Alain Bentolila

Language Against Barbarism Publication date : August 25, 2008

Mastering language skills is crucial to a child's academic and social future. Children who know how to speak, read and write not only know how to think for themselves, they also know how to think with others, to accept them, and to find their own place in society. Poor or inadequate language skills will make a child feel linguistically powerless, a situation that can lead to failure, exclusion, and, possibly, violence and the rejection of others.

Good language acquisition — which also implies learning the basics about others and about difference — is determined early in childhood. The language level children finally acquire is the direct outcome of the help and attention they received during their first years. The author argues that it is therefore essential to pay close attention to the conditions of children's early development, and to be supportive as well as demanding.

This book, by an eminent French expert, examines the controversial issue of language and literacy: the place that speaking, reading and writing have (or should have) in education. The author evokes economic factors as a cause of social violence; but he also argues that violence results, at least partially, from an inability to order one's thoughts and express them through language. The role of education is thus more crucial than ever.

The author's stand is a militant one, and he exhorts all adults — parents, teachers, and society as a whole — to participate in the battle for a common language to be shared by all. This battle is none other, he argues, than the struggle against violence.

The book was awarded the 2007 non-fiction prize by France Télévisions.

A professor of linguistics at the Sorbonne, Alain Bentolila is the author of a highly regarded report on the teaching of grammar and the founder of the Observatoire National de la Lecture (an organisation that evaluates reading skills in France). His works include Tout sur l'école (2004), Apprendre à lire (1998), L'Ortho