Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lingua Franca

This post on Fashion Robot really got me thinking. I spend my life switching between 3 different languages, so of course language is something I wonder about all the time. It's quite amazing really, how language has developed, and how it is always evolving...

My mother tongue is French, but I have learnt all sorts of languages apart from varying levels of competence! Sometimes I will think in those languages, but usually I don't speak in them. With my kindergarten best friend we speak a mangled tangle of english and french, but always always stick to one language when in company, because it is rude to say things that others don't understand (yeah, okay when we were horrible 13 year-olds we went around insulting people in front of their faces in a language they didn't understand, but gosh darn thank goodness those days are over!).

I do really appreciate however that some languages are far more developed in certain aspects than others, and I find it really useful to switch language to express a particular idea (this is why my franglais conversations with my friend are so great, we flip language whenever one is more expressive). Some words exist in some languages, and are completely absent in others. For example, I wrote "une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps" as the title to a post a while ago. I have no idea how to explain this properly in english! It says one swallow does not make it springtime, which sort of means that one small thing does not indicate a greater change. I wasn't trying to be cute (i don't ever want to be cute!), especially since this blog is more of a personal diary rather than some weird attempt to show off, more trying to document my feeling most accurately. Other lost-in-translation examples in French are "n'importe quoi" and "tu me manques". I always bite my tongue when I want to say these things around english-speaking aussies!

I think the reason everyone in fashion blogs is obsessed with French is because of the nation's historical link to fashion. Hosting arguably the most influential and creative of all fashion weeks today, France has led fashion trends for centuries...even in the time of Jane Austen Europe looked to France for trends. Nowadays, many of the most famous and well-established fashion houses are based in France: Chanel, LV, Dior, YSL, Lanvin, Hermes. So it isn't much of a surprise that the fashion-obsessed will be drawn to a language which Coco Chanel used to present her first collections, and that today Carine Roitfeld uses to direct French Vogue.

Of course, everybody has all sorts of preconceptions about languages, most of which are ridiculous and very judgemental, but also very funny. My friends say French is very sexy and romantic, but really it is a language that is very guttral, with its throaty r's, and contains a disproportionately large number of swearwords (which might I add are much more commonly used than in english, so if you hear a french person saying "what an f-ing bastard!" about a policeman, or "oh shit oh crap oh damn" when they lose their keys, it is quite normal)! I think the sexiest and most melodic language is Italian, but this again makes my Italian friends laugh in surprise.

People always complain about german sounding horrible, but HAVE YOU HEARD A GERMAN SPEAKING ENGLISH?? It's the best accent! really lovely.

If somebody is being obnoxious and trying to show off by dropping words of another language into their speech, I think it is better to laugh at them (quitely) rather than get angry. I used get really annoyed at how obnoxious people were, but really there's no point in being angry. After all, most people will see how silly this somebody is, they are causing themselves enough damage as it is. Laughing is all you can do! (and hope it is a phase people grow out of)

But what's most impressive is that there are people who manage to sound ridiculous and obnoxious in only one language! No need to rely upon misused French to sound silly, for an example just read anything by Germaine Greer, or anything by literary theory academics!

Painting: Chop Suey by Edward Hopper

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