Who makes the language rules?

Lexicography” is the art or craft of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries.

Lexicographer” is a person who writes dictionaries and studies the history and meaning of words.

There are few different elements that go into making the rules of a language. I am still not an expert in French by any means. But this is a little essay on where our modern languages come from.

I remember reading about Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) who led a team of nine scholars in creating one of the first English language dictionaries. In 1755 “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published for the first time. In doing so Dr. Johnson actually changed the language.

Before 1755 there were no real standardized spelling rules. Different parts of England had different names for different things. A “bumble bee” in some areas of England was known as a “dumbledore” in other places. Dr. Johnson chose one name for an object and stuck with that one name.

Many of the older names for objects are now considered to be slang terms. E.G. An older term for a “girl” was “bird”. “Bird” is now considered a slang term but it is, in fact an older word that was discarded from the mainstream.

I’ve been studying in French and Italian recently it’s interesting to me that the languages are very similar, as they are both based on Latin, but their choice made at some point in history as to what constituted a word was made. Take a look at the simple statement, “follow me” translated into Italian, French, and Latin.

English = Follow me.

French = Suivez-moi.     (Suivre= follow, moi = me)

Italian = Seguitemi.     (Seguire  = follow,  mi = me)

Latin = Sequi me. =      (sequi = follow,  me = me)

In English (the newest of the four languages) “Follow me” is two words.
In French, it is two words joined with a dash.
In Italian, it is one word.
And most interesting of all, in Latin, the granddaddy of all these languages it’s two words.

At some point in time four sets of Lexicographers working in four different countries, most likely working with quill pens, decided if “Follow me” was one or two words. Hundreds of years later we still live with their decisions.

These are the kinds of choices made by ancient Lexicographers that we are still living with today.

It should be pointed out that Languages change over a period of time. Shakespeare is considered “modern English” yet most people today find Shakespeare’s plays difficult to understand.

So who made the rules for the French Language?

Published more than 60 years before Dr. Johnson’s dictionary Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française {The Dictionary of the French Academy} was published in 1694.

It’s interesting to think that the Lexicographers of Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française were exploring uncharted territory. For as in English, French which had been written for centuries before the Dictionary, there were no set rules. And the rules and traditions of the language were different in different parts of France.

The Lexicographers compiling the Dictionary of the French Academy said that their mission was to “preserve the status of the French Language as it should be written (and spoken).”

Work on the first dictionary took more than forty years. The second volume of the Dictionary was a little quicker taking only 36 years.

Now this may seem like a lot of time and it can be pointed out that the first English dictionary took only nine years and the English language has more words than the French language, however, it should be noted that the French language was in official use for a lot longer than the English language. The researchers of French had to go through a lot more material than those compiling the English dictionary.

French, was in fact, the official language of the British House of Lords until the beginning of the 20th century.

For many years English was considered to be a sort of street slang language. It was spoken but not written down. The British nobles spoke French, the House of Lords kept their records in French and the Clergy spoke Latin. English was spoken by most of the people without any rules so it was allowed to evolve and become more fluid.

It’s always interesting to me that the French don’t pronounce the final consonant of their words. I’m sure that at some point and time these consonants were pronounced but slowly but surely they were dropped from speech over the years.

This most likely happened after the creation of French dictionaries. So now the population of France had a spelling and an oral tradition that out of sync. This happens in English as well but as English was standardized later the Lexicographers could record a more modern version of the language.

I don’t want to seem bias here. As a native English speaker, I have grown up with the language. I realize that other language learners find English confusing. Spanish has very exact rules and is a very consistent language, from what I understand. I’ve seen comedy routines where a native Spanish Speaker makes fun of the inconsistencies of English.

The inconsistencies of French, in my opinion, may have been caused by the earlier creation of a dictionary. Before 1694, did anyone really know what a dictionary was supposed to be? It may simply be that English being a language of the masses and not the nobility was a lot less formal than French, but it could also be that Dr. Johnson learned from and improved on the idea about how the French language was recorded in Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française, when creating his own English dictionary.

In English we say,

  • I go
  • You go
  • He goes
  • They go

(There are only two versions of the root word “go”.)

In French:

  • Je vais = (I go)
  • Tu vas = (informal – you go.)
  • Vous allez = (formal – you go)
  • Il va = (he goes)
  • Ils vont = (they go).

(The French root word “go” = «aller» changes with each usage.)

By creating all the tenses and adopting all the word genders from Latin the early French Lexicographers may have felt that they were making the language more logical, scientific and in the Latin tradition. As French was a language of the Royal court it would have also been important to have a formal word for “you” and as well as an informal version.

Latin was considered the most important of Languages at the time when the French and English dictionaries were created. As members of the church and universities spoke and wrote in Latin. Latin was also the language of the early scientists.

Francis Bacon

English scholar Francis Bacon, (1561 –  1626) who only ever wrote in Latin, saying that it was a much more expressive language than English.

Latin was once considered a B-class language. In the time of Julius Caesar (100 BC to 44 BC) the Roman upper classes spoke to each other in Greek. Greek was considered to be the language of learning. It is interesting that Caesar’s last words were in Greek, however in Shakespeare’s play Caesar’s last words “Et tu, Brute?” are in Latin which was more prestigious than English and more widely understood than Greek in Shakespeare’s day.

Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.

Caesar’s last words according to Roman historian, who lived at the time of Caesar, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69 BC – after 122 AD) were;

“καὶ σὺ τέκνον “
(pronounced Kai su, teknon) = {You too, my son/child.}

The Greek Language predates that of Latin by thousands of Years. Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were written about the Trojan war that took place around 1194–1184 BC. As a result of this ten year war the survivors of the Troy fled for their lives and settled in what is now Rome. They lived in small villages for the next few hundreds of years. The early kingdom of Rome was founded around 753 BC.

Greek was the older language and greater language. There were books and plays written in Greek. People from other countries around the world studied Greek. On the other hand, Latin at this time was just the language of the Romans. Who were for the most part unknown to the rest of the world. And they would have been looked down upon as the offspring of Trojan refugees and escaped slaves.

