French Friday: Avoir une Autre Langue C’est Posséder une Deuxième Âme

I have some serious competition. My daughter is discovering French expressions à la vitesse grand V or at a very high speed. Even though, I still have une longueur d’avance sur elle or I’m still ahead of her, once in a while she reminds me of an expression I no longer use. The only reason being the limited number of people I speak French with.

It’s a little bit my fault since I did everything I could to avoid French people in my first years in the USA, knowing they would keep me away from improving my English. Then I moved too often to even have time to reach out beyond school, work, and neighbors. And let’s be frank: although there are quite a few French people in the States they don’t really form a community as other foreign-born people do. So in the end, my only regular French interlocutor remains my husband. I lucked out since his French is stellar. But the two of us cannot use an entire dictionary on a regular basis.

This explains how my daughter forwarded me a pretty crude French expression the other day and I had to admit that I had forgotten about it. However, it did remind me of an equivalent, almost as vulgar. I try to exemplify the best of France on my blog, so I will skip them 🙂

Yesterday the same daughter forwarded me a BuzzFeed article about France. There were a few mistakes, mostly due to translation. I sent her a link to the French newspaper Libération, so she could get the facts right.

As I read the French article I noticed the noun amende, which means a fine.

Its homophone amande, spelled with a A, means almond.

A few words then rushed to my mind.

Un trombone in French is both a paper clip and the musical instrument.

Baguette designates both the infamous French bread but means also chopsticks or still a magic wand in baguette magique.

Aïe means ouch, while its homophone ail means garlic.

Un tourniquet can have so many different meanings in French. It can designate a turnstile, a medical tourniquet, a sprinkler that rotates, a revolving display or still a merry-go-round on a playground. The other merry-go-round is also called a carousel from the French noun carrousel. But that’s for another post titled What Happens to French Vocabulary Abroad?

The French Emperor Charlemagne – the one who supposedly created school for French kids – is also supposed to have said that speaking another language is to possess a second soul.

It sounds so pretty in French: Avoir une autre langue c’est posséder une deuxième âme.

Based on my modest experience, I simply wonder if we start paying attention to our native language only when we know at least another one and start to understand our native land only when we’ve left.

In homage to Yosemite and to my kids, who still teach me so much, a photo from the magical park

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