Saturday, March 9, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: French

Having unravelled the nonsense behind stereotypes in the English language, we now direct our attention to other languages across Europe. Having so many cultures and languages in such close proximity always leads to stereotypes, and occasionally even tension. Europe does have a rich history in conflict, after all.

We've done "E" (referring to English, not the drug) in EFIGS, so we thought it would make sense to continue with the next letter in the series, "F".

We thought we'd be understated for once
and just show some French baguettes
instead of a mustachioed man in a beret and
striped shirt holding them whilst smoking.
We all know the stereotypes when it comes to the French people. What interests us are the stereotypes connected to the French language. In our experience, the most noticeable and the most frequently impersonated is "ze" as a replacement for "the". This is a common stereotype and, unfortunately for native French speakers, bears true. French does not have the phonemes /θ/ or /ð/, which represent the sound of the letters "th" in words such as mathematics and weather respectively. As a result, French speakers tend to approximate the sound with the phoneme /z/, which in English is used for the letter "z" in words such as zoo.

The French language also does not feature the phoneme /r/ which in is used for the letter "r" in American English. Due to the non-rhotic nature of many accents in British English, it isn't always used for "r" in the UK. The French use the phoneme /ʁ/ for the letter "r" and as a result are unfamiliar with the letter's English pronunciation.

It should also be noted that the use of the definite article (le, la, les) in French is far more common than use of the is in English. As a result, French speakers may occasionally unnecessarily add the to sentences, in the same way that native English speakers will tend to omit the definite article when they speak French. Nobody's perfect, after all.