BC -- Philology: Languages and Linguistics

An RREO Original Review

Dictionnaire étymologique et historique de la langue française [Etymological and Historical Dictionary of the French Language]. Emmanuèle Baumgartner and Philippe Ménard. Paris: Le Livre de poche; Librairie générale française, 1996. xvi, 848 p. 18 cm. (La pochothèque) (Livre de poche. Encyclopédies d'aujourd'hui) (Usuels de poche) ISBN 2253130184 (pbk.): 120 FF.

This one-volume paperback dictionary traces the origin and history of French words from the Middle Ages to our time. Words are arranged in alphabetical sequence and include the more commonly used vocabulary as well as selected technical and special terms. For each word the century of its first documented use is indicated. This is followed by a listing of the word's origin (if known) and a translation into French of the meaning of the original word(s). If applicable, changes in the meaning of the word through time are briefly outlined. Derived words are listed and explained under the more basic word. For example, "incertain," "certes," "certitude," "certifier," and "certificat" are found under "certain." The dictionary uses see references from derived words only very sparingly.

The compilers of this etymological and historical dictionary are university faculty. Baumgartner teaches at the Université de la Sorbonne-Nouvelle and Ménard at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne. The authors have a number of publications in the area of medieval French language and literature to their credit.

As the dictionary is by design a concise one, the information included in it is by necessity much less complete than what one would find in the 2-volume Dictionnaire historique de la langue française (Paris: Dictionnaires Le Robert, 1992). The dictionary is most similar in scope and content to one of its predecessors: Oscar Bloch and W. von Wartburg's Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1964 [rev. 4th ed.], 1932 [1st ed.]). Yet, its annotations differ significantly from those in the earlier work. In many cases Baumgartner and Ménard use even more concise annotations than Bloch and von Wartburg, as exemplified by their entry for "déjeuner." On the other hand, some of the annotations are much more detailed than in the earlier work, as, for example, the entries for "libre" and "ligne." Baumgartner and Ménard have certainly made an attempt to update the information found i n Bloch and von Wartburg. For example, they include the word "ordinateur" ("computer"). However, "en ligne" ("online") is not to be found under "ligne." It should also be noted that Baumgartner and Ménard have been very conservative in including English words which have recently entered the French language. They include only those which are either well established or do not have a true French equivalent (e.g., "week-end," "flash").

Overall, this is a good concise etymological and historical dictionary of French, and it should be of interest to any serious student of the French language. Moderately priced, it is an excellent choice for even the smallest academic library.

Barbara Allen, University of Northern Iowa

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