French as she is spoke

Did you do French at school?  Probably, if you’re English.  You had all that stuff to learn about not usually pronouncing the final letter, that ‘choux’ (cabbages) is pronounced ‘shoe’.  Perhaps you battled to remember when to use accents, and whether they should be grave (`) or acute (´) or circumflex (ˆ)?  With any luck, you learnt some everyday phrases to use on everyday occasions.

And that was fine for the school trip to Paris and later, that nice holiday in Normandy.

Where you’ll come unstuck though, is down here, and across wide swathes of the southern parts of France.

You’ll be OK if you visit an attractive town some 25 miles from here, Limoux.  It’s pronounced just as you’d expect, to rhyme with ‘choux’.

Limoux, Pont Neuf
Limoux, Pont Neuf

But last week, we went walking near a little village a few miles north, Hounoux.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘choux’.  No, you must pronounce every letter – sort of ‘Hoonoox’.

A snowy day near Hounoux: Thanks Anny, for this photo
A snowy day near Hounoux: Thanks Anny, for this photo

Driving there, we passed very near another village, Roumengoux.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘choux’ and ‘Limoux’.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘Hounoux’ either.  Instead, the locals call it ‘Roumengousse’.panneau-roumengoux.

Here, we spend our daily round with people who don’t talk standard French, as taught in all good GCSE textbooks.  They’ll go to the baker’s tomorrow (demeng) morning (matteng), to buy their bread (peng).  Then later they may work in their garden (jardeng).  In the evening, perhaps the Music Centre will put on a concert, with one of the local ensembles (angsambles) centre stage.  Très bien! (byeng).

There’s a sort of energy and vigour in the local speech patterns I find very attractive, as local people give full weight to every syllable in a word.  So rather than Laroque, it’s Laroqu-e.  I’m quite relieved it’s nothing more complicated than that, and that in any case, everyone round here is quite prepared to listen to standard French, or even Franglais.

20 thoughts on “French as she is spoke”

  1. Give them the chair/choir read aloud test. Write down ‘chair’, ask them to read it aloud, and then write ‘choir’ and ask them to read that out. It’s so befuddling to the Spanish, at least, maybe not the French…that said, our ‘rules’ are far more unpredictable than theirs!

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    1. Well, I think they’d go for ‘share’ and ‘choyre’. But you could always do that bough-cough-dough-rough-though etc.etc. thing, to show how impossible English REALLY is.

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      1. ”An early known published reference is in 1874, citing an 1855 letter that credits ghoti to one William Ollier Jr (born 1824).[1] Ghoti is often cited to support the English spelling reform, and is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, a supporter of this cause. However, the word does not appear in Shaw’s writings, and a biography of Shaw attributes it instead to an anonymous spelling reformer.” So says Wikipedia

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  2. I found the French near Pau quite phonetic. My favorite immitation is of the French train conductor announcing “Pau, Pau, cinqu-e minut-es d’arrét-e; Toulous-e, Toulous-e, tout-e le mond-e descend-(e).”

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  3. I learned French in school and yes, it’s no wonder I didn’t believe that people really spoke this language, because they don’t! At least not the way we were learning it. To be fair, my high school teacher did try to teach us more realistic French. I still remember the lesson on how to reduce “je ne sais pas” to something like, “shhhh-pah”. As for accents…well, if I followed my first teacher’s lead, I would be speaking French with a Brooklyn accent, which wouldn’t be pretty. But I grew up listening to my best friend’s parents who came from Quebec. Your descriptions of southern French sound quite a bit like Canadian French, actually. I laughed at “byeng” because one of our teachers used to tease her about her “Canuck accent” and write “Bieng!” on her homework.

    I can’t wait to go back to France to get to hear “real” French again. I forgot a lot, naturally, but I was pleased with how much I could understand and remember when I visited Normandy a couple of years ago. Loved hearing about the French in the south!

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  4. Language is my biggest fear when we get to France. I can get by, if well prepared, and reading isn’t bad but apart from that! My favourite translation was at a supermarket check out in Charleston. The check out girl was from South Carolina, the packer from Alabama and they couldn’t quite get each other so I had to translate. I just loved listening to both of them.
    p.s sorry so late on this one Margaret – no idea where the week’s gone!

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    1. Great story that! The French can’t believe it when we tell them that USA English, in all its great variety, is quite different fom British English, in all its great variety. As to you. Well, obviously I don’t know what you French is like. But I do know that your willingness to have a go, rather than JUST SPEAK ENGLISH LOUDER is what opens doors and puts people on your side. Come soon!

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  5. I wish I was better at learning languages. I think my eldest has the potential to be much better at it (I hope so). I tried to learn Portuguese for holiday use as we go to Madeira for our hols. However, each time I try it the locals just look at me with a strange look on their face. I wonder what rubbish I am telling them? Oh well. I try.

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