When I was 20, I spent a semester in the beautiful French city of Strasbourg, located in the Alsace-Lorraine region (awesome white wines). It was an incredible cultural and language immersion experience, and I felt so lucky in that I had a host family that I genuinely adored. As a result, we got to chatting quite a bit.
My host mother and I used to sneak out of the window after dinner to have “une petite cigarette” – which inevitably turned into a multitude of cigarettes – and I think that it was these exchanges that really began to push my understanding of the French language.
Something that’s always cracked me up, that I initially discovered with her, was that when I came to a standstill and didn’t know how to express something, I found that I could often take the English word and ‘French it up’ a bit. Toy with the accent, add an “ey” sound at the end…it often works.
What is truly fascinating is that, linguistically speaking, this is in fact a really historically relevant phenomenon.
If you like your fries freedomed and not frenched, you might be appalled to learn that the French culture has influenced you so completely that you ALREADY SPEAK FRENCH. It’s true!
In fact, the Norman conquest of 1066 denotes the final significant evolution of the English language.
super awesome tapestry:
When William the Conquerer took over as the King of England, French became the official language of culture, government, and the court for the next 300 years. Something like 10,000 words were adapted into the English language, and interestingly, English itself was demoted to less prestigious uses – which continues to strike me as a very French thing to do.
William da Conquerer:
What’s even more fascinating is that we’ve never completely rejected this foreign lexicon, although some of the words have been modified somewhat. However, despite their various changes, that implied fanciness is often there. Imagine eating at a high class restaurant: the menu would inevitably read “poultry” (derived from ‘poulet’), and never chicken. A cultural elitist at the ‘theatre’ might think that production was ‘droll’. I can go on and on.
And some of my personal favorites, just so you know, include ‘art nouveau’ (fine, a modern concept, but you catch my drift) and ‘au jus’. These are important.
When you really consider language and its implications, it’s terribly fascinating. As someone who’s never been a particularly big history nerd, it was a revelation to learn that something that might have otherwise bored me to tears has had a tremendous impact on me personally, even if it happened nearly 1000 years ago.
VIVE LA FRANCE!
À la prochaine!