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stuffs my daughter’s French teacher thinks we say but we don’t # 001

October 7, 2010
Yes, you read well, the state of foreign language education is such in this country that you can be a native speaker forced to study your own language as foreign because it is the only one they propose in your school (they actually also do teach German but not to year 7). Well, she will certainly end up taking an early entry GCSE and once rid of proving to English people that, yes, she can speak French, will try something more stimulating. It’s not such a waste of time however, as she has now enriched her comic repertory with a hilarious (to me at least) imitation of the English accent applied to French.
For myself, it is also a wonder, as I came to realize that Englicisms are of two kinds. There are obviously the regular Englicisms any foreign speaker will do when speaking back his/her native language. But, in the same way that when I speak English I do Frenchisms, English speakers do Englicisms when speaking a foreign language. And this kind – let’s call it the native Englicism, as opposed to the foreign Englicism – is obviously slightly different. Native Englicisms are going to be the point of this new series, along with some old-fashioned idioms people learnt and think we still say.
To clarify things, here are some examples. A native Frenchism (I believe we can distinguish Frenchisms in the same way as Englicisms, though right now I cannot really think of any foreign Frenchism I would have heard) would be to create a verb that doesn’t exist in English, by adding a suffix to a noun: remember the last post about ironiser, which means being ironic and which many times I am tempted to translate by ironizing. Native Frenchisms could be grammar errors too, like saying I am in the bus rather than I am on the bus, simply because in French you are dans le bus not sur. I guess foreign Englicisms are most often a mirror version of natives Frenchism: recently The Young Lady used several times a verb she created suffixing the adjective confus (“confused”) to express the idea of confusing; except that in French the same root led to a verb a bit different (confondre) which moreover cannot be applied to people (you can confondre somebody with someone, i.e. mix them up, but you cannot confondre somebody, i.e. make someone confused; to do this, you embrouille them). Grammar wise, well, I lost the example I had in mind but it could be placing an adjective before the noun instead of after. The absolute of the foreign Englicism is however popping an English word in the middle of a sentence in French, and not even noticing you’re doing this: last year during the swine flu outbreak, I told my mother about it actually using the idiom swine flu instead of grippe porcine, and she had to make me repeat twice before I realized she wasn’t deaf but me speaking in English (this kind of foreign Englicisms might rely a lot on learning a concept first in your foreign language: at least in this case, the first time I have ever heard about the swine flu, I was already living in England and when I had this conversation with my mother I had heard its name in French most certainly less than 5 times).
Finally, but not least since it’s the centre of the series, a native Englicism would be when The Younger Lady’s French teacher told the form Levez-vous la classe [Stand up, form]. Apparently you could actually say Stand up year 7 in English. But in French you would just not say it. Levez-vous [Stand up] would be pretty regular in a French high school, but with the precision she adds it doesn’t sound plausible. Grammatically correct for sure, but not plausible.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. pat permalink
    February 25, 2011 7:22 pm

    actually you can, it’s just that most people speak Slang rather than French:

    Elle restait dans ce costume sous lequel je venais de la surprendre aussi confondue que si elle eût été surprise dans sa nudité par un regard d’homme.
    Lamartine, Les Confidences, Graziella, 1849, p. 269.

    more examples:
    http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/confondu

  2. February 27, 2011 12:22 am

    True, but it feels to me that when used it’s more as past participle than as a verb, therefore more in a passive voice. I also find it pretty old fashioned French, so it’s not much that people use a familiar level of language but more that they don’t use an over-formal level.
    Obviously I don’t have stats from a corpus and this is just my own estimation of the occurrence of this verb in natural language. And I cannot use Google for a rough estimation as the two meanings would be, precisely, confonded.

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