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Reviewed by:
  • Dictionnaire du bon usage au service du sens et de la nuance par Pascal-Raphaël Ambrogi
  • Rodney Sampson
Dictionnaire du bon usage au service du sens et de la nuance. Par Pascal-Raphaël Ambrogi. (Champion classiques, Références et dictionnaires, 9.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015. 525 pp.

Aptly characterized by one French reviewer, Xavier North, as a linguistic ‘cabinet de curiosités’ (quoted on the back cover), this volume offers an eclectic collection of material whose stated aim is to improve the expertise of francophones in their native language. Pascal-Raphaël Ambrogi’s assumption is that by inculcating a deeper knowledge of [End Page 628] French among native speakers, their respect for the language will grow and this in turn will serve to protect it and enhance its status internationally. To this end, a wide range of data has been assembled dealing with orthographic, morphosyntactic, phonetic, lexical, and stylistic points, which are presented in entries arranged in straightforward alphabetical order rather than thematically based subsections. Surprisingly, however, no attempt is made to provide any explicit rationale for the selection of the individual items included. Looking more closely at the handling of material, we find differing strategies adopted. In many cases, entries display a strongly prescriptive current. Degrees of ‘bad’ usage are presented by the author using a variable scale of condemnation, ranging from (maximum) ‘ne doit jamais être employé’, through (intermediate) ‘et non, plutôt que’, down to (minimum) advising against using certain words, mainly anglicisms. Where forms are condemned, suitable replacements are proposed; for anglicisms, it is the officially recommended French term, while for native forms the suggested replacement is typically drawn from high-register usage. Other types of entry, however, receive more objective treatment and seek to clarify perceived areas of linguistic uncertainty for French users. Spelling differences between (near-)homonyms are frequently highlighted, some very basic (plutôt versus plus tôt) and others verging on the arcane (rabouillère versus rabouilleur). Problematic cases involving the use of accents are also addressed, both in entries for individual words (for example, piqûre), and in the general entries under ‘Accent’ and ‘Tréma’. Grammatical points likewise receive two types of coverage. Thus, the (censured) adverbial use of prepositions such as avec and contre is handled in separate entries, curiously without cross-referencing, while agreement usage with present and past participles is well presented under ‘Participe’. The author’s use of general entries is more especially in evidence, however, with lexical material. Here, the aim is evidently to enrich native speakers’ word-power by clarifying distinctions between closely related lexemes within specific semantic fields, as with ‘Monastère’ and ‘Volcan’. However, some entries seem rather less obviously helpful to likely users of the volume because of the highly specialized material they contain. For example, the general entry ‘Bouteille’ specifies nine sizes of champagne bottle. Finally, we may note four extensive, and prescriptively handled, entries on stylistic aspects that seem to reflect the author’s first-hand experience with students’ writings, as Inspecteur général de l’administration de l’Éducation nationale: clichés (‘la perfide Albion’), idiomatic expressions (‘perdre les pédales’), pleonasms (‘achever complètement’), and language tics (‘pas de soucis’). However, the dividing line between these categories can be unclear. Overall, despite its idiosyncrasies, this nicely produced volume does nonetheless contain much useful data on the French language that is potentially of interest and benefit to L2 French-speakers as well as francophones. One can therefore only regret that there is not greater awareness of linguistic method in its presentation.

Rodney Sampson
University of Bristol


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pp. 628-629
Launched on MUSE
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