Archive for March, 2011

Interesting interview on 98,5 FM the other day: Benoît Dutrizac spoke with a guest about the lack of male teachers in our schools in Quebec and the effect this has on boys’ performance.

At one point, Dutrizac mentioned that so many patentes à gosse had been implemented in reforming our education system that it’s time to passer à l’action and make real change.

The interview revolved around the idea of la discrimination positive in favour of encouraging more males to become teachers.

OK, but what’s une patente à gosse?

First, une patente:

Informally, you may hear une patente used in the sense of… “thing.” It’s like another way of saying un truc. Patente can often convey the idea that the “thing” in question is a little weird; other times, it might be used because the name of the “thing” isn’t known.


Mais c’est quoi cette patente-là?!
What’s that (weird) thing (thingamajig)?!

Comment ça marche, cette patente-là?
How does that thing work (anyway)?

And une patente à gosse?

Dutrizac used patentes à gosse in the sense of “useless things” that had been implemented to reform the education system.

When used, une patente à gosse often refers to some sort of contraption that doesn’t work well or serves no real purpose. Other times, you may hear it used in the same way as une patente above.

You can see an example in use here where the author talks about une patente à gosse from Sony. He also refers to the gadget as un bidule and un trucmuche.

[This entry was inspired by Benoît Dutrizac, Dutrizac l’après-midi, 98,5 FM, Montreal, 29 March 2011.]

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As a sort of follow-up to yesterday, I find it interesting to discover that the police series 19-2 was tentatively called Deux beux before it was launched.

Deux beux? What are beux?

The TV series 19-2 revolves around two cops. Does that give you a clue? 😉

Un beu is a slang word for cop.

Beu is a pronunciation variant of the word bœuf. You’ll come across the pronunciation beu in Québec: un beu, deux beux.

I’m glad they didn’t go with the title Deux beux. The series 19-2 is heavy, and a title like Deux beux doesn’t convey that. It feels much too informal to be taken seriously as the title of a series like this.

A reminder about pronouncing bœuf (the animal) in French:

bœuf is pronounced [beuf]; and also in Québec [beu]
bœufs is pronounced [beu]

This article on the OQLF site tells us that, beginning in the 16th century, bœuf was pronounced as both [beuf] and [beu] in the singular. Its pronunciation was unstable.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that [beuf] in the singular and [beu] in the plural became stable as the standard pronunciations.

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Police officer Jean-Marc Brouillard from the series 19-2 is sitting alone in his patrol car. In French, this sort of policier can also be called un patrouilleur because he drives around in une voiture de patrouille.

Jean-Marc is parked in une ruelle, or side street, near rue Ontario Est, in Montreal. In the background, there’s loud music coming from a rowdy party, une fête qui déborde, a few metres down the street from where he’s parked.

Jean-Marc grabs his CB radio and asks if there’s un char pas loin. Un char is an informal word for “car,” but here it refers to une voiture de patrouille. This is Jean-Marc’s informal way of asking if there are any other patrouilleurs nearby: he wants back-up before trying to bring this fête qui déborde under control.

A few minutes later, Jean-Marc’s back-up arrives: Nick and Ben. Together, all three head up to where the party’s taking place. That’s when a scantily clad drunk woman “welcomes” the patrouilleurs by yelling out Hé! Les cochons! Of course, it’s just as offensive to refer to a police officer as un cochon in French as it is in English.

A second woman approaches Ben and tells him that he’s une belle police, or a “goodlookin’ cop.” She asks provocatively if he’d like to prendre une p’tite bière with them, or “drink a (little) beer.”

Officers Ben and Nick ask the partymakers to baisser la musique, or “lower the music.” That’s when things go sour. A man from the party approaches the officers, wanting to know if they haven’t got une job à faire, or “a (better) job to do.” After a little back-and-forth arguing, this man suddenly punches Ben in the face. All hell breaks loose.

