Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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I would go as far to say that many people are bilingual but few have mastered two CULTURES. Though I have to admit that one of my friends (who incidentally speaks four languages fluently and without an accent: Swedish, Greek, English and French), has lived her whole life in Sweden, but is just as American as I am, without ever having been there, because of the influence of the media. She knows all the latest gossip, slang words, movies, etc - even more so than I do as I've been in France for a while. I'm not the only one who actually thought she was American upon meeting her, which I've always found really interesting.

I was recently told by a French man, who's English is near perfect and accentless (his graduate studies and career evolve around teaching English in a number of different environments) that he is not bilingual, though I initially credited him with being so. My understanding of his technical explanation was that bilingualism is, like you say, very rare and attributed only to those who respond in one language (including culture) or the other without thought or analysis; with barely a conscious switch.

I understood that the most likely candidates for bilingualism are children who are nurtured as such. The particular context was the very small child of an English/Scottish couple who have been living in France for 10 years. The child, so far, seems to have the ability to switch to her French self around the appropriate people, and then back.

Interesting topic as it made me re-evaluate my own background.

Yeah, in fact definitions of bilingualism vary.
Bilingual means being like a native speaker in 2 languages, which means that the speaker's proficiency has to be near equal in two languages. This could be the case of kids raised in two language environments at the same time. One of my linguistics professors told me that cases of true bilingualism for people who have acquired a second language institutionally (and/or after the age of 7 or 8) are extremely rare.

But the acceptance of the term is not as strict everywhere. For some people, bilingual just means being able to communicate fluently in two languages.

There are people like that. I met a German once who spoke such perfect English-- learned in New York-- that I thought he was American, and the Chinese people I knew said his Chinese was accentless after only two years. But even someone with no accent is not perfectly bilingual, in the sense I mean, unless he or she understands and can express everything, joke, twist words, etc. in both languages equally. I'm not sure I've met more than a handful of people in my life who can do that. (When I actually "tested" my German friend, he flunked.)

Time will tell about the child, but it looks like a good candidate.

I call myself English/French bilingual. Certainly I can create and understand slang, puns and other wordplay in both languages.

However, to my mind the _true_ test is solving a high-level crossword and there I have to confess a shortcoming (on the french side).

Even your writing is bilingual--look how you didn't capitalize your second "French"!

Bilingual. Isn't that illegal in Alabama?

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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