Latin gain importance because of Rome’s military prowess in the time of Julius Caesar. Caesar lived about 700 years after the founding of Rome. Caesar marched with his army around Europe conquering the broze age tribes in what is today, Spain, Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.  The language of Latin was spread all over Europe. Caesar spread the language to Gaul, which is now modern France and the language mixed with the language of the native

Caesar spread the Latin language to Gaul, which is now modern France and the language mixed with the language of the native Parisii people (the people living in and around modern Paris) and Frankish and Norman invaders and eventually formed French.

The Little Prince.

 

 

 

 

A Poodle is a Poodle is a Caniche

What’s more French than a French poodle?

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

That’s why I was surprised to learn the other day that many French people don’t know what a poodle is. I spoke to a French person, who even owned a poodle, and they did not know what a poodle was.

“Poodle” is actually an English word.

In French “the poodle” is «le caniche» (pronounced kan-ish-a).

The caniche gets its names from “canard” (duck).

Duck = canard (kan-ard)

Dog = chien (she-awn) (remember chien, by thinking that a dog bites a the mailman on his shin.)

The Caniche/poodle were originally bred for hunting ducks.

As a duck-dog you can imagine that a caniche would love water. This is where the name “poodle”comes from.

Poodle is the Old English name and it comes from the word meaning “swimmer”. The word poodle comes from the same root word as puddle.

“Puddle” in French is «flaque» pronounced flack.

Prince Rupert and his Poodle.
Prince Rupert and his Poodle.

Famous Poodles of History

During the English Civil War Prince Rupert, who fought on the side of the king had a pet poodle named “Boye”.

* (Prince Rupert of the Rhine 1619 – 1682, was German, He was the nephew of King Charles I of England.)

In this drawing, you can see that Prince Rupert’s poodle looks more like a lion than a dog. The traditional hair cut of a poodle was based on that of a lion.

The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a hound, from the Book of Kells. Created around 800 A.D.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a greyhound, from the “Book of Kells”. Created around 800 A.D.

Lions are mentioned in the bible and the Roman and Greek texts, but I have often wondered if the people of Medieval Europe knew what a lion really looked like. Some of the early pictures from the “Book of Kells”, which was made around the year 800 A.D., the lions look more like greyhounds than big cats.

The Crusades may have changed things as many European soldiers traveled to the Middle East and North Africa and saw lions first hand. The first Crusade started in 1069 A.D.

Lion Rampant
Robert the Bruce’s pet lion on his Lion Rampant

After returning home from the Crusades many of the European kings even kept lions as pets in their own personal menageries.

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274 – 1329) had a pet lion which appears on his Lion Rampant flag.

I guess for the common people, owning a poodle (or a caniche) would have been the next best thing to owning their own personal lion.

We own two cavoodles. A cavoodle is a cross-breed of a Poodle and a King Charles Cavalier – Spaniel. My daughter picked them out because I am somewhat allergic to dogs. The cavoodles are low allergic. I love dogs but our last dog I could not even pet without getting allergic.

Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sun shine.
Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sunshine.

It worked and I’m not allergic to Ollie and Thistle our two black cavoodles.

I never saw myself as a person that would own a poodle, but these guys are great dogs. They are amazingly fast, they are also great jumpers and spend a surprising amount of time walking on two legs.

If they want to see over or on top of something they stand on two legs, unsupported and can walk around like this. This isn’t a trick that they have been taught. (I wonder what Charles Darwin would say about this.)

I have been in the park and met other dog owners including purebred poodle owners. A full-size poodle has almost the exact build as a greyhound.

I’m no expert but when you see a full size poodle and a greyhound stand side by side they both have the same rounded chest and slim hips and long legs (see the picture of Ollie the larger of the two cavoodles above). They also have the same pointed upturned nose of a greyhound. And both breeds have long thin tails.  Poodles, in my opinion, are basically greyhounds with afros.

Their personalities seem to change with every hair cut. Where the dogs that I have had in the past have always had hair that didn’t need to be trimmed  poodles (cavoodles) doesn’t shed. Which is good for allergies, however, their hair just keeps growing.

Our cavoodles have had some very interesting experiments in hair styles. We tried the more traditional poodle styles on Ollie. Which made my daughter and me break into laughter when we picked him up at the dog groomer.

Ollie had changed so much! It was as if our happy little puppy was suddenly appearing on a Paris catwalk.

Ollie had the shaved nose which made him look a little stuck up. And he had shaved paws which made him look like he was wearing gloves and a puffy shirt.

Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.
Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.

Ollie now gets what is known as the Teddy bear look. The hair on his snout is left a little longer and cut rounder.

We don’t go to the dog groomer anymore as it’s cheaper if I do it myself.

 

 

French Pirates

Probably the most famous French Pirate is Jean Lafitte ( c. 1780 – c. 1823). But there are a few others that you might recognize. Star Trek fans might recognize the name Captain Picard.

Pierre le Picard (1624–1679?) was a French pirate. He had worked with the famous Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan at one time before becoming the captain of his own pirate ship.

Pirates crews were quite often of mixed nationalities all speaking different languages. Pirate slag was developed to help crews understand a captain’s orders.

Before the creation of radios ship to ship communication was done with flags. This is why the command ship in a fleet was called the flag ship. Orders could be spelled out using a flag alphabet. However there were some flags that had special meaning, such as the red battle flag.

The red battle flag was the signal to attack. This was true for armies on land as well as at sea. Santa Anna’s army flew the red battle flag when they attacked the Alamo.

“By late afternoon Béxar was occupied by about 1,500 Mexican soldiers. When the Mexican troops raised a blood-red flag signifying no quarter, Travis responded with a blast from the Alamo’s largest cannon.”

