Archive for June, 2011

Montreal streets seem so “normal” to me that it isn’t until I visit another city that I see what makes them unique. Here are a few of the things that I think make walking in Montreal streets different to other cities.

1. We don’t walk around in the streets eating or drinking. Seeing someone walk down the street drinking a coffee-to-go is a rare sight.

2. In the city centre, pedestrians frequently cross the street on a red light. If honked at, some bold pedestrians will make a point of not getting out of the way too quickly…

3. When waiting to cross at a red light (if we choose to wait!), we may wait in the street itself and not up on the sidewalk. This is especially true in the city centre.

4. Pedestrians frequently walk slowly on the sidewalks without much regard to the people behind them, who may be trying to get past.

5. A person ahead of you walking through a door isn’t terribly likely to hold the door open for you. (Although this seems to be changing… Am I just imagining things?)

6. You can make eye contact with strangers and passers-by on the streets and nobody will growl at you because of it, which leads to #7…

7. It’s fairly easy to strike up conversations with strangers in the street.

Agree? Disagree? Anything to add?

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Autoévaluation (#218)

Que diriez-vous en français dans les situations suivantes?

  1. You’re at the bank machine. You realise that you don’t remember your PIN.
  2. You’re furious about something that a friend has done, and you tell him that you’ve had it up to your ears.
  3. You tell a friend that what they’re saying is nonsense.
  4. Using the 24-hour clock, a receptionist tells you to come back on Monday at 2 p.m.
  5. You say that you’ve locked the door.

Possible answers

1. J’ai oublié mon NIP…
2. Là là, j’en ai jusque là!
3. Tu dis n’importe quoi!
4. Revenez lundi à 14 h (quatorze heures).
5. J’ai barré la porte.

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Sa première brosse (#217)

A young boy has gone missing. Panicked, his mother makes some calls. His father, Nick, thinks he might know where his son is, though.

Nick heads over to the arena. Outside, behind the public toilets, Nick finds his son with some of his friends. They’re all drunk, sitting on the ground. His son has a bottle in his arms.

Nick takes his son home, where he starts throwing up into the toilet. His mother is upset. Nick, on the other hand, finds the situation a little comical.

Later, when the vomiting has stopped and their son is asleep, the two parents talk together about what happened. Nick starts the conversation by saying:

Il vient de prendre sa première brosse.

Here, il refers to the young boy, Nick’s son. The expression prendre une brosse is an informal one meaning “to get (really) drunk.” What Nick is saying is that his son just got drunk for the very first time.

This comes from a scene from the police series 19-2 that was broadcast on Radio-Canada. If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that 19-2 provides a lot of inspiration for new entries.

19-2 was in its first season this year. I believe it’s still unknown whether or not there will be a second season. Let’s hope there will be. The series was highly acclaimed in Quebec.

The first season is over, but you can still get caught up on the episodes through tou.tv if you’re viewing from within Canada.

[Above quote said by the character Nick from 19-2, season 1, episode 7, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 16 March 2011.]

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Le party est pogné! (#216)

Do you remember the informal verb pogner and adjective pogné? I heard three examples of them this weekend and made a mental note — perfect for a new entry on OffQc!

Before continuing, remember that pogner and pogné both sound like ponn-yé. The letters gn sound like “nyuh,” or like the ñ sound in Spanish. For my Spanish-speaking friends, pogner sounds like poñé.

Broadly speaking, pogner is used in the sense of “to catch,” but in an informal way. So, what are the three examples that I heard this weekend? Here they are, below. Can you make out the meanings?

1. Il s’est pogné une date.
(Clue: His single life may soon be over.)

2. J’ai pogné un ticket.
(Clue: Money will need to be paid.)

3. Le party est officiellement pogné!
(Clue: People will be having fun.)

In the first example, se pogner une date could be translated as “to score a date.” Date here is used in the sense of romantic date, not like a date on the calendar. In this sense, date is pronounced as in English (déït), and not like datte. Like “to score a date,” the French expression se pogner une date isn’t a terribly classy way to talk about going out with someone

In the second example, pogner un ticket is an informal way of saying “to get a ticket,” like a speeding or parking ticket. Informally, you’ll hear the final t in ticket pronounced. If you’ve read entry #209, you’ll remember how speakers from Quebec pronounce the letters ti– in ticket.

