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Fractured French
By Solomon Golomb '51

Numerous French expressions and phrases, as well as French names of famous people and places, retain their French pronunciations (or a close approximation thereto) when used in English. (Typical examples are filet mignon and Albert Camus.) However, when these names or expressions end in -re preceded by a consonant, some English speakers drop the final -re entirely, presumably because the French r sound is difficult, and they are unwilling to substitute an English r sound. (I merely observe that this occurs; I don't endorse it.)

1. How many examples can you list of commonly encountered French expressions and proper nouns ending in -re preceded by a consonant, where the final -re is often dropped by speakers of English? (I have four such expressions plus three proper nouns, and there are surely others.)

2. In at least two cases, there are French expressions ending in -le preceded by a consonant, where some English speakers drop the final -le. (I find this hard to explain, since this -le sound actually occurs at the end of many English words.) What examples can you list?

3. Find examples of French words used in English that end in -re preceded by a consonant where nearly all English speakers retain an r sound. (This is only interesting if the pronunciation is still regarded as "foreign." Thus, words like center and theater, still spelled centre and theatre in the UK, are fully Anglicized and don't qualify.) In at least one case, the most common semi-Anglicized pronunciation transposes the r sound and the previous consonant. (You've heard this so often it may be hard to identify it!)

4. What examples can you find of words or expressions borrowed from French where the letter c, preceding a, o, or u, is pronounced like s? (Properly, this c has a cedilla, a little hook underneath, to make it "soft," and should be written ç.)

5. What French words or expressions have common Anglicized pronunciations that you find inappropriate or jarring? (This is a matter of personal taste, and as the French say, Chacun á son goût.)

Follow this link to solutions.

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