From “The Battles and men of the Republic of Texas”
by Arthur Wyllie

It is believed the French pirates had a special name for the red battle flag calling it the «jolie rouge» or the “pretty red”. This was a very catchy name as and it soon was adopted even by the English speaking pirates who Anglicized jolie rouge to the name we know today; the “Jolly Roger”.

French Days of the Week

In this post we will have a quick look at the different French names of the days of the week. There is a strange link between the French and English names and perhaps knowing this link will help you learn the French day names.

Why Seven?

Why do we have seven days of the week? Why is it that the French and other countries that don’t speak English also have seven days in the week? Why is seven such a special number anyway?

In order to understand why seven is so important we have to look back a few thousand years ago, before the internet, TV, movies or even the radio. Back when people sat around campfires in the summer and looked up at the stars.

The sky at night is full of stars. Stars travel uniformly across the sky at night all going the same direction and at the same speed. The few exceptions the ancient Greeks named “wanderers” (in Greek planētēs.) We know them now as planets.

There are seven heavenly bodies that regularly appeared in the sky (and still do) and it is from these seven heavenly bodies that we get the days of the week. The Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.

The first two, the sun and the moon aren’t technically planets under the modern revised definition of the word. And yet they don’t travel with the rest of the stars across the sky so they technically are wanderers under the original Greek meaning of the word.

The names of the days of the week were first introduced into Rome from Egypt in the 1st and 2nd century.

Getting to the point of this post. The days of the week are named after the planets and Greco-Roman gods. The days of the week in French are the French name variations of the Greco-Roman gods. The English (Anglo-Saxon Germanic) versions of the days of the week are actually Germanic translations of the Greco-Roman gods.

It was sometime before 700 A.D. that the Teutonic ancestors of the English renamed the days of the week after the Norse gods.

The French order of the Days

novembre-01
The week starts with lundi (Monday).

Most French calendars start with Monday as the first day of the week. The reason for this may be that in the Bible Sunday is seen as the day of rest which is the seventh day.

French do not capitalize the days of the week unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

The French days of the week all contain the syllable ‘di’. Which just means day. Sunday (dimanche) begins with ‘di’ and the rest of the French day names end with it.

Lundi = Monday

Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » "A Trip to the Moon"
Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » “A Trip to the Moon”

Lundi comes from “lune”, which is the French word for moon.

Trivia: French Musketeer Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 – 1655) wrote one of the first Science Fiction stories ever recorded about taking a trip to the moon.

The story was a political satire, and was called «Contenant les Estats & Empires de la Lune» “Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon”, and was published two years after his death in 1657. In the story Cyrano sailed to the moon in a sort of balloon. (The first hot air balloon was invented in France 1783.)

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) wrote «De la Terre à la Lune» “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1858. Cyrano was truly ahead of his times.

Monday is a shortening of moon-day.

Mardi = Tuesday

Mars
Mars, the Roman god of war.

Mardi is named after the Mars the Roman god of war. Most Roman soldiers were also farmers so Mars was the god of both war and agriculture. Before Rome had a full time professional army the military season, for Roman farmers, began in October. After the harvest, the farmers went into training for war.

The Roman campaigning season ended in March (which is also named after Mars in both French and English). In March all the farmers could go back to their families. The month of March («mars» in French) is when most of the festivals of Mars were held.

 

Tyr god of war
Tyr god of war

Tuesday: is named after Tyr. Tyr was the Norse god of war. It is from “Tyr” that we get the word “Teutonic”.

Tyr had only one hand as his other hand was bitten off by a giant wolf named Fenrir. The wolf Fenrir was said to be the son of Loki, the trickster god.

The story goes that Tyr put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while Fenrir was bound with unbreakable chains. Tyr lost his hand but was able to save the gods from Fenrir.

Mercredi = Wednesday
(This is a bit of a mismatch)

Mercury
Mercury

Mercredi: Is the day of Mercury.

Mercury is the son of Jupiter, from Jupiter’s affair with the daughter of Atlas. Jupiter’s wife Juno, the queen of the gods, was known for being very cruel to her husband’s bastard children.

Mercury never had a very high standing with the Olympic gods. He is the god of thieves and has the job of taking fallen soldiers to the fields of heaven.

The Roman heaven was called “Elysium” or the “Elysian Fields“. “The fields of {Roman} heaven” translates into French as «les Champs du Elysees». Which is the name of one of the most famous streets in Paris.

 

Odin
Wise Odin had only one eye. He sacrificed the other eye in exchange for knowledge.

Wednesday: is Wodin or Odin’s day. Odin of course was the father of the Teutonic gods. His Roman equivalent should have been Jupiter. However when Julius Caesar first traveled to Gaul and Germany he mistook the widespread worship of Odin as being worship of Mercury.

The ancient Romans believed that all other cultures worshiped the same gods that they did only under different names. When visiting (or invading) a new country a Roman would ask about the nature of the local gods. All gods were given duties, such as god of lightning, or god of the sea, etc. The Roman would then try and figure out which of these barbarian gods corresponded to the Roman gods.

In Teutonic mythology it is Odin that receives soldiers that have fallen in battle to Valhalla. This is why Caesar mistook Odin, who was the king of the gods with Mercury, a lesser servant god.

 

Jeudi = Thursday
(another mismatch)

Jupiter
Jupiter, King of the sky holds lightning bolts in his right hand.

Jeudi: is the day of Jupiter, who was sometimes called Jove. (“By Jove!”)

Jupiter is the Roman father of the gods and King of Olympus. He was also the god of Thunder.

Jupiter’s father was Saturn, whom he did not get along with. Saturn was afraid of his children and so he ate them when they were born.

Jupiter led a rebellion. Because Jupiter and his siblings were immortal they survived being eaten and were set free by Jupiter. They were then able to rule the world.

Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats.
Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats. The word Swedish word for “Billy-goat” is »getabock». Which also is used as an euphemism for “playboy” or “stud” in Ingmar Bergman movies. Thor has a two-stud powered set of wheels!

Thursday: is Thor’s day. Thor the son of Odin and his Olympic equivalent should have been Hercules. (Except Hercules was half human. So Hercules was only a demigod, while Thor was the son of the King and Queen of the gods.)

