les Davey de France

Alan and Pat live and work in Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you'd like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Should of seen that coming

 Some time into the adventure that is the learning of the French language, I became aware of an immense feeling of frustration. Despite the fact that I could hold conversations with lots of different people about lots of different subjects and in various registers : informal, polite, etc, there were things that came naturally to me in English but over which I would labour in French. For example, how does one say the commonplace "If I'd known you were coming I'd have baked a cake". I can render this into French, but it just all sounds wrong: Si j'avais su que tu venait j'aurais préparé un gateau

Why does it sound so wrong? Because nobody talks like that, that's why.

The other day someone in the choir complimented me on my French. "Mais tu parles drîolement bien français, le syntaxe et tout". I replied, "Eh bien, les gens croivent que c'est pas possible quand on est âgé" She laughed, "Ça tu as fait exprès" She was right. A very common error in French is to conjugate croire as if it was devoir, so je crois, tu crois, ils croivent, instead of ils croient...

Spoken French is relatively simple in that it doesn't use all the tenses that we're used to using in English. Of course, it has other complications, like grammatical gender, a complex phonetic system, etc. But in terms of tenses, modern spoken French is comparatively simple. 

People don't use the simple past. I washed the car. I ate my breakfast. I ran the race. I fell downstairs. This tense is replaced in spoken French with the perfect tense. I have washed the car. I have eaten my breakfast. I have run the race. I have fallen downstairs. The simple past does exist in literary French.

People don't tend to use the simple future. They generally replace it either with the present or with the immediate future. Instead of "I will wash the car", they'll say "I wash the car" or "I am going to wash the car".

In literary French there is an elegant and precise way of saying "They wanted me to wash the car". In contemporary spoken French there isn't.

All these verb forms exist in Spanish and are apparently used in common speech, but they have fallen out of use in French.

This has led one academic to suggest that because the language has become so simple grammatically that the French mind is losing its capacity to reason and to make fine distinctions. The simplicity of the language is leading to another kind of simplicity, according to this man.

He might say that. I couldn't possibly comment. In English or in French.

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