French spelling blog - how to sound like a French person, by Guillaume

Category: 

Not only France has its secrets and hidden beauties, but the French language is a travel in itself where you can get lost even more easily trying to discover its mysteries.

Some examples of these mysteries come to my mind: for instance the famous Loire Valley “castles” is quite difficult  to write correctly. Indeed the French word “château” is written with a “^” (i.e. accent circonflexe) on the first “a “, which is a reminder of the former “s” that used to exist in old French, where château was written “castel”, very similarly to the English version.

The plural version of the word “château” takes a “x” instead of a “s” in standard plural versions. Same for the word “plateau”: we talk about the rugged limestone plateau of the Perigord region.
Some names also always take a final “x”, and some that we would think they would eventually don’t: Bordeaux takes a “x”, but Chenonceau castle (the famous one almost crossing the Cher river) doesn’t.
It reminds me of a motto we used to learn at school to know which words ending in “ou” would take a “x” in plural form: “si vous mangez des choux à genoux sur des cailloux avec vos bijoux et vos joujoux vous deviendrez des hiboux plein de poux!” Roughly translated in English in: “if you eat cabbage kneeing on rocks with your jewels and toys you will become an owl full of lice”.

Many things to say about the Loire Valley: we write “la vallée de la Loire”, and not “la vallée du Loire”. Indeed “Loire” is a feminine noun, and “de” before a feminine noun remains “de”. On the contrary, “de” before a masculine noun becomes “du”: we write “les châteaux du Périgord”, and not “les châteaux de le Périgord”.

The Loire is the longest river in France. It originates in Massif Central and ends up in St Nazaire on the Atlantic coast, close to Nantes where we live. As a consequence when we speak about “la Loire”, we talk about the whole river. When we speak about “la vallée de la Loire” it is only the region where you find the famous châteaux, roughly between Orléans and Angers, with Touraine and Tours in between.

Ah the Riviera… there is only one thing to say about it in French: it is written “la Côte d’Azur” only. Any other way is false: cote a zur, cote azur, cote de azur, cote d’azure, cote da zur, cot de azur, cote de zur: all these writings are wrong !

Close to the French Riviera is Provence and its hilltop villages. Provence is written with an “e”, and not an “a” like I saw written Provance sometimes.

Another French peculiarity is the “ç” (c cédilla in French). It comes for instance in the adjective “provençal”: enjoy a typical provençal meal! This “cédille” means the sound of the consonant will be [s] instead of [k]. We would pronounce “provenkal” if it were written “provencal”.

Stay tuned, more of these language specificities to come in the blog in the near future!!!

Share >