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Surprise, surprise! French unexpected

Week 5, Episode 10

Do you know which language French is the closet to? If I tell you that French has moved farthest from Latin in pronunciation, being even not its direct descendant, and only its spelling gives a clue to its origins, will it help to guess? Well, it turned out that it shares 89% lexical similarity with... *drum roll* ...Italian!

More than that, it is closer to Italian than Spanish is! And I understand your confusion and desire to contradict it, but first take some time and look into these three languages. You will see that French and Italian have the same way of using apostrophe to eliminate last letters of an article or a preposition and to connect it to the next word, usually a noun.

Another surprise this language brings is its alphabet. It is perceived to be so different that you would never think to compare it, say, to English, but in fact French and English alphabets are identical! Same amount of vowels and consonants, same letters, just another way to say them. 

The French alphabet is extended by diacrictical marks and ligatures—two characters made by confluence of two letters (O+E = œ, A+E = æ). The letter "y" has the same attitude as in English: can be a vowel in some words and act as a consonant in others.

French was the official language of England after the Norman Conquest of 1066 by William the Conqueror of France until 1362, when it was replaced by English. It was the language of the noble elite, the court and government.

During this period English adopted thousands of words from Norman French and from Latin, and its grammar changed rather radically. Until the 14th century, standard French retained the status of a formal or prestige language. By the end of that time, however, the aristocracy had adopted English as their language and the use and importance of French gradually faded.

Today French is still powerfull and the 2nd most abundant on the internet.

This historical fact might make it a bit hard on the French people when tourists coming to their country assume by default that every French easily understands and speaks English, as if France was an English-speaking country.

So maybe before talking to a French person in English, ask politely, "Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?" (ex-koo-zay mwah, par-lay voo on-glay)—"Excuse me, do you speak English?" More likely, they do, but this simple phrase will present you as a person who respects and understands that French people speak in French, and will save you from the coldness that direct English request might generate.

When you get used to the spelling and pronunciation a little bit more, French doesn't seem so daunting and overwhelming. As for me, the letter "r" still seems to be unconquerable, so I just do it "Joey-style" and hope that no French person will throw a tomato in me :)

À bientôt! (ah-bee-en-toh) See you!

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