April 5, 2011 | French

I Fell off the Wagon

But I'm getting right back on!

My French Verb Tenses book by Trudie Maria Booth has a very exalted view of the knowledge of the average foreign-language student. This is the kind of true-false question I am encountering:

Night Falls on the Upper West Side

Night Falls on the Upper West Side

Les quatre langues non-romanes qui se parlent en France sont le basque, l’alsacien, le breton et le flamand.

Translation: “The four non-Romance languages that are spoken in France are Basque, Alsatian, Breton, and Flemish.” I had to laugh when I saw that one.

In another of the grammar books I am using, I encountered the sentence “Ils se rencontrent en mars.” Upon first reading, I interpreted that to mean “They meet on Mars.” It is in fact, “They meet in March.”

And this was just something goofy that happened to one person sitting alone with a grammar book. It boggles the mind to consider all the misunderstandings that might arise when there are lots of people, let’s say world leaders, speaking lots of languages, with lots of international crises to handle.

Water Towers at Dusk

Water Towers at Dusk

On a subject of much less global significance: rendez-vous is French for “appointment.” As in, “Elle a un rendez-vous avec son dentiste.”

All this means is that she has a dentist’s appointment, but because of the way “rendezvous” is often used in English, reading that makes me think of something far more salacious than a cleaning. Words with similar or even identical etymologies often set sail separately on their own voyages, sometimes with surprisingly different destinations. 

In conclusion today: a confession. Over the past weekend, Brandt and I fell off the wagon a bit in terms of our French-only commitment. We had various social engagements, and most socializing took place in English, and then we tended not to be as careful to switch back once we returned home.

But we have now renewed our vows to French and will carry on dutifully from here.

Comments (1)

Ken • Posted on Thu, April 07, 2011 - 9:51 am EST

The failure of Esperanto will be the downfall of us all!

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