Thor may have been confused with Jupiter as Thor is also the god of Thunder.

 

 

Vendredi = Friday

Venus
Venus, goddess of love and ancestor of Julius Caesar, who reinvented the Roman Calendar.

Vendredi: is the day of Venus.

Venus is the goddess of love and was said to be the mother of a Trojan man named Aeneas. Aeneas survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy settling in the area which one day would be known as Rome. Aeneas was a founder of the Roman race. Julius Caesar claimed to be related to Aeneas and therefor Venus.

It should be pointed out that in French (and all the other Romance languages that assign gender to words) that the days of the week are masculine, even vendredi, despite being named after a goddess.

Freyja on her chariot pulled by two cats.
Freya on her chariot pulled by two cats. (She could be the goddess of the internet if she were around today.)

Friday: Friday may be named after one of two goddesses Frigg or Freya Whom may be the same goddess. No one is sure.

Frigg was the wife of Odin. Frigg was the patron of marriage and motherhood, love and fertility.

Freya had many of the same characteristic as Frigg but had a chariot pulled by two cats.

(In the movie “Thor” (2011) the thunder god asks a pet-shop owner if he has any dogs or cats that are big enough to ride.)

 

Samedi = Saturday

Saturn father of Jupiter
Saturn father of Jupiter

Samedi: Comes from the Latin words “dies Saturni”, it was Saturn’s day to the ancient Romans.

Saturn was the father of Jupiter. He was a Titian. Titians were the giants that came before the Olympic gods.

The scythe that Saturn holds may be inspired by the rings of Saturn which might be visible to the naked eye. (I’m not sure).

Saturday – is also named after Saturn.

 

 

Dimanche = Sunday

Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the 'Sun King' (1638 - 1715)
Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the ‘Sun King’ (1638 – 1715)

Dimanche: The name dimanche comes from its Latin name Dominica, Day of God or Day of our lord.

Sunday: day of the sun comes from the Latin “dies solis” which was the name of a Pagan Roman holiday. The day was renamed Dominica some time after Rome was converted to Christianity, by Constantine the Great (272 AD – 337 AD.)

French Numbers (the Abe Lincoln method)

At first glance the French have a somewhat unusual counting system which seems normal up until the number sixty-nine (soixante-neuf). Then things get a little “Abraham Lincoln”. But I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment.

But first lets us take a look at the French counting system.

The French write their ones and their sevens slightly differently.
The French write their ‘ones’ and their ‘sevens’ slightly differently than the English speakers. The French number ones can sometimes look like upside down ‘V’s. 

One = un (masculine) or une (feminine). The number one is the only number to really have a gender. Also, the first day of the month is the “premier”.

Two = deux

Three = trois

Four = quatre

Five = cinq

Six = six (exactly the same)

Sept = seven

Eight = huit

Nine = neuf

Ten = dix

Eleven = onze

Twelve = douze (kind of sounds like “dozen”)

Thirteen = Treize (This is the beginning of the Teens (tens) in English. The dix numbers don’t start until 17 in French).

Fourteen = quatorze

Fifteen = quinze

Sixteen = seize

Seventeen = dix-sept (This is the start of the regular patter of the name of the number from the tens followed by the name of the number of the ones).

Eighteen = dix-huit

Nineteen = dix-neuf

Twenty = vingt

Twenty-one = Vingt-et-un.  (The “et” is only used in two digit numbers ending in “one” starting with 21 and ending with 61.)

Twenty-two = Vingt-deux (There is a dash between the numbers linking them. This is the pattern for the rest of the numbers up until 69)

Thirty =  trente

Fourty = quatrante

Fifty = cinquante

Sixty = soixante

Sixty nine = soixante-neuf. (Now a new pattern begins.)

Seventy = soixante-dix ( And so it starts. 70 is 60+10 Soixante-dix. Learning French numbers from this point on will help you with your mathematics skills.)

Seventy one = Soixante-et-onze  60 and 11.

Seventy two = Soixznte-douze (Just add the teen numbers to the end of Soixznte. This pattern continues until 80)

Eighty = quatre-vingt (four twenties) 4 x 20.

Eighty one = quatre-vingt-un. (four twenties one)

Ninety = quatre-vingt-dix (four twenties ten.) It really means 4 X 20 + 10

One hundred = cent

One hundred and one = cent-un

The Honest Abe Lincoln French Counting System

lincoln-006I don’t know if Abe Lincoln spoke French but for some reason he counted like a Frenchman. Looking at the first four words in Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address the opening line is one of his most quoted and least understood lines in history.
(What’s a score anyway?)

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

The word “score” has gone out of fashion in America. “Score” means “twenty”.

“Score” was once quite common in English.

merry-adventures-of-robin-hood “…the Sheriff of Nottingham did cow bold Robin Hood and seven score as fair archers as are in all merry England?”

“The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”
Published in 1883
By Howard Pyle

 

 

What President Lincoln was really saying in his Gettysburg address was,

‘87 years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…’

In French the number 87 is «quatre-vingts-sept», which translates as four-twenties-seven or as Lincoln put it, “four score and seven”.

Maybe French numbers after 70 aren’t that far-fetched. For after all they are using the same twenty based counting system that President Lincoln famously used.

My little French Calendar Scrapbook

Making a Living Language French Calendar Scrapbook

I don’t know if I use my French Living Language Calendar the way it was originally intended. My personal scrapbooking system I describe in this post is sort of something I have developed over the last two + years.

I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. Back when French was still really just a foreign language to me. I remember opening the box on January 1st and thinking, this is way too advanced for me.

In some ways it was the calendar was too advanced. It used a lot of words that I’ve yet to encounter in my studies, however I have made up a number of games with my little French calendar over the years, and I’m on my third calendar now and still having fun.

Over the past two almost three years I have use my calendar as a way of exploring French culture. It is my escape from learning boring low level French terms like “Good-day, how is it going?” etc. etc. And into the higher levels of French culture. But more on that in a moment.

