124: French words in English

How the French language affects English pronunciation.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 124th episode.

English, with all its flexibility, allows new words enter the language all the time. In fact, English seems to invite new words, while other languages attempt to close their linguistic doors to keep their language pure. That purity has merit, since that is what allows the patterns of the language to stay predictable.

English is also predictable, if you understand the huge number of patterns the language has. Among these patterns are all the different spellings for a single sound, as well as all of the possible pronunciations for a single spelling. Yes, all of that does make it quite confusing to learn.

The history of a certain word, known as its etymology, can help predict an English pronunciation pattern. I've talked about this a bit before, and I'll expand on it today.

Words that entered the English language from French before the 17th century usually fit within modern spelling and pronunciation patterns. Words newer than that, however, have often retained something of their original French pronunciations, and often their French spellings as well.

For instance, words spelled a-consonant-e are are usually pronounced with a long a and a silent e. This includes words like cake, made, and face.

The word cafe, sometimes still spelled with the accent over the letter e, does not follow that pattern at all. The word cafe not only does not have a silent e, but the final syllable is stressed and is pronounced with a long a sound, cafe. While the word cafe does not follow the common a-consonant-e pattern, it does follow the pattern that words relatively new to English tend to retain more of their original pronunciation and spelling. If you know that pattern, you don't expect it to be pronounced *cafe. The words chiche and entree, also sometimes spelled with the accent over the e follow the same pattern.

The word niche, spelled n-i-c-h-e, does not follow the pattern of the -ch being pronounced as a ch sound (ch sound). It does follow the pattern that words which are spelled ch and are newly borrowed from French will be pronounced with an sh sound (sh sound). Along with the word niche, chamapign and chef follow the pattern.

Then we have the silent t of the word ballet b-a-l-l-e-t. This word doesn't necessarily look out of place when you see it written on the page, but its pronunciation often surprises learners. In addition to the silent t of the following words, notice the varied vowel pronunciations as well:

ballet (the kind of dance)
depot (like a train station)
bouquet (as in a bunch of flowers)
filet (as in the meat of a fish or cow)

We also have short French phrases that we've adopted and use alongside our older English words. Faux pas is an example, and so is a la carte and deja vu. Rendezvous (meaning to meet up) is a single word in English, but is two words in French.

This is only some of the many words we've recently borrowed from French; I don't want you to think the words I've shown you here are all of them. There are many, many more, and they don't come only from French. We've recently taken words from many other languages of the world, adapted them slightly for English, and created new and less-used spelling and pronunciation patterns.

As a little practice, I'm going to say all of the words from this episode again so you can repeat them after me. If you're not familiar with the word I'm saying, I'd recommend reading the transcript at the same time. Maybe you'll get a little vocabulary practice at the same time. You can find the transcripts by going to: www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Ready? Repeat after me:




faux pas
a la carte
deja vu

Audio books are a great way to get to hear a wide range of words in English, and you can back up and listen again if you think you heard something you didn't expect. It is a great way of learning! Of course, you can get a free Audible audio book by signing up for a free 14-day trial. Even if you cancel your subscription before the 14 days is up, you get to keep your audio book forever. Go to www.pronuncian.com/audible for more information.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.