October 15, 2017

What makes the French language French?

What makes the French language French?

Qu'est-ce qui fait que la langue française est la langue française?

As I have returned to school to finish my bachelor's in French, the way that I think about language has greatly evolved. If you've been here, you know by now that the French language is ma passion. I've set out to explore what makes the French language French, giving it a sensuel and beautiful quality that draws me back again and again. Today, I will share some of my discoveries avec vous.
"[You talk about] how seemingly easy it is to learn French... that already made me think... maybe that's one of the reasons French is still taught in the United States as an option among Spanish." (Lindsay Traumata, The New Paris podcast Ep. 10)
"Is French simply English in code? Mais non!" (guest speaker in one of my université courses)
There seems to exist this idea that French is an easy language for English speakers to learn, that the differences between the languages aren't so significant. After all, we share the same alphabet. We even share some of the same words. It was probably easy for you to understand my use of the word sensuel above. 

In the same episode of the New Paris Podcast referenced above, author Lauren Collins describes her book When in French, explaining that she wanted to explore the following question:

Can a language change the way you see the world?

(click image for more info)

We'll get to this question more at the end of the post, but I want to start with the more concrete aspects of language. Of course, one must understand various grammatical rules when learning a second language. 

I'm currently helping my fiancé with his French I class. One of his biggest questions: Why do French words have genders, and how do you know when something is feminine or masculine? 

This focus on gender is such a multifaceted aspect of the French language. Inanimate objects have gender and it doesn't always make sense. It often simply is. Ice cream is a girl - la glace  but a cake is a boy - le gâteau. And that all encompassing noun/pronoun "it" we use so often in English? It doesn't exist in the French language (Did you catch how I used it there? There it is again!). One must consider the gender of the noun and refer to "it" according to its gender. My ice cream? Elle (she) est du chocolat. My cake? Il (he) est vanille. The role gender plays in French goes beyond what I've explained here, but you get the idea.

You may have noticed at the beginning of this post that I said I wanted to share some of my discoveries avec vous, or with you. I used vous here as the plural as I am speaking to many of you, but vous can also be used in the singular as a more formal and polite way to say "you". In English everyone is "you". In French, there is a distinction between tu (informal) and vous (formal) that is very important to understand. My teacher is vous. My classmate of the same age is tu. With this example, you can see that social norms are very closely tied to the use of the language. 

This brings me back to Lauren's question: can a language change the way yo used the world? 

I believe the real magic goes beyond the application of grammatical rules. When understood and spoken fluently, how does the mental and physical production of the French language impact your interactions with the world around you? 
"English is a much more straight forward language, especially when it comes to genderism. In France we've got all of these adjectives, all of these ways of describing things (flourishing), where as in English we get straight to the point." (excerpt of a conversation from the Earful Tower podcast Ep. 5) 
"You're one person in English, and then you're one person in French." (excerpt of a conversation from the Earful Tower podcast Ep. 5) 
It seems that "when in French" (to reference Lauren Collins' book) the world around you literally flourishes in a new way. This is why la langue française is ma passion. I find the language absolutely beautiful, and the way I feel about myself and the world around me in French is all the more beautiful, too. 

I hope you've enjoyed today's post, though I know I've barely scratched the surface on what is a very grand idea: the relationship between language and culture. If anything, my hope is that you leave the blog today thinking more deeply about language as an expression of ourselves and the world around us. I know this is something I have pondered as of late, and my discoveries have been fascinating. 

Do you speak French or a language other than English? How do you feel the language changes the way you see the world? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. This is one of those questions that is best explored through conversation and a sharing of experiences. 

Merci beaucoup, as always, for being here and for taking some time to let learning (with a little French flair) flourish with me today.

Warm wishes for a beautiful fall Sunday from me to you,

Inspiration de la semaine (inspiration of the week):

Podcasts. I reference them so often because they are an incredible, FREE resource for continually expanding your knowledge of the world around you. I can't recommend the two I've mentioned in the post above more highly. If you are a fellow francophile or simply a lover of language and culture, check them out!

The New Paris podcast with Lindsey Tramuta 
The Earful Tower podcast with Oliver Gee


  1. french is such a fancy language I have been struggling with it too but I am doing pretty good I hope I will be as good as you some day Lauren

    1. I have so much more to learn - that's what I love about learning language. It is a lifelong pursuit but it is incredibly rewarding!

  2. French is the most widely used across the world in various industries like organizations, business, education

    etc,. Keep updating for more updates on French language. Thanks to admin.


    French Course in Chennai |
    French Language Classes in Chennai

    1. Ishu,

      Merci for your comment! I was interesting to read on your site how valuable the French language is in India. I didn't realize that before. I hope to see you back at Fleur de St. Louis for more posts about French! Warm wishes. :)


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