With my little French calendar I get to play detective and CSI linguistics expert. My little calendar is teaching French terms way beyond my learning level.

The Daily Language Habit

Steve Kaufmann from LingQ.com that the most important part of learning a new language is the daily learning habit. If you can do even a little every day you will be progressing. LingoSteve also encourages you to have fun while you are learning your new language to help avoid burnout.  (Look for LingoSteve Kaufmann’s videos on Youtube.)

Q: So how can I make my French calendar fun?

A: By starting a daily scrapbook.

The calendar features a new French word every day. This word comes with a pronunciation guide. I should point out that this is a readable pronunciation guide (yeah!) And not the fancy “International Phonetic Alphabet” (IPA) guides that I never learned about in school. The whole internet is being taken over by the IPA. It is used to show pronunciation using strange alien characters like; ɯ, ø, œ, ä, ɨ, ʌ, ʉ, ɤ, ɐ, ɞ. (The IPA guide needs to come with a guide.)

The French word or phrase also comes with a definition. Some words have more than one meaning. So often it is handy to look this word up on Google Translate.

Press the speaker icon to hear the word pronounced in French.
Press the speaker icon to hear the word pronounced in French.

Also Most of the translation pages have little speaker icons. If you click the speaker icon the page will read the word or sentence out loud for you. [This is one of the best tools ever created for language learning!]

Next the word or phrase will be used in a French sentence. Below this French sentence is an English translation of this sentence. (Most of the time these translations are fairly accurate but sometimes they are not. This is where the detective work begins.)

When I do my daily French calendar scrapbook. I often see myself as someone trying to break the code. (Believe me in the early days it was all seemed like code to me.) I quickly noticed after using Google translate a few times that the English version weren’t always a 100% word for word translations of the original French sentence.

Take for example the sentence:
«Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.» (Little by little the bird makes its nest.) I have seen this translated on line as (Every little bit counts.) with no further explanation of the words like oiseau= or nid=nest.

“Every little bit counts” may be the underlying meaning of the proverb but it’s ironic that the translator ignored all the little bits that counted.

In my opinion, it is more important to understand what the words actually mean. Word for word. Even if the proverb is strange. Finding the meaning is an insight into how the French think.

Discover Grammar patterns

I must point out that I hate the whole idea of learning grammar “rules. However I enjoy discovering the natural way in which the French say things. Grammar is really a rhythm and and sort of logic. It is something that you learn to know by ear.

When you put words together in the wrong order in an English sentence the sentence just sounds wrong. It’s not about learning rules. Its about learning to hear pattern. The rules where made up to explain the pattern. Learning to hear the pattern first makes it easier to understand the rules.

The Experts are wrong

What are the French really saying?

I don’t know how many times that I have read that «bonjour» means “good day” and “good morning”. No it doesn’t

«Bonjour» means “good day”. The French may say bonjour in the morning, however «bon» means “good” and «jour» means “day”.

«Matin» means “morning.”

It’s good to know exactly what words mean.

«Ça va» means “It goes”
«Ça» = it
«va» = goes.
«Ça va» doesn’t mean “OK” or “how are you?”
It means “How is it going?” With the words “How” and “is” left off.

Understanding these little details are important.

My Little French Calendar Scrapbook

Here is an example from the digital scrapbook that I keep of my French calendar.

The word (phrase) of the day is «À couper le soufflé» which is given the definition of “breathtaking”.

—————————————————

        À couper le souffle (ah koo-pay luh soo-fluh) = breathtaking

Cette reproduction est à couper le souffle.

This reproduction is breathtaking.

(Bing translate)

Cette reproduction est à couper le souffle. This reproductrion is breathtaking.
Cette
reproductrion
est
à
couper
le souffle.
This
reproductrion
is
to
cut
the breath.

————————————————–

In the table I have inserted on the page above, I have typed in the original French sentence on the left and in this case, I have used the Bing Translator translation on the right.

You can see that Bing translates «à couper le soufflé» as breathtaking. However when I added a enter between each word the Bing translator now translate «à couper le soufflé» as separate element; “to cut the breath.”

I do the same process with Google Translate just to double check. You can see in the sample below that the French word «reproduction» has been translated as “production” by Google.

————————————————–

(Google Translate)

Cette reproduction est à couper le soufflé. This production is breathtaking.
Cette
reproduction
est
à
couper
le souffle.
This
production
is
to
cut
the breath.

————————————————–

But something doesn’t seem quite right here. “Breathtaking” translates as “Cut the breath”.

I try putting «couper» in Google translate by itself. This will give me any alternative translations of this word.

Google translate gives me 33 new meanings for the word couper. But which one is the right one?

cut, turn off, cut off, disconnect, shut off, break, stop, chop, cut down, slash, sever, break up, intersect, clip, crop, cut back, snip, lop, switch, cut away, hew, undercut, ax, axe, bite, pare, cease, shear off, whack, haggle, adze, intermit, fritter,

To be left breathless is describing a feeling. It’s not really like being cut.

When you see something that leaves you breathless. It can feel like your breath has been “turned off”, or “breath cease” or maybe the breath knocked or “breath whacked” out of you.

The French word «couper» reminds me of the French word «coups».

The 400 Blows. Directed François Truffaut
The 400 Blows. Directed François Truffaut

There is a famous French movie called “The 400 Blows” The French title is «Les Quatre Cents Coups»(1959). The title sounds like the movie is about corporal punishment as the poster depicts a young boy.

But there is nothing in the movie about corporal punishment or any type of blows. The name “Les Quatre Cents Coups” is really difficult to translate into English as «coups» means both “blows” and “cuts”. The  French title refers to an old French idiom “faire les quatre cents coups”, (make the 400 coups) which means “to raise hell”.

Somethings don’t translate. The English distributes might have been better off with a title like “Wild Oats” which had been proposed at the time.

