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Lesson Transcript

Virginie: Salut!
Eric: Eric here. The French Writing System.
Virginie: Hello everyone, I am Virginie and welcome to FrenchPod101.
Eric: With us, you are going to speak French with fun and effective lessons.
Virginie: We also provide you with cultural insights.
Eric: And tips that you won’t find in a textbook. So what is our focus today, Virginie?

Lesson focus

Virginie: Today, we are going to talk about the French writing system.
Eric: Uh like the alphabet?
Virginie: Yes the alphabet, the sound et cetera. That shouldn’t be too painful.
Eric: You certainly don’t want to put me in a bad mood.
Virginie: Okay, let’s start with the alphabet since you just mentioned it. French language uses the Latin alphabet which means Eric...
Eric: That it’s the same as English. Well that’s really good to know.
Virginie: Definitely makes it less difficult to learn than Russian for instance or Japanese.
Eric: But it won’t help if you plan to take a trip to Siberia.
Virginie: How funny Eric, you are so funny. Don’t forget that it will be helpful if you travel to Roman language countries like Spain or Italy to know a little bit of French because a lot of wour ords sound the same. Do you know how many letters French language uses?
Eric: 26?
Virginie: Bravo! 21 consonants and 5 vowels.
Eric: Okay again just like English.
Virginie: Absolutely. See that’s easy. We use the same alphabet.
Eric: Easy right until you get into those weird accent marks.
Virginie: Those tricky accent marks I know, it’s a little difficult but we don’t want to scare you guys. We only have three types of accent marks though. So no worries.
Eric: Three still sounds like a lot to me. How many are there and what are they?
Virginie: Let’s start with two of them.
Eric: “Accent aigu” and “accent grave”. What is their function?
Virginie: They modify the pronunciation of the letter E and the letter E in French is pronounced “e”.
Eric: Oh I see. For example, if I mark the E with an acute accent, it will sound like “é” as in “le marché” the market.
Virginie: You got it. It’s like adding spices to food you know. It makes it more tasty.
Eric: So what if I use the “accent grave” on my little e?
Virginie: Well then, it will sound different again. Remember with an acute accent, it was “é” like in “le marché” but with an “accent grave” it’s going to be “è” like in the word “le frère”, the brother.
Eric: I am not sure if I can hear the difference.
Virginie: Listen carefully : le marché, le frère.
Eric: That’s right.
Virginie: That’s right.
Eric: Does it modify the sound of other letters?
Virginie: Sometimes you will find the “accent grave” on the letter A for example but it won’t modify the sound at all.
Eric: As in “voilà”.
Virginie: “Voilà” is written with a little accent grave on the A at the end of the word.
Eric: But then it’s kind of worthless don’t you think? It’s just like an ecstatic eccentricity.
Virginie: Well it slowly lost its relevance through time, it’s true but it’s still there and it’s kind of pretty.
Eric: Sounds like a little pointless to me. It’s like lost in the hostelworld of French language. Okay so what about the accent mark that has such a funny name?
Virginie: Oh you mean the “accent circonflexe”?
Eric: Yes. Circonflexe. Circonflexe.
Virginie: That’s it, you are done here with your little sound?
Eric: Yeah.
Virginie: You can also call it “un chapeau”, a hat, since it looks like “un chapeau”, like a hat.
Eric: Okay I didn’t know that. So in French, what letter words have an “accent circonflexe”?
Virginie: You will find it on every vowel.
Eric: So it’s that common?
Virginie: No it’s not that common but you can find it on Es, As, Os, Us but not in a lot of words. I mean it’s pretty rare.
Eric: Does it change the pronunciation of those letters like the accent grave and accent aigu?
Virginie: It depends. For the letter E, it changes the pronunciation, for the letter O, it changes the pronunciation as well.
Eric: That really sounds complicated. Can you give me an example?
Virginie: Sure for example, une côte.
Eric: Une côte.
Virginie: It’s spelled c-o with an accent circonflexe-t-e and that means a rib.
Eric: A rib. That seems very useful.
Virginie: And now, if you take out the accent, that will be.
Eric: Une cote, which means like a rating like a really popular politician whose “cote” is high.
Virginie: Yeah but be careful not “côte”, “cote”.
Eric: Ah “cote”.
Virginie: Okay “côte” is with the accent “cote” is without the accent. I know it’s really subtle and it’s hard to hear.
Eric: Okay well thanks Virginie. I am sure that you are aware that French is really one of the most complicated languages to pronounce.
Virginie: It’s not the most straightforward pronunciation ever. That’s for sure, I am sorry about that.
Eric: Well, how does it work?
Virginie: Well in French, different combinations of letters have the same sound.
Eric: Okay I think I have an example of this as in the one you just gave me. Le chapeau right?
Virginie: Right.
Eric: The combination of E, A and U makes this O sound.
Virginie: Exactly and so does the combination A and U like in the word Pau. Pau is a French city. Pau, p-a-u. That’s Pau. That’s kind of strange.
Eric: So there are many different spellings for like the same sounds.
Virginie: Yes we would need a whole phonetics lesson to describe them all.
Eric: Okay well not today. In the end, I wonder how the French language succeeded in spreading to so many countries.
Virginie: The prestige of literature and fine culture.
Eric: Talk about literature, what was the first great work of French literature, was that like a Cookbook?
Virginie: Very funny. If I were to use a French idiom Eric, I would ask you if you ate a clown this morning.
Eric: And how do you say that in French?
Virginie: T’as mangé un clown? Did you eat a clown? That’s you know you say that to someone who is trying to be funny.
Eric: Trying but not succeeding. I find myself funny though. What about French literature?
Virginie: Yes of course. Let’s go back to French literature here. One of the major French language work appeared in the middle ages and it was a long, long poem called “La chanson de Roland”, the song of Roland.
Eric: La chanson de Roland. What is it about?
Virginie: Well it’s a celebration of Charlemagne, you know the French King and all his fights.
Eric: And did they use accent marks?
Virginie: Good question. Actually accents appeared much later in the 16th century. La chanson de Roland was written in old French and there was no accents.
Eric: So old French is pretty much the same as old English?
Virginie: Yeah. Old languages evolved to become what they are now and they continue to evolve.
Eric: So maybe one day, we can hope that French will evolve into an accent free language?
Virginie: Yeah that would be nice. Shall we talk about the alphabet little more maybe?
Eric: Sure.
Virginie: You know what, I am going to say the alphabet and you are going to help me out and this way our listeners will be able to hear it.
Eric: Great.
Virginie: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P
Eric: Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
Virginie: Okay, thank you. I hope it wasn’t too long for you all out there. All right, that will be very useful if you need to spell your name to a French person though.
Eric: Yes, to impress French women.
Virginie: Yeah well, don’t ecite the entire alphabet though. She might fall asleep.


Eric: Thank you for the shorter review of some of the written French language issues.
Virginie: And we hope you enjoyed and now it’s time to go. So we wish you guys a great day.
Eric: Take care.
Virginie: Bye bye, au revoir!