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Thread: How Much Does French Change?

  1. #1

    How Much Does French Change?

    I had a conversation with someone a while ago, and they mentioned that French is very concerned with keeping itself pure, and avoiding loan-words, especially regarding technology and things like that.

    Does that sort of mentality have the side-effect of keeping French sort of... resistant to change? Uniform?

    My setting is in the late 19th c, and the (adult, male, British) character learned French from his grandma, who could conceivably have been around during Napoleonic times. I want to give him a particularly quaint/charming/old-fashioned flavor of French dialect (hopefully in both idiom and accent), but hopefully try something a bit obscure, and not just straightforward schoolgirl/guidebook/phrasebook Parisian French. Just enough to be a little jarring as not quite mainstream, but not painfully weird?

    Does that kind of goal make any sense in French? Thanks!

  2. #2
    reaching for the sun Bushrat's Avatar
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    The Quebecois French is quaint and, to a modern French speaker from France, very rustic. So it did change in France in different ways than it did in Canada.
    Languages that resist importing English words describe those terms (often tech related) with other words. So the language does evolve and of course local dialects and slang are always fertile breeding grounds for new expressions.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    French has a governing body, the Academic Francaise, that attempts to define the Rules for formal French grammar, spelling, vocabulary, etc. They've been doing this since the 1600s, and one result is that formal French has been very stable and slow to change compared to English.

    However...

    1) like any living language, French is full of slang, fad-words and trendy phrases, and new/loan words & expressions that have either not been ruled on by the Academie, or exist and are used in spite of Academic attempts to suppress them. These things are constantly changing, so I have no doubt that someone who learned his French from grandma may well sound quaint & old-fashioned to young folk who know all the up-to-date lingo.

    2) France in the 19c was a lot less unified in language & culture than the elite authorities in Paris liked to proclaim. Many local regions spoke local dialects that were actually different languages (much the way the languages of Venice, Lombardy and Sicily are not "Italian" even today), and it wasn't till the late 19c that Parisian French was effectively forced on people through the schools and centralized bureaucracy. If Grandma was not born in or near Paris, she may well retain some traces of her home dialect -- accent, vocabulary, grammar, etc. Modern French people find the French of Quebec very cute and funny to listen to, because Quebec retains the French of the 17c Norman peasants who settled there.

    3) Even among fluent speakers of standard French there are regional accents. My high school French teacher, for instance, was from Nice, and he taught us all to speak with a French southern accent (in which all those silent "e"s at the ends of a word... aren't silent any more.)

    Hope this helps!

  4. #4
    figuring it all out
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    My Belgian brother-in-law will argue all day long that the French spoken in Belgium is "Pure" and that in France is "bastardized." LOL

  5. #5
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Even North American francophones have different dialects; Québecois is very different from Acadian French.

  6. #6
    Snarkenfaugister Friendly Frog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by braveboy View Post
    My Belgian brother-in-law will argue all day long that the French spoken in Belgium is "Pure" and that in France is "bastardized." LOL
    <--

    And yet somehow they nearly always switch to English everytime I try to order something in France using French...

    In any case don't let the French hear. Try and order 90 drinks in France with the Walloon (Belgian French) word of 'nonant', they'll look at you like you've grown two heads. (And afterwards probably correct you to 'quarte-vingt-dix' anyway.)

    That said, so many French make errors in writing their own 'infinitif' verbs and write the 'passé composé' instead. (Even in newspapers!) I haven't seen the error nearly as much in Belgium, but then I remember the teacher hammering on the difference in class.

    To return to the original question, I agree with benbenberi, there should have been regional dialects aplenty, especially in the given time-frame.
    Crede esse ranas.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Raindrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lonestarlibrarian View Post
    I had a conversation with someone a while ago, and they mentioned that French is very concerned with keeping itself pure, and avoiding loan-words, especially regarding technology and things like that.
    What you're describing is the Academie Francaise, an institution that sets up rules of good usage etc.

    Now, think: when's the last time the French actually *obeyed* a rule that was imposed upon them?

    My father speaks the most awesome slang from the 60s. There are still elders alive nowadays who mostly speak their local dialect. Verlan (where we swap syllables) is alive and well -- when I left France "vener" was the word of the day, and quite a recent addition, for "énervé" (irritated). We also get a lot of new words from Arabic and English.

    Some have mentioned Canadian French, Belgian and so on, but there are also wonderful versions of French in the French-speaking countries of Africa and on the islands. They're both old-fashioned and creative, especially when it comes to first names.
    If I could put all my typos together, I'd have enough material for a trilogy.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    1) like any living language, French is full of slang, fad-words and trendy phrases, and new/loan words & expressions that have either not been ruled on by the Academie, or exist and are used in spite of Academic attempts to suppress them. These things are constantly changing, so I have no doubt that someone who learned his French from grandma may well sound quaint & old-fashioned to young folk who know all the up-to-date lingo.
    This, exactly. Husband is Belgian, came to the US with his parents when he was very young. Some of the words he uses are considered to be out of date, they're not commonly used anymore. (There's also a bit of a dialect issue when he speaks to French speakers from France, but that's a completely different problem!) Linguistically, learning your language in a closed environment like this is referred to as "home (language)", ie home French, where your language isn't influenced by the society around you that speaks it. It stagnates and becomes a product of the era of the people you learned it from. I'm guessing this is maybe not *quite* as big of an issue in Western countries these days, with the advent of the internet and how you can do things like subscribe to cable packages with channels from your native country. That would keep you more in the current linguistic loop, so to speak.

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