Thursday, September 29, 2011

Je suis un Berlinois

Yeah, the title isn't nearly as funny as it is in German.  Oh JFK, you slay me!

Something I've always found a little odd about all languages -- I know, he's not bitching about just French:  Someone get the fainting couch! -- is how names have to change for cities and countries.  Sometimes it's a small change, like instead of United States it's just États-Unis.  It's the same words, just in French.  Other times, the name will change just a hair, such as with London becoming Londres.  As much as I'm begrudged to admit it, this is something all nations do.  Sometimes it's just too difficult to say, or maybe it is too close to something else already in the language.  There's a variety of reasons.  Of course, it really is interesting to watch the linguistic acrobatics I sometimes have to preform to say the name of a place right, or its inhabitants.

Countries are generally pretty straightforward in terms of pronunciation and spelling.  Canada doesn't change.  Sometimes the name of a country will be the same except for the ending.  French seems to have a thing about places ending in an i or ie.  Columbia is Colombie, Italy becomes Italie, Lybia is Libye, and so fourth.  I don't know if it's some sort of place marker, but it's something that French seems to do.  However, there are some times where you need to know history to accurately figure out the name of a country.  The one I'm most familiar with is Germany, which becomes Allemangne in French.  The Allemani were a tribe that used to live in what is now Germany.  (English isn't much better.  Germany comes from the Latin/Greek word Germania.  In German, the word is Deutschland.)

I think my favorite process is watching it happen with English.  When they show information about what's going on in the US, California becomes Californie, Louisiana becomes Louisiane, and Florida becomes Floride.  Some states they don't touch out of respect, Washington for example, and others they don't change seemingly out of reverence.  There are two meccas in the US d'après les Français.  New York City is the end all be all of the United States.   Unless you love country music.  Then you live and breathe Texas.  My favorite is the states that they just have no idea what to do with, so they just don't even bother like Ohio, Oklahoma, or Arkansas.  (I live for the day a French person tries to phonetically pronounce Arkansas....)

Town names are usually very similar to American towns.  In fact many of our best place names come directly from French.  Montpelier, Vermont is named after the town in France.  Maine is the same name as a department in France.  There's Terre Haute in Indiana, Fond-du-Lac in Wisconsin, Paris, Texas, and I'm just getting warmed up.  The French were a huge immigrant population in the US so of course they would carry naming traditions with them

Nothing makes me laugh harder though, then the influence of French on town names.  There are towns like La Rochelle or Le Mans.  When you're talking about the town, it's not hard, but they change with the use like any other indefinite article.  So although one says, Je vais à La Rochelle, you would need to say, Je vais au Mans, because à le becomes au.  So the same rules apply with du.  I am sure there are others, and I'd love to see other examples of how it works.  I'm all ears--or eyes, as be the case.

I do find  French resident nomenclature incredibly interesting as well.  The most common suffixes for towns seem to be -ais or -ois.  Remember though, if you're discussing a woman, those become -aise and -oise if you're discussing a woman.  When I met partner's family, they were all Ploërmelais.  While my partner lived in Lyon for his diplome d'ingeneur, he was Lyonnais.  When we moved to Rennes, we became Rennais.  Had partner taken the job in Bordeaux, we would have been Bordelais.  However; there's a town nearby called Campénéac.  The residents are Campénéacois.  If you're from Brest, you're Brestois.  My sister in law's family are Vendômois, being from Vendôme.  However; my nieces moved to Tours, making them Touraine.  Of course, we can't for get the Parisiens.  There are naturally exceptions, as of course, this is a language.  Outside of Esperanto, I think every language has exceptions.

Another area where you'll see these names is when you're seeing sauces.  In English, we've probably never thought twice about why we cover our eggs in Hollandaise sauce, or why we think we're fancy for asking for a Bernaise sauce instead of butter.  The truth is a lot of the names we give to soups, sauces, and specialty dishes come directly from French. Have you ever eaten a Nicoise salad?  Maybe you've never batted an eye when someone prepares something Vichyssoise.  In fact, the Vichyssoise was created in the US.  It has nothing to do with France, much less Vichy.  The one that I was the most surprised to discover was Mayonnaise.  It's neither American, nor French.  It most likely originated in the town of Mahon in Spain. 

Just as a wrap up point, there is indeed a sauce Américaine in France.  Partner used to buy it, but I was never moved enough to try it.  As near as I could tell it looked like tomato sauce, mayonnaise, and what I now believe was tarragon.  I took one look at it, thought the tarragon was pickle bits like in tartar sauce, and ran for the ketchup.  I tried boudin, but one thought of ever eating tartar sauce again, had me running for the hills.  The real stuff though doesn't sound half bad, but I will never trust anything that looks remotely like tartar sauce. 


  1. so I'm thinking you don't like tarter sauce ;)

    It is really interesting the small changes words take from one country to another...this was a great post, thanx for sharing it ;)

  2. Thanks, and no, tartar sauce is in one of the rings of hell, which I don't care to find out.

    A lot of the changes in languages have to do with the fact of how incestuous European languages are. Other languages I'm sure have the same issue, but well, we're special like that.

  3. I... can't... resist the urge to make a... slight... correction: Germany doesn't become "Allemande" as you said but rather "Allemagne". I guess it was just a misspelling! ;)

    We ave a town here, south of Montreal called "Valleyfield". Many towns in Québec have english names and we pronounced them in english. But the people living in Valleyfield are called "Campivallanciens" (said à la française). Why?

    "Valley" can be translated in french as "vallon".
    "Fields" is "champs".

    So "champ" + "vallon" = Campivallenciens (with some tweaking as usual)

    Oh! And if so many names in the Mississippi valley sound french, it's mostly because La Louisiane used to be a french colony. ;)

    Et les article partitifs donnent des maux de têtes à tout le monde!

    à la maison = o.k.
    à le magasin = wrong → au magasin = ok.

    It is due to the concept of "masculin" and "féminin" that affect every nouns, a concept so hard to grasp by english speaking people.

    Great post. I love learning new languages. Ich habe vor etwas zwanzig Jaren Deutsch studiert aber jetzt kann ich nicht es sehr gut sprechen! Leider!

    I think you're in the best position to learn French rather quickly. And I hope you make every effort to hang out as much as possible with people who don't speak English. You'll learn even faster!


  4. I do like that Allemande is French for German and according to the BBC a very cool line dance. :)

  5. I think you are brilliant. I'm adding you to the blog roll on my blog. Cheers!

  6. Hey, the best thing you can do is correct me. I should have remembered that it was Allemagne for the country, and Allemande for the people. I get confused like that all the time though.

    I really like how Quebec evolved from French. It's actually a pretty cool dialect with an interesting story behind it. One of partner's cousins actually moved to Montreal, and married a Quebecoise earlier this year!

  7. Line dancing? Country Line Dancing? That was unexpected! And I do miss German. I used to speak it almost every day. I can still understand it, but I speak it if my life depended on it.

  8. I'm always glad to know that people enjoy my blog. As long as people find some humor in how bad I am at being French, I'll keep it up!

  9. Allemande was indeed a line dance... but wasn't it in the 17th Century? I remember playing lots of allemande from J.S. Bach when I studied piano!

    It has nothing to do with Achy Breaky Heart!!! ;)

  10. I love your blog!!!

  11. Thanks! As long as people can find some interest, I'll keep it up!