In the background, Jean-Marc calls in for des back-up. This is an informal word for police reinforcements, or des renforts. It’s pronounced bacoppe. Meanwhile, the whole party turns into a huge brawl. The officers subdue the man who punched Ben in the face and force him into the back of their voiture de patrouille, or their char as these officers would say, but the partymakers have gone wild and start attacking.

Nick yells into his CB qu’il veut des back-up, who still haven’t arrived. He and Ben rush into their patrol car to take cover from the partymakers, who’ve begun jumping and pounding on the vehicle. From inside the car, Nick calls into his CB one more time. Angry, he asks where les osties de back-up are, or where “the goddamn back-up” is!

[This entry is a summary of a scene from the series 19-2, season 1, episode 3, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 16 February 2011.]

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Two questions that I’m frequently asked and that you may be wondering yourself are:

  • What are the informal pronunciations of je suis?
  • Can I use these informal pronunciations myself?

In this entry, I’ll share with you three informal pronunciations of je suis. I’ll also make a recommendation to you about your own use of them as a learner of French. When you get to higher levels of French, you’ll know when you can disregard these suggestions. These suggestions, then, are for those of you who are still at lower levels in French.

First, the non-informal pronunciation

  • je suis

This is the regular conjugation, and the one felt to be the most “correct.” It’s pronounced in two distinct syllables: je / suis. It’s always “safe” for you to use je suis, but it risks sounding stilted in regular conversations.

The informal pronunciations

  • j’suis (chui)
  • j’sus (chu)
  • j’t’ (cht)*

* used on occasion when the following word begins with a vowel (e.g., je suis en train de may be pronounced informally as j’t’en train de, which sounds like ch’t’en train de)

Informally, you can use either j’suis (chui) or j’sus (chu) yourself. Be prepared though — some people may feel the need to tell you that j’sus (chu) is wrong. If this bothers you, you can stick with j’suis (chui) informally.

For the most part, there shouldn’t be any problem if you use j’sus (chu) yourself in informal situations, such as with francophone friends. It may strike some people as a little “off,” however, to hear a learner of French who still speaks hesitatingly to use the informal pronunciation j’sus (chu).

In short

You can always use je suis yourself, but know that it risks sounding a little stilted in regular conversations. J’sus (chu) is the usual informal pronunciation, but some speakers may feel the need to call you out on it (especially if you speak French hesitatingly) in an attempt to make sure you learn “correct” French. For learners of French who are just beginning to get their feet wet in informal language, j’suis (chui) might be a good compromise.

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I probably haven’t mentioned it enough, but the talk radio station 98,5 FM is an excellent way to improve your listening comprehension in French. You can listen online here.

The best time to listen is on weekdays or weeknights. I know, it’s almost the weekend. My timing is awful. The programming runs on weekdays; it’s then repeated on weeknights in case you missed it. On the weekend, the talk show hosts go home and music is played instead.

As far as I know, you can listen to it from anywhere in the world. If you can’t, please let me know.

On this station, you’ll hear a very wide range of vocabulary, at all levels. You’ll also keep up with current events and get an understanding for some of the things that people in Quebec like to talk about.

Some language heard this morning to give you an idea:

  • In the show hosted by Paul Arcand, we hear a male speaker tell us that Lady Gaga a de nouveaux seins. He continues by telling us that elle est passée d’un bonnet B à un bonnet C. (bonnet = cup size)
  • At another point, we hear the informal French verb frencher, or “to french kiss.” Examples (not from the show): Il a frenché deux filles. Ils ont frenché pendant dix minutes.
  • We also hear the informal expression ç’a plus aucun bon sens, or “it just makes no sense anymore.” In this expression, sens is pronounced san. You’ll also hear this expression said as ç’a pas d’bon sens, or “that makes no sense at all.”

If you’re looking for “real” French, I highly recommend 98,5 FM during the week. Apart from improving your listening comprehension, you’ll also find good speakers there to model your own speech on.

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