How languages, dialects, and accents develop over time is fascinating to me. It’s proof that a language is living because it constantly moves around and grows.
In school, I studied the mechanics of French. But as with any language, the best way to learn how to speak and develop fluency in français is to immerse yourself by listening to and speaking with native speakers.
Another way is to read engrossing books about regional language differences, such as this book that my dear friend who lives in Toulouse gave me:
The Atlas du français de nos régions by Mathieu Avanzi (publisher: Armand Colin) is so fun to read! It’s informative and includes colorful illustrations. There are hundreds of expressions in the book. Here are a few of my favorites.
In France, they call blueberries myrtilles. But when I was in France recently, I was met with blank stares when I’d ask for bleuets.
I had incorrectly assumed that was the French word for blueberries because that’s the French translation I’d see on packages in the United States. It hadn’t occurred to me that the translation could be a regional difference.
It turns out that bleuet is the Québécois word used to call blueberries in Québec and other parts of Canada. Now I know!
Another regional difference is the German influence on French. It’s logical that some French words spoken in Switzerland or Luxembourg would have German-sounding words (schnougel; schpritzer – meaning shingle; shredder) given those countries’ shared borders with Germany.
In the southern region of France, near Spain’s border, it’s rational that many words start with «es » prefix, making them sound Spanish/español (être esquiché; escaner – meaning to be fooled; to scan). So intriguing!
It was cool to learn that what we call the trunk of a car in the U.S. is called a malle in Toulouse! It was fun to learn that, also in the Toulouse area, people will say the final -s (as in, moinS, encenS) or the final -l (as in, persiL), when elsewhere those letters would be silent.
The regional differences in saying the numbers 70, 80, and 90 are also captivating. For instance, many of us likely learned soixante-dix (60 + 10) for 70, but saying trois-vingt-dix (3 x 20 + 10) as they do in some parts in southeast France is too much math to do in my head! To keep things even more interesting, in Belgium, they prefer the term septante for 70.
There are countless other regional differences described in the book and these examples are just a few that intrigued me.
Tell me in the comments: What are some interesting regional expressions you’ve heard (in French or another language)?
Very interesting post.👌
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Beautiful web site. I just became a follower. Please keep on posting. I can relate relative to your immersion comment. I speak Spanish and the only way I became somewhat conversant was to go to Ecuador, Panama City, Panama and Mexico. This greatly helped me gain confidence. Interesting as to how the “natives” do NOT laugh at you when you are trying. Very helpful. They know you are trying your best.
Again–wonderful web site and thank you for taking a look at my site. Take care. Bob
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Hello Bob, thanks for the follow. It’s true, at the very least, trying to speak a few basic words or phrases in the local language shows that we have respect for the place(s) we’re visiting and that we don’t assume that everyone speaks English.
Thank you for your kind note!
Ahah ! There are so many colloquialisms in French it’s sometimes difficult, even for French people, to get what others are saying. And don’t forget the local accents, which can be quite strong. A Bleuet in French is a beautiful blue flower. There are many other words we say quite differently : chicon in the North is said endive in the rest of France, péguer in the South means coller (it has the same root as pegar in Spanish), palombe in the South is the same as colombe (again, same root as paloma in Spanish).
And then, there are the numerous expressions : aller à dache, aller à Perpète-les-olivettes, aller à Perpète-les-oies, all mean to go far away, but the first comes from Lyon, the second can be heard in the South, and the last one is common everywhere else.
Some of these expressions tend to disappear, new ones are created, but I like trying to use some of them sometimes: it’s a nice way to speak in a colourful way 😉
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My guess is that the top of the blueberry kind of looks like a cornflower’s petals, hence the name “bleuet” for blueberry…? I find these subtleties in language so fascinating. Thank you for sharing more French words, expressions, and colloquialisms!