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Home / Why French Sounds So Unlike Other Romance Languages

Why French Sounds So Unlike Other Romance Languages


French. You're a relative of Spanish, Italian and other Romance languages, so why do you sound deceptively different? I mean, why is acqua just /o/? How are cambiar and casa related to changer and chez ? What's the story behind the changes that make your pronunciation so, well, unique? Euh, pardon, let me find where this starts. ah voilà! So say you wanted to create a language that turns out just like French. Well, follow the following recipe. Precisely.

Ahem. Start preparing your ingredients two thousand years ago. Take a base of Latin. Combine traces of Gaulish. Because Celtic words will become sources of change.

Including, literally, the word change. I must emphasize: do not use fresh Latin for your base. Let it go bad. Ideally wait three centuries until this stickler scribe pens terse corrections, disciplining people to speak good Latin, not bad Latin. Good Latin, not bad Latin.

Make sure you keep the bad: the oricla, lancia, an aitchless aduc. Imperfections like these set you up for a unique bake. So far what you've mixed works for any Romance language. Spread it out from Portugal to Wallonia. Gradually incorporate sound shifts.

Not uniformly. Work them in to form a nice continuum where the edges look distinct but locally it's similar from place to place. It's guesswork at this stage to be honest, but make sure to include these changes throughout the age. Shorten two consonants to one: less Italian lèttera, more letre. These are changes any sage out there may sache , may already know.

Rework Rome's five neat short and long vowels into seven: i e ɛ a ɔ o u. And open up ɛ and If sp, sk, st are especially sticky at this point, add vowels until your state is less Romanian stat, more Old French estat, and what's written is no longer a script but an escript. Ok, go chill your Western Romance dough. I know it's early, but I've invited some guests. been neighbors for a while.

Now they're here to name your country and speak this language you've been working on. Also, they suggest adding Germanic Frankish words. Just a few. Hundred. They hand you a manuscript with an oath sworn in 842 by two grandsons of Charlemagne.

One side swore in Frankish. The other vowed nearly the same lines in what they hastily called Romana. In ink they capture your earlier changes: an aitchless om, softened aiudha, Roll with this. Roll out your language dough until words are stressed with an inténse accént and final vowels drop off: amur, cist. Except -a, which you should Oh, did I say to ditch haitch? At this stage, patch in a new aitch, Germanic h- like in hache.

Even add it to some Romance words like haut. This will create fun quirks when we oust aitches again. Ooh, and manipulate mid vowels to ei̯ and i̯e, and ou̯ and u̯e. Before you incorporate any more changes, you want to cut out one section from this dough. Split it up at the word for yes.

In the south of France it's oc. Up north it's a mesh of oïl. just work with those northern oïl varieties. A thousand years into this recipe, it's time to dock and bake Old French throughout the High Middle Ages. Peek into the oven to see ka's cha-ing, turning cange into change, a cat into a chat and castles into chastels.

Except near the northern coast, so England borrows Norman candles not chandles but a double-take of both canal and website. and eventually, yes, ou-i! At the end of the Old French period, read and wait. You might think the sound of French-French would come from a single dialect in Paris. Instead, observe as it arises from social changes and urbanization bringing together people who speak many varieties of Oïl. The oven timer goes off.

It's 1300 and your beautifully baked case shines with some of the prestige that Latin once had. Let's prepare to layer on Middle French. to lɛt. The eu of old pu̯et or peu̯t is from here on /ø/. Vowels before N and I was going to say pull Middle French off the heat at this point, but you know what? Keep this caramel going.

Melt away more sounds at the end of words throughout the French many loups sound identical to one lone loup. And turn those nasal vowels into a critical distinction from here on out: As this cools, it should be teeming with unpredictable letters. No longer do you read the s, the p or the t in escript. Pour these changes into your shell and read spelling reformers grapple with their stickiness, concocting accent marks and new letters to deal with them. Now for a thick ganache of kingdom and colonization that will spread your French-so-far even farther.

one zabapẽ for breadfruit. And from Tahiti to Louisiane to the continent with more French speakers than any other, l'Afrique, as this era cools and sets, /r/ will sometimes remain a trill. your most epicurean changes yet. Coat those reemerged long vowels until by the mid 1900s only a slight flavor remains: patte or pâte, Québec bette or bête. In Paris you should even hear bête merge into bette, and, well, pâte is patte.

Although you attempted to melt all final consonants, they've been viscous enough to stick to vowels. And remember those Frankish haitches? Pronounce them no more, but make sure they don't stick. What a fun rule for students to have to remember: H- that isn't and wasn't is sticky. H- that isn't but was isn't. Hence les hôtes but les hautes.

Fill to the brim and tap until your French sounds not like words but rhythm groups, syllables freely cutting across words, ə dropp'd or added-ə, to r'fine the rhythm-ə, until you accenntə, the final syllable. Oh look, you've made quite a mess. Don't clean up yet. Garnish with the latest changes. Whew.

You've now prepared a contemporary French, ready to serve. And you have a recipe to hand down and adjust for the next thousand years of French's shifting sounds. If you're eager to learn more and get into the details, my sources doc is made for you. The names you see now are some of my patrons, for whom I posted thoughts and art during the months it took me to put this together.

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