I’ve tried to find more details about the meaning of the 400 blows idiom. One French friend suggested that it might come from French theater. When a play is about to begin the usher holds a long staff and stamps it on the ground three times. The noise the staff makes are called coups. The coups signal that the show is about to begin. The 400 coups may mean that a really big show is about it begin.  (This case it still open.)

 

How to to make a French Calendar Scrapbook

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

At the top of the page I write the date in French and then English

Vingt-quatre octobre deux-mille-seize
 24 October 2016
Monday – lundi

  1. Open your French Calendar to today’s date.
  2. Open a new MS Word documents and named it French Calendar 2016 or 2017 or whatever year it is when you start this scrapbook.
  3. At the top of the page type today’s date in French (See the example above. Right justify the date to keep it out of the way.)
    Make sure to spell the numbers
    Vingt-quatre octobre deux-mille-seize. The first of the month is written as «premier» and not «un».(this is a great way to learn your numbers 1 to 31.)
  4. On the next line I write the date in English using number 24 October 2016. (the French use the dd/mm/yyyy format.)
  5. On the next line write the day in both languages. Monday – lundi (French day and month names are NOT capitalized unless they at the beginning of a sentence. To remind me of this I write them second.)
    img_9192
  6. Next type the word of the day and its pronunciation and its meaning.
    Many French words contain letters that have accents. I used to skip these but then I found a pages with all the keystroke shortcuts for writing French accents. I made a little chart of these and paste it at the end of my Word document, so it always just below where I need it.
  7. Next type the French Sentence. (Try and pronounce it while you type. Google translate will pronounce French sentences for you.)
  8. Then type the English translation. (Remember not to trust these translations. They can be misleading.)
  9. This is where I start my investigation I open two online translation pages.
    https://translate.google.com.au/ (my favorite)
    http://www.bing.com/translator
  10. Type the French sentence into each translator page. (Make sure the language is selected to translate French to English.)
  11. Press the speaker icon and repeat the sentence out loud a few times. If the sentence is too long to remember, then remove a few words. You can add them back later.
  12. Are there any words in the sentence that you don’t understand? If you put your cursor between each word and click [Enter]. This will put the words on separate lines and the words will be translated separately.
  13. When I have translated a sentence I copy it back to my Word Scrapbook document.
  14. If I’ve translated each word separately I copy and paste those words onto my table as well.
  15. If you type a single word into Google Translate then all the different definitions of the word will appear in the lower right hand side of the page. Sometimes words have more than one meaning and it’s interesting to understand these different meanings. I copy and paste these words onto my Scrapbook doc as well.
  16. Save your work.

                    How to use French Accent Alt codes for PCs.
Hold down the Alt key and then type the numbers. Then let go of the Alt key and the accented letter will appear.

French Accent ALT Codes For PCs

 

à = ALT + 133

â = ALT + 131

ä  = ALT + 132

æ = ALT + 145

ç  = ALT + 135

é  = ALT + 130

è  = ALT + 138

ê  = ALT + 136

ë = ALT + 137

 

À  = ALT +  0192

  = ALT +  0194

Ä  = ALT +  142

Æ  = ALT +  146

Ç  = ALT +  128

É  = ALT +  144

È  = ALT +  0200

Ê  = ALT +  0202

Ë  = ALT +  0203

 

î = ALT + 140

ï = ALT + 139

ô = ALT + 147

œ = ALT + 0156

ù = ALT + 151

û = ALT + 150

ü = ALT + 129

« = 174

€ = ALT + 0128

 

Î = ALT + 0206

Ï  = ALT + 0207

Ô  = ALT + 0212

Π= ALT + 0140

Ù  = ALT + 0217

Û  = ALT + 0219

Ü  = ALT + 154

»  = ALT + 175

 

 

Option codes for Mac

•Euro symbol (€) Press [Option] + [Shift] + [2]

•Acute Accent ( é ): Press the [E] key while holding the [Option] key, take your finger off the option key then press [E] again.

•Grave Accent ( à, è, ù ): Press [ ` ] while holding down the [Option] key, then press either [A], [E] or [U]. to put a Grave accent above the appropriate letter.

•Cedilla ( ç ): Simply press [C] while holding down the [option] key.

•Circumflex ( â, ê, î, ô, ü ): Press [I] while holding down [Option], then press either [A], [E], [I], [O] or [U].

•Tréma ( ë, ï, ü ): Press [U] while holding down [Option], then press either [E], [I] or [U].

•OE Ligature ( œ ): Simply press [Q] while holding down the [Option] key.

 

A Picture is worth a thousand words.

Next I copy the original French sentence into Google Search and do first a normal search and then an image search.

attention-a-la-marcheI like to illustrate my calendar scrapbook. This is often the most interesting part of the process as I often find that the sentence was taken from a French saying or part of a famous French song, or a quote or it might even be a catch phrase from a French game show. (I didn’t know that the French had game shows).

I record all this information. I usually try and write a quick biography of the author, painter or game show in question.

A lot of this information can be found on Wikipedia.

If the author doesn’t appear in the English version of Wikipedia then look on the left hand side of the Wikipedia home page. There is a “Languages” heading. Find and click on “Français”.

The Français page will be in French, but you can copy and paste the page into Google Translate.

Once a month my French calendar has short biographies of French painters or authors or other famous French people or places.

symbolism

In this case I type out these biographies onto my Word scrapbook and then look for pictures on Google.

This is a whole cultural and history lesson that I look forward to every day. I’ve been introduced to several different art movements as well as the works of a number of different authors that I had never heard of.

chateau-de-chambordI remember the first time I did an image search was when the French calendar was when there was an article about a French Château (castle) that I’d never heard of before.

So I looked up Le Château de Chambordthat. And I included some pictures of the Château and a map of where it is located.

Living Language: French 2017

My Personal Journal of Language Learning – Part 1

A look at different language learning systems.

I’m looking at a number of different ways to Lean French and Improve what I already know.

