Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Lori invited me to write in this journal, and she knows she's done that at her own peril.

I speak four languages, including (apart from English) German and French. Leaving those to one side, I have a smattering of Scots Gaelic and Italian. I'll just put in a post about one of my pet hates: the misconception in the UK that French is "easy".

Many young people in the UK take up French at school, thinking it is so similar to English. It is not. Let me explain.

All major European languages stem from a source language, called Indo-German. It has several branches: Romanic, Germanic, Slavonic, Celtic and a rest-group, containing odd ones out like Hungarian, Finnish, Rhaeto-Romanisch [Switzerland] and Basque. These are all alike in being unintelligible to readers from any of the other groups.

Having introduced the concept of branches of languages, I can now set about destroying the myth that French and English are alike. They are not. They have quite a few words in common, or appear to have. I'll close the post with a devastating put-down about that perceived similarity.

English has actually more in common with German. Both languages stem from the Germanic group, and have a common denominator in that strangely morphed language called Frisian, spoken in northern Holland. Frisian is a mixture of Danish, Dutch, German and English. Although English spelling is full of idiosyncracies, it also has things in common with Scandinavian languages, such as Icelandic. The infamous "th" is shared with the Icelandic letters "þ" (as in thing) and "ð" (as in there).

English and German people have more in common than either side is likely to be willing to admit. They are both, for a start, strongly regimented. A class system, to this day, still exists in the UK, even if no longer overtly discernible. In Germany, your social standing is denoted using any letters before or after your name.

So, what do English and French have in common? A few words? Oh really?
Let's have a look at one example.


If you are unfortunate enough to have an allergy to a food preservative, you have to be careful. So, you are across the Channel and you want to ask the shopkeeper whether the things are contained in your jar of beans. You ask him: "Est-ce qu'il y a des conservatifs dans ces haricots-verts?". You don't ask him "Est-ce qu'il y a des preservatifs dans ces haricots-verts?" because you'd be asking him if there are condoms in those beans.


malagutigrrl said...

Man. This blog is gonna rock...

helmswondermom said...

Well, I figured you'd give it that touch of class that otherwise might be lacking. ;)
Thank you for this entry.  VERY interesting, and your choice of example couldn't make your point any clearer.  

We're rolling now, people!


xaymacagirl said...

Most enlightening!  Thanks for sharing.

lifes2odd said...

That last part is something I would do! LOL!
Martha :-)

deshelestraci said...

Interesting.  I took many years of Spanish.  Never had an interest in French as most told me how hard it was.  I had one semester of German.  Very hard.

ktkamanski said...

This is going to be a hoot (fun - for proper english purposes). Love this idea and the witt that will follow! Thanks for these reads. Take care of all,

specialadyfink said...

Oh-I took French-speaking it was easy-just conjugating those darn verbs got me a failing grade, I'm afraid........I know I don't 'speak' proper English,(blame it on marrying a hillbilly,LOL) But it was the 'only' subject-along withLanguage Arts  that I excelled in...............sad to say it's all gone by the wayside now............
I am not at all surprised that Guido is so well schooled-it shows in his journals..

plieck30 said...

John speaks just enough Spanish to get himself in trouble. Once he had some guys from across the border working for him with cattle in the pens. He was trying to tell them to take the ropes off and get out of the pens. In useing the word ropa he ended up telling them to take their clothes off and get out of the pens. Needless to say they stopped in their tracks with a look of confusion on their faces. Paula

princesssaurora said...

You are right... French is hard!  I am so glad that you did an entry!  Looking forward to more!

be well,

nelishianatl said...

This is such an informative place.  I know my BACKSETTLER dialect comes across in my writing.  I can improve my grammar.  It have let it slip a lot over the last couple of years.  I cannot speak French but my only son is fluent in it.  


mutualaide said...

Thanks Guido -- I studies French under duress from fourth grade through eigth in parochial school -- then continued it through high school.  The two don't resemble each other ... and your preservative certainly points that out!  

libragem007 said...

.."because you'd be asking him if there are condoms in those beans.."
Gem :-D