jeudi 21 juillet 2005

Good thing I don't really work.

Hey, a picture that might actually vaguely relate to the post.
A "Cuban" mojito, flanked by two lethal lychee martinis, at Sabur.

Voice at the other end of the telephone: Bonsoir, [insert restaurant name here].

Me: Salut, je voudrais faire une reservation pour vendredi soir.

Voice: Pour combien de personnes?

Me: Trois personnes.

Voice: Et, à quelle heure?

Me: Huit heures demie?

Voice: Votre téléphone, s'il vous plaît.

Me: Er, quatre zero un..

Voice: You can say it in English if it's easier.

Me, to myself: Dammit.

Because guess what? I can fake that I know French all I want, and can carry on decent conversations - but ask me to say numbers, especially the number one, and the gig is up. I cannot pronounce those two letters - un - alone for the life of me. So deceptively simple, such a royal pain to get out.

U. By itself, it's a nice rounded closed back vowel. So easy to pronounce, and it's soft, soothing. The lips purse rather attractively to coo out the sound. Said alone, and depending on you intonation, it brings to mind a dove, a sound of sympathy to calm a fractured soul, a noise of quiet delighted surprise.

N is generally a fine consonant too. Not as pretty as u, perhaps, but poor consonants never are. By itself, n is a nasal lingua-alveolar sound - that is, nasal in that if you pinch your nose shut, you can't pronounce it, and lingua-alveolar in that your tongue touches your alveolar ridge, which is that bony part behind your upper teeth, in pronouncing said sound.

But stick the two phonemes together, and it's a disaster. I may be wrong (and probably am), but I believe that u becomes a central vowel, and the n transforms into something completely different where it's a half-sound, not certain whether it wants to be a real syllable or just some pathetic little cough. It comes out almost as an accidental syllable, a weird hacking and trick with the back of the tongue that somehow is supposed to produce an understandable word.

I need a French dictionary that has the phonetic spellings in order to figure this out exactly what happens with the n in un. But that's neither here or there, and I'm sure that the majority of you are asleep after this little jaunt through linguistics land. (I took the history of the English language in college, you see. Willingly. It was fun. I also took history of the French language as well. I am a geek, and I love it. But it's interesting - the former focused more on phonetic and spelling changes, whereas the latter was a more ethnographic look at the matter.)

Quarante-et-un is fine. The liasion saves my sorry ass. But on it's own..

There is a point, you see. There's always a point. Didn't you wonder why I was making dinner reservations in French? I don't do things randomly - well, most things, anyway. I'm off to Montréal this weekend with a couple of friends, and oh dear, those Canadians. Their accent sometimes makes it sound like they're not speaking French at all.

In case you're bored, really bored, and want something to do while you're missing the inanity I write and you are actually interested in phonetics:
*This website is like a crash course in phonetics, with animations! and sound clips!
*If you'd like a more detailed tutorial, in case you're really bored at work, check out this site.
*I found this rather interesting as well, as there's a bit about quebecois vowels, as well as sounds in other languages. Unfortunately, it's all in French. As long as it's not those Canadians saying it.

For those of you not-so-interested in phonetics (I liked diagramming too, so beware!):
Draw a pig! (Not about diagramming, I promise.)
And then go see mine! (But draw your own first. Then look at mine. Damn hard to draw using a touchpad.)