a good, brief (30-page) introduction to language
variation with respect to social register. The authors posit
three levels of formality: R1 (casual or colloquial), R2 (a
standard or "default" level), and R3 (extremely formal or
literary). Each of these levels is illustrated first with
specific word- or phrase-level examples of variation in
pronunciation, liaison, vocabulary or grammar. At the end of the
section several short passages illustrate register in more
extended discourse. There are two dialogues, apparently devised
by the authors themselves. The other passages include literary
excerpts (from Camus' La Peste and de Gaulle's M�moires), and
samples of journalistic prose from L'Express, Le Monde and
Part 2 ("Vocabulary") devotes approximately 165 pages to lexical
difficulties that often plague English-speaking learners of
French. Subtopics include deceptive cognates, homonyms, idioms,
proverbs, proper and place names, and the jargon of selected
professions (banking, insurance, law, computing, etc.).
Part 3 ("Grammar") addresses morphosyntactic issues: gender and
number, word order, prepositions, negation, verb tense and aspect,
the subjunctive mood, and pronouns. A separate subtopic on names
of countries includes both preposition usage and the formation of
adjectives of nationality.
Evaluation: As a convenient one-volume reference tool for
advanced students, Using French has a number of strengths.
Designed for learners who have acquired basic proficiency in the
language - but who have little or no training in formal
linguistics - the text is clearly written and jargon-free. The
emphasis on register as a dimension of linguistic variation is
valuable for students who wish to expand and refine their basic L2
competence. The authors identify sex, age, status and intimacy as
factors involved in determining register; they then discuss the
interaction of these factors with the field (subject matter),
purpose, and medium of a given communicative context. These
principles are illustrated with appropriate examples of
phonological, lexical, and morphosyntactic variation in
metropolitan French. Most information is accurate and
up-to-date, although a few of the authors' judgments are
debatable. One example: the "liaison interdite" between a plural
noun subject and a following verb (e.g. "Les trains arrivent"), is
identified here as optional and formal (R2 or R3).
Having defined their 3-tiered model of register, the authors
acknowledge that it is necessarily artificial: "the reality behind
[it] consists of subtle, imperceptible shifts..." (6).
Throughout the text, however, they frequently assign ratings of
R1, R2 or R3 to individual lexical items, expressions, and
structures that appear in decontextualized lists. In some cases
this labeling seems rather arbitrary and potentially misleading.
For example: why is the idiom "il n'y a pas un chat" assigned a
rating of R1 (least formal), while "appeler un chat un chat" is
labeled R2 and "ne pas r�veiller le chat qui dort" rises to R3
In general, however, the sections on vocabulary and grammar
provide a wealth of good examples and a great deal of helpful
commentary. In particular, Section 2.4 ("Synonyms and words with
related meanings") functions well as a kind of annotated mini-
thesaurus. Using French can be a useful student reference
for courses in advanced conversation and composition,
and perhaps especially for an introduction to French-English
translation. Still, potential users of the text need to be
aware of its limitations. While variation in register is
addressed at length, there is no acknowledgement of regional
variation: the French language under consideration here is
the standard "francilien" variety of metropolitan France.
Meanwhile, comparisons with English reflect an exclusively British
perspective, making the book less useful for American students.
For example: "un break" is defined as "an estate car" (200), while
in American English this corresponds to "a station wagon."
Sections on weights and measures, clothing sizes, etc. compare
European French standards with those of the UK, without reference
to the US or any other country.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this book is the absence of a
bibliography, or of a real index. In designing a single-volume
reference of manageable size and scope, the authors have quite
naturally limited the topics and data to be addressed, and kept
explanations to a minimum. While this is perfectly legitimate,
it is all the more reason to provide a solid bibliography of
additional corpora and works of reference. Advanced students
at the university level need to be aware of resources for
further study and research.
Meanwhile, the lack of an index can make it difficult to find
precise information quickly, or to see connections between
various sections of the book. True, the Table of Contents is
clear and quite detailed; but certain topics (like geographical
expressions) are addressed in more than one section. Similarly, a
Vocabulary List appended to the text refers users to the lexical
entries of Section 2. However, the list does not include
references to related passages in other chapters. To take one
example: a reader who looks up the verb "faillir" is sent to the
lexical entry on page 97, but not to additional information about
the same verb in Section 3, page 240. Surely a text designed as a
reference work should facilitate, rather than complicate, the task
of locating related material.
Keeping in mind these reservations, Using French can be a helpful
resource for both students and teachers, and a good addition to
any college library.
Sharon L. Shelly is an Associate Professor of French language,
culture, and linguistics at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Her
research interests include the structure of the French language;
French and Francophone language policy; and foreign language