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From Barbarism to Universality
Language and Identity in Early Modern France

Christopher Coski

A literary-philosophical approach to understanding the French language's rapid rise to prominence

As European vernaculars emerged from the shadow of Latin in the early modern era, the French language acquired greater prestige than any other on the continent while French culture simultaneously came to exert a disproportionately large influence across national borders. Christopher Coski closely examines landmark French texts from the period to explore the literary and philosophical forces at play in a transformation of French self-perception, as French intellectuals from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries moved away from viewing their language and culture as barbaric and came to advocate them as universal models of cultivation and civilization.

Coski examines the treatment of French linguistic and cultural evolution as a literary theme, following the conversation as these writers envisioned an increasingly refined national language and identity. From an early notion that French was inadequate to Rivarol's conclusion of "that which is not clear is not French," the idea emerged that these refinements came as natural expressions of the perceived superiority of the language itself and thus justified its rise in prominence. Complementing and expanding on existing sociohistorical studies, Coski's account weaves literary ideas, linguistic philosophy, and cultural context into a deft analysis of how the construction of French identity on individual and communal levels stemmed in part from a philosophy of language developed during the rapid transformation of an undervalued vernacular into a highly esteemed international mode of expression.

Christopher Coski is an associate professor of French at Ohio University and an assistant editor for the French Review. His scholarship has appeared in French Forum, French Review, Dalhousie French Studies, Essays in French Literature, and 1650–1850: Ideas, Æsthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era.

"This is a very welcome, important study. Christopher Coski examines the emergence of what, paraphrasing Charles de Gaulle, one might call 'a certain idea of French.' I know of no other book that covers the same conceptual territory as this one, or that takes this chronologically inclusive approach. Coski's study weaves the disciplines of literature, cultural studies, linguistic theories, and the history of ideas. From Barbarism to Universality is a fine piece of scholarship that I will be referring to it in my own research and teaching."—Julie Hayes, dean, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts Amherst  





6 x 9
216 pages
1 illustration
ISBN 978-1-61117-036-8
hardcover, $49.95s


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