Chez l’ Savoyard



Chez l’ Savoyard
Originally uploaded by viralbus

For the past three days I’ve been working at a French company in Champs-sur-Marne, a Parisian suburb. Every day we’ve gone for lunch at a local restaurant, and it’s been a pleasant experience every time.

Today we went to quite a special place, Chez l’ Savoyard in the historical centre of Champs-sur-Marne.

At first I thought it was just a traditional little pub and restaurant.

However, when the owner spotted me, he shouted “Il est nouveau!” and rushed over to shake my hand, saying “Mon fils s’appelle Thomas aussi.” (He quickly forgot, though, and started calling me l’anglais instead!!!)

We then sat down at a table, and one of my temporary colleagues went into the kitchen to find out what was on the menu, while one of the others fetched a bottle of white wine in the bar and grabbed a bottle of crème de cassis from another table.

There were four starters to choose from – eggs mayonnaise, herring salad, charcuterie and salad Parisienne – but there was only one main course on offer: cuisse de canard.

We didn’t have to cook the food ourselves, but the starters were served by another customer who happened to be near the kitchen at that time.

The food was lovely, though – the mayonnaise was homemade, very runny and mustardy, and the duck leg was perfectly cooked.

After each course, we carried the dirty dishes back to the kitchen ourselves.

Because it was my first time there, the owner made us a special dessert – some sort of ice cream with meringue served together with a slice of custard pie. To show that I had sussed the system, I carried our dirty plates back to the kitchen.

We paid €12.50 (£10.37) each. Funnily enough, we didn’t have to work the till ourselves.

Don’t miss Chez l’ Savoyard next time you’re in Champs-sur-Marne!

The impossibility of saying “neuf œufs” in French



Day 34: Nine eggs
Originally uploaded by aaocarroll

In an essay by Jurgen Klausenburger called “The morphologization and grammaticalization of French liason”, he quotes Pierre Swiggers (“How to Order Eggs in French” in Folia Linguistica 1985) for the following data:

les œufs [le-zø] “the eggs”
des œufs [de-zø] “(some) eggs”
un œuf [??-nœf] “an, one egg”
deux œufs [dø-zø] “two eggs”
trois œufs [trwa-zø] “three eggs”
quatre œufs [katr-œf] “four eggs”
cinq œufs [s??k-œf] “five eggs”
six œufs [si-zø] “six eggs”
sept œufs [s?t-œf] “seven eggs”
huit œufs [?it-œf] “eight eggs”
*neuf œufs [avoided!] “nine eggs”
dix œufs [di-zø] “ten eggs”

On the same topic, this blog posting states the following:

I had a professor when I was in college — a linguist from Normandy whose native language was French — who was very interested in and amused by such language quirks. He would come to France in the summer and go to outdoor markets to try to get people the say neuf œufs because he thought it was funny.

Almost always, when he asked for nine eggs, the person replying would stick an adjective in between neuf and œufs — neuf beaux œufs, or neuf petits œufs, or neuf gros œufs. He said French people hesitated over the pronunciation of “nine eggs” otherwise.

The blogger who wrote this seems to think the pronunciation of *neuf œufs ought to be [nœv-ø]. This seems also to be the opinion of my beloved wife, who thinks it’s avoided because this would sound very similar to the French word for “nephew”, neveu.

So I’m a little confused. Is the missing pronunciation [nœv-ø] or [nœv-œf]? And why is it avoided?

Also, are Klausenburger and Swigger right in claiming that œufs is pronounced as [œf] after a numeral ending in a consonant other than [-z]? Do French native speakers even agree?

Bilingualism in Canada

I know almost nothing about Canadian politics, but I had always assumed that it was a bit like Belgium (where the parties are split along linguistic lines). In other words, I had expect the Bloc Québécois to represent the francophones and the other parties to cater for the anglophones.

However, I just stumbled upon this recent Canadian leaders’ debate in French:

Only the Bloc leader is a native French speaker, but impressively all of the others are able to discuss politics in intelligible French.

I don’t know many other countries where this level of bilingualism would be assumed for top politicians.

Spoken French

Spoken and written French are so different that they can probably be considered two separate languages.

Nevertheless, most language courses and grammars ignore this issue and try to teach some sort of compromise language in which ‘money’ is argent, ne isn’t dropped, and the passé simple isn’t used.

Street French” is one attempt at solving this, but it focuses too much on slang, and it still spells everything in normal French orthography.

Why hasn’t anybody created a language course and grammar of spoken French in which everything is given in IPA instead?

E.g., here’s the present tense of m???e ‘to eat’:

??m???
tym???
im??? (?lm???)
??m???
vum???e
im??? (?lm???)

A dialogue could look as follows:

k?m?? tytap?l?
??map?l le??.
ta d f?ik?
n??, ?e pa d f?ik.

If only I was better at French, and if only I thought such a course would sell, I’d write it myself!

Multilingual blogging

Som en del af la Journée européenne des langues, today is the Day of Multilingual Blogging.

Para la mayoría de los bloggers no es difícil, ?????? ??? ??? ????? ?????? ?? ????? ????? ??????, och alla läsare förstår genast att det inte er vanligt, kiam ili skribas en nekutima lingvo.

Men hvis jeg havde blogget på spansk eller tysk, hätten alle wohl gedacht che sia completamente normale.

???, co jsem mohl d?lat? ?? ?????? ????: !??? ??? ??????? ???? ????????? ??? ???? ??????

Problem solved!

French Orthography



Académie Française
Originally uploaded by heedoo

French orthography annoys me. It manages to be based neither on the phonology nor on etymology.

For instance, Latin e has in many circumstances become /wa/ in French, but it’s neither written with a grapheme close to ‘e’ (such as ‘ë’) nor with one representing the phonemes (such as ‘oua’), but as ‘oi’.

It would be possible to design a new orthography that would at the same time take French closer to its sounds and to its Romance relatives.

Some examples:

  • fleur -> flör (compare Spanish flor)
  • trois -> trës (compare Spanish tres)
  • autre -> a?tre (compare Italian altro)
  • nous -> n?s (compare Latin nos)
  • tu -> (compare Latin tu)
  • aimez -> ämäts (compare Latin amatis)

Un tracteur des herbes



Please, Keep Off the Grass
Originally uploaded by OnTheLam

I had a dream last night.

I was in France, in a place with mountains close to the sea.

I walked up to a big Citroën, where two old guys were standing talking to a young one.

The young one asked me in English to wait there while he got a lawn mower that needed to go into the car.

As soon as he had left, the old guys and I got into the car and drove away.

I then had to persuade the old guys – who only spoke French – that we needed to return.

However, I didn’t know what a lawn mower was called in French, so I tried to call it un tracteur des herbes, which they didn’t fully understand, so we went into a supermarket so that I could point at one.

The funny thing is that the old guys were speaking a patois that I could only understand ten percent of, yet I could hear all the words in the dream.

I reminds me of another dream I had a few years ago, in which I was a pupil in a French class, and my teacher was speaking rapidly and clearly in French, and correcting my mistakes.

How is this possible? The fact that I didn’t remember the actual words the teacher and the old guys used the next morning makes me wonder whether my brain was telling me they were speaking clearly, yet without actually producing the words.

Do other people ever dream in languages they don’t speak well?