A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 :::
A certain pudgy, balding English teacher is privy to the social functions of the nation's elite, and he can tell you one change over the last ten years that is most marked: he never hears French.

Now, the French he used to hear was pretty painful. He has always felt that the primary difference between French and English was pronunciation, and, indeed, in one comprehensive French-English Grammar he ran across, the author outlined what she felt were the very few grammatical differences between the two languages.

That does not mean there are no differences, but it does mean that pronunciation, in short, is everything.

At a previous school, a group of French high schoolers showed up one August, and A Mind That Suits asked their teacher how they were doing. It was strange, said the teacher, whose two languages were English and Arabic. They do very well on grammar tests but their pronunciation really stinks. "Do you know any French?" asked A Mind That Suits, which the Arab-American teacher predictably answered, "No." "Your students are out partying every night," came the response. They were, in fact, relying on the similarities between the two languages.

But most French-speaking Americans seem to think that the mere fact that they speak any French at all is a major accomplishment. Come to think of it, most English-speaking French people have roughly the same attitude. And so A Mind That Suits would hear the most painfully awful French--and painfully awful English--uttered by people with the most painfully smug expressions on their faces.

But no more.

In the recent encounter between Jacques Chirac and a bunch of Vietnamese students discussed below, the conversation centered on the utility of the French language. That that was even a question is embarrassing for the leader of what was once Europe's dominant culture. Of the 25 members of the European Commission, who guide the European Union, all speak English but only 11 speak French. The French elite have, in other words, made their language irrelevant, and it is simply never heard on the diplomatic circuit in Washington anymore.

Which is a real pity, because what the French did well, they did magnificently. A few years ago, despite the protestations of then-Prime Ministare Lionel Jospin, nearly a million French youngsters showed up to hear John Paul II. Perhaps their love of the Polish Wonder will inspire them to burst out of the cul-de-sac to which the storied cynicism of the French elites has led them, and France will find itself again. One hopes so, but until then a love of French is quickly becoming comparable to a love of the Latin from which it sprang.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 4:14 PM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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