Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Love Affair with Language

I cannot tell you why, nor when, I decided I just had to learn French. I remember being very young and my Granny Doc offered to buy me and my sister a book of our choice (I'm guessing I was about 8, maybe) and I picked up a pocket French dictionary, because, in my eight year old brain, all I had to do was learn what every word was in French, and then I'd be fluent.

I've now spent more time living in Paris than I have in London and my French is at a better level than it's probably ever been, but I have come to accept that fluency will probably always elude me.

France vs Wales 6 nations 2013

I have also come to a rather surprising personal revelation. I prefer English, as a language. Not because it's my native tongue or because it's the first language of the world but because it evolves so quickly. One of the issues I've found with using French is that things are phrased, when directly translated, in such an odd, old fashioned way. For example, they still have a formal version of 'you' as well as an informal version that you use with your friends - 'vous' and 'tu', as much as I'd like to see us bring 'thou' back into use.

And obviously 'please' is translated into 's'il vous plait' or 's'il te plait' = literally, if it pleases you.

But English changes all the time. I remember when describing someone as 'fit' hit the playground, when the kids started using 'sick' to mean good - 'totes' is now a classic and I do enjoy throwing an occasional 'blates' into conversation.

Uni Night & Double Header Sep 2010

Conversely, I can be a bit of a grammar nazi when I'm talking to friends, especially, God help you, if you say 'could of' or 'should of', but it's actually things like that which have meant English has evolved so that we can express ourselves in SO many different ways and I love it.

The French seem to lacking on this front. Sophie and I were discussing this the other day, and we concluded that this was why the French gesture a whole lot more than us English people do. I mean, the French shrug is famous as a gesture of indifference, but what you see around Paris is that they gesture for everything and watching a Frenchman tell a joke is entertaining as hell. It's pretty handy for people like me who can follow about half of what is said...

And in English it's so easy to invent new words! Personally I've decided 'effortful' is a word. If something can be effortless it can damn well be effortful. Also, how is 'ongoingly' not a word already? I'm using it regardless. The French don't have this, poor mites. The most exciting thing I heard that the 'kids' used to do was say the backwards versions of some words. So a woman, 'femme' became a 'mef' - pronounced like one of our slang words for lady parts...entertaining.

So, French people, I'll continue trying to master your language, but I'll always pity you for missing out on the vocabularic genius that is 'totes'...

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