The systems that are am currently using for language learning are;

youtubeYouTube: there were a number of Youtube videos that I looked at before I started serious language learning. https://www.youtube.com/user/lingosteve

Steve Kaufman creator of the LingQ.com website.
Steve Kaufmann creator of the LingQ.com website.

I found Steve Kaufmann’s approach to language learning very refreshing. He knows around 15 languages and he his always learning more. From time to time he has 90 day challenges. Where he focuses on one language for 90 days to see if he can crack it. He encourages other people to join him on his 90 challengers. My favorite part about Mr. Steve Kaufmann is how it does not like traditional academic language teaching techniques. He (like myself) found that he learned little in his high school language classes. Steven Kaufmann is very much for the idea that we should all design our own language learning program to fit our needs. He interviews other polyglots from time to time and they discuss their personal styles. Most importantly Steve Kaufmann taught me that it might be possible for me to learn French even though I was over 50. He also has a language learning page called https://www.lingq.com. There is a free version a subscription version to www.lingq.com. I am a member. It’s a very useful sight once you get to use it.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

Living Language French (Calendar): I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Each day it has a new French word and uses that word in a sentence. In the early days I found this difficult as the sentence often contained words that I did not understand. So I came up with a system. (I have written a lot more about my Living Language French calendar but this post is getting a bit long so I will post it separately.)

duolingo-owlDuolingo.com: There is no cost for using Duolingo. I started Duolingo 10 January 2016. I think it’s a very effective system. I have written a review of it a few days ago. I’m very glad Duolingo exists. I now have a vocabulary in French of roughly 2600+ words. Duolingo tells me I have about 56% fluency level. (Which would go up if I liked doing flashcards)

I have reached my limit on Duolingo French. And because Duolingo is so addictive as a daily dose of language I have started Italian* so I can maintain my score.

Habits are important

Duolingo is very good for helping one to develop the habit of daily language learning. Habits are important. If you get into a daily habit of language learning you will progress.

[*On a side note I was thinking that if I started to learn Italian as a French speaker, instead of as an English speaker, that I could get a dose of both languages every day. But I haven’t had time to look into this.]

Private Tutor: This is a good idea. I started taking lessons a few months ago. Duolingo and LingQ are very good ways of learning vocabulary but if you want to speak the language you will need lessons hopefully from a native speaker. LingQ does offer an exchange where you can find a tutor on line, and then arrange an time to practice with them.

italki_logo_2016_200pxiTalki: iTalki is a website where you can find a tutor. https://www.italki.com/. The tutor’s charge. Some a little and some a lot. It is a very simple system to use. I took several lessons on iTalki but as I wasn’t very good at using Skype, (which is very simple to use) I had a number of problems in the early days.

How iTalki works:

1. Create an account with iTalki.

2. Add money into iTalki system. You will be given a number of iTalki Credits (ITC). The reason of the ITC is you might be dealing with a person from another culture who has a different currency. The ITC takes into account the fluctuation of the different currencies. Make sure you make a note of the conversion rate with your local currency so that you know how much you will be paying for lessons.

2. Search for a Teacher on the iTalki website.Find a teacher who is available at a time that you are available. Different teachers charge different amounts for their time.

3. You can contact the teacher through iTalki. The teacher then has to accept you (sometimes they are busy with other clients). If and when the teacher accepts you they will email you through iTalki.

4. For those unfamiliar with Skype you will need to set it up on your computer. It is a simple system. You will need to send your Skype number to your teacher.
[You will most likely need headphones. My Dell computer doesn’t give me an option to plug in a microphone. (Thanks Dell). Dell has hidden a mic in my keyboard somewhere and hasn’t bothered to tell me where. It works, so don’t stress out if you have a computer created by the Dell.]
Video Camera. Skype uses a video camera so you can see your teacher and they can see you. Most computers these days have video cameras. [until the people at Dell decide not to put them on any more.]

5. Before the scheduled time of your call your teacher will send you their Skype number through Skype’s email, (yes Skype has it’s on texting email system) for you to accept. You need to accept their number in order to receive a call from them.

6. At your scheduled time your teacher will call you. Accept your Skype call.
You will be able to see teacher and they will be able to see you, unless you are shy. They can show you flash cards on the screen and they can text you the spelling of words as you talk.

7. When you are done you can save all the Texts and uses this as your learning notes.

8. iTalki will then ask you to settle your account by transfering some ITCs to your teachers account.

Tutor tips. You want to get your money’s worth from your tutor whether they be on Skype from LingQ or iTalki or in person, so study what they ask you to study so that you are ready on the day. Different tutors are going to have different styles. Me personally I didn’t want to know about grammar rules I wanted to have conversations. Practicing the alphabet with a tutor is useful as you are practicing the sounds that you need to make with your mouth. Later after you can hold a short conversation it is important to learn some grammar rules. But the rules should come after some understanding. If you learn a bunch of rules before you get a feell for the language you will just be confused.

pimsleur-french-levels-1-5-mp3-9781442381827Pimsleur French Method: Dr. Paul Pimsleur was a language teacher that came up with the theory that the best way to learn a language was to hear a new word or short sentence, as spoken by a native French speaker, and then learner is asked to repeat the word, or sentence shortly after it has been spoken. This process is repeated again and again.

The learn works their way through the course learning a few new words and sentences every day.

I was still a nervous new language learning when I bought the Pimsleur French lesson #1 on CD series. I played one lesson a day, but as I progressed I had deep insecurities about how well I was doing. The Pimsleur system is a good system but it’s not interactive like Duolingo where you are scoring points as you progress.

I gone back to using Pimsleur now that I am a little more secure in my knowledge of the French language.

For some people the Pimsleur method will work well. Others may not like it so much. If you can create a daily habit of listening to them they will work well. They are idea for someone who drives to work and has a CD player in their car. You can also get them at Audible.com. (I love Audible by the way. When I use to take public transport to work I used to read books all the time. But now that I have a car I don’t have as much reading time and I’ve started listening to audio-books.)