In the third example… “The party is officially on!”

Even though the uses above are all different, you can see the broad idea of “to catch” (1,2) or “to be caught” (3) in them.

Remember, pogner and pogné are usually limited to informal speech; they show up in writing far less. When they do, it’s because the writer is intentionally adopting a very informal style.

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Imagine you’re talking with a French-speaking friend on your cellphone. You want to arrange to meet, but you don’t know where he is right now. You want to ask in French: “Where are you?”

You could ask the textbook way…

Où es-tu?

… but this doesn’t sound very natural. This way of asking the question is good for writing or for speaking in a very careful way, but it’s not so good for casual conversations among friends, for example.

You may remember from other entries that tu es often gets reduced to t’es when people speak French informally. T’es sounds like té.

You may also remember that the inversion is generally avoided after question words like pourquoi, quand, où, etc.

With that in mind, you can now ask this question informally like a native:

T’es où?

T’es où sounds like té-où.

In fact, you may even hear:

T’es où, là?

In this question, that tacked onto the end sort of feels like “anyway” in English (“Where are you anyway?”). It’s not necessary, but you’ll remember that is often used when people speak casually in French.

[This entry was inspired by the character Nick from 19-2, season 1, episode 7, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 16 March 2011.]

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In Montreal, it isn’t unusual to hear English-speaking learners of French lament the fact that French speakers keep switching to English on them. Those darn Montreal francophones!

Guess what?

It isn’t unusual to hear French-speaking learners of English (in particular those from Europe) lament the fact that English speakers keep switching to French on them. Those darn Montreal anglophones!

It goes both ways… You gotta love Montreal!

OK, so what to do about it when you’re a learner and want to practise?

1. Don’t sweat it. Understand the other person is just trying to ease the communication, not make an overt comment on your language skills (even if it feels that way). The other person may even be looking for an opportunity to speak in his or her second language, just like you. Relax! Let it go, and keep working on your French on your own time.

2. Improve your accent. Perceived accent is probably the biggest reason for the language switch. If you’re serious about improving your accent, you’ll need to put in serious time. Listen to at least a couple hours of French every single day. Pick a voice you like and imitate what you hear. You may not eliminate your accent entirely, but it isn’t necessary either. Slight accents are far less likely to provoke a language switch; strong ones frequently do.

3. Increase your confidence. When the other person switches to English instead of continuing in French, it’s easy to become disheartened and slip into English. Speak French more often to become assertive in this language; you won’t back down as easily and the other person will take a hint. If, however, the other person still insists on speaking English, reread #1 above.

4. Appreciate Montreal for what it is — a big mess of languages. I’m guilty of committing the language switch myself. I may even switch to Spanish if I sense you’re a Spanish speaker, lo siento, it’s a habit. But if you tell me to speak to you in French instead, I will, of course. 😉

It’s just the way Montreal is… Learn to love it!

I sometimes get the language switch in Toronto. When people there learn that I live in Montreal, it’s funny how some people suddenly get the urge to start brushing off their French!

And you, have you been on the receiving end of the language switch in Montreal? How did you handle it?

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The French word dégage was chosen as mot de l’année 2011 at the Festival du mot in France. (Read more here.) If you follow the news in French, you’ll know this word was often used during the revolutions in Arab countries this year.

Other words that were up for choosing included: aggravation, déclinisme, girouette, indignation, ingérence, laïcité, mercato, patrouilleur, populisme, ressortissant, révolte, succession, syndrome, tablette.

And what about on OffQc? What do you think is the mot de l’année on OffQc? (OK, the year’s not over yet, but we can still have fun with it!) Take a look at the most commonly searched vocabulary on OffQc:

là là, magané, pogné, esti, gosser, bouffe,
niaiseux, platte, chicaner, quasiment, j’suis

Of these, which one did you find the most useful to finally understand or perhaps even start using yourself?

Is there another French word altogether from OffQc that you’d vote for?

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