So a program like Duolingo or the Living Language calendar are good for starters to get you into the daily learning habit. Once you are in the habit and have built you vocabulary and confidence up I found it good to use CD systems like Pimsleur. This is also a good time to start thinking of getting a teacher either in real life or on LingQ.com or iTalki.com.

People are going to learn at different speeds so it’s hard to say how fast you should be progressing. Just make sure that at all times you are having fun. Make your learning system your own.

Pimsleur French

What is next.

I’m always looking for new systems to play with. I have the French for Dummies book but I didn’t find it all that useful so I only read a few pages. I have bought a few other courses and will look at those in a future post.

[Full disclosure: I’ve included links to the different
language learning systems mentioned on this post.
Many are free but a few of them pay commission
which will go towards paying for upkeep of this blog.]

Songs in Translation

Songs and Lyrics don’t always translate

My daughter just showed me this video this morning. It’s very powerful.

I was aware that movies are often dubbed into other languages. But this is a very dramatic demonstration of the art of dubbing.

Frozen French Poster
La Reine des neiges
(The Queen of the Snow
or The Snow Queen)

It’s not easy to translate a song into another language and keep the same meaning. As you know the words of a song are often a poem set to music. This poem has a rhythm that corresponds to the rhythm, beat or melody of the music.

Translations of a sentence from one language to another will change this rhythm.

It should also be pointed out that rhyme, which is a big part of poetry in English, is not all that important in other languages.

In other language like Italian where most of the words rhyme anyway poetry is created by the rhythm of the words. So the rhythm created by the placement of the syllables and the meaning of the words are more important than the rhyming of the words. Once again this sort of poetry doesn’t translate very well.

Beyond the Meaning

One of my favorite examples of a song that was changed in translation is “Beyond the Sea”. “Beyond the Sea” is based on an original French song «La Mer» by Charles Trenet (written in 1946).

«La Mer» of course is “The Sea”, but is also a homonym for «La Mère» (the mother). This is a double meaning that is completely understood by the French but is completely lost in translation. The sea is the giver of life.

La Mer is a song about the changing moods of the sea. It’s about the beauty of the sea in the sun and in the rain.

The song La Mer was translated and basically rewritten by American song writer and lyricist Jack Lawrence.

In the English version the words «la mer» have been changed to “somewhere”, which rhyme. And then he added “beyond the sea” keeping with the Sea theme.

The Jack Lawrence version are some what reminiscent of “Somewhere over the rainbow”. It’s a song about an imagined journey on a sailboat to a place beyond the sea. A sort of magical place that one can dream about.

I’ve always like the song “Beyond the Sea” but watching the original French song «La Mer» on Youtube I’m now a fan of both versions.

Which comes first the Music or the Words?
(It all depends on who is writing the song)

French Poster
Le Roi Lion
(The Lion King)

Elton John is a famous British singer and song writer. A number of years ago Elton John appeared on the British talk show hosted by Michael Parkinson. Parkinson asked Sir Elton how he wrote songs. Sir Elton had grown up playing the piano and could play in the style of any pianist that he saw as a child. Sir Elton said that he wrote the music to his songs based on the lyrics, of whichever lyricist he was working with at the time, game him. So in Elton John’s case the words came first.

Knowing this beforehand, Parkinson had one of his writers prepare a simple poem about a cat (a moggy) which he read for Sir Elton. Sir Elton after listening to the poem only once was able to ad-lib the music as he sang the words to the poem.

This is amazing to watch. It becomes a completely different poem once it is set to music. And Elton John with years of experience was able to recreated the poem musically almost instantly. Amazing!

In this same interview, Sir Elton spoke of working with lyricist Tim Rice on the movie “The Lion King”. Once again Tim Rice wrote the words to fit the story and Elton John wrote the music based on Tim Rice’s lyrics.

During the pre-production of “the Lion King” the story was changed a number of few times and Time Rice had to do a number of rewrites. But as the rewrites matched the rhythm of the original lyrics Elton John didn’t have to change the music.

The Translation Game

I’m no Tim Rice or Sir Elton, but I do have fun from time to time translating lyrics of my favorite song into French. I’m no singer but I have my own version of “I love Paris in the Spring time”.

♪ J’aime Paris au printemps
♪ J’aime Paris à l’automne
♪ J’aime Paris en hiver quand il pleut
♪ J’aime Paris en été quand il grésille

My syllable count is way out of wack here, I need a one syllable French word for fall. L’automne is just to long. But it still might work.

My French vocabulary isn’t really big enough for my to be able to pick and choose just he right words yet. But I had fun doing it. This is game that I sometimes play with my fellow French learners. The main thing to remember is not to take it seriously.

Translation Game Rules

1. There are no rules.

2. It is OK to use Google translate.

3. It’s OK to completely change the meaning of the song if you are so inspired.

4. Don’t look up someone else’s translation of a song until you have had a crack at it yourself.

5. Don’t show this to anyone that my criticize you. It’s none of their business.

6. This game can also be played in reverse. Take a French song and translate it into English.

7. Try and make your new word fit the rhythm of the music.

I’m always reminded of a scene from the original book “The Three Musketeers” «Les Trois Mousquetaires»  by Alexandre Dumas (first published in 1844).

Cardinal Richelieu who appears in the book as one of the main antagonists of the Musketeer was a real person. Richaelieu wrote books on fencing and also an opera. When Cardinal Richaelieu is first introduced to DÁrtagnan he is composing “Mirame, a Tragedy in Five Acts” counting syllables on his fingers.

Counting syllables on ones fingers is a centuries old practice.

 

This sort of translation for fun, but with a purpose is very educational and will stick with you longer than flash-cards.

Memorizing song lyrics is a good way of learning a new language. Some people are really good at memorizing lyrics. I never really have been. But if this technique works for you then it’s worth doing.

Trivia: There are French versions of many English pop-songs and vice versa. In fact many songs that you may have thought were created in English are just translations of French songs. Surprise!

Bonne chance!