Saturday, July 25, 2009

Have you any garbage, please?

A post on Extreme English's blog reminded me of some of the richness of living in a bilingual province.

In French, hair is literally plural ("les cheveux") and it is not uncommon here in New Brunswick to hear francophones make that translation into English. For example, the receptionist at Husband's old job used to greet him sometimes with, "Your hairs! You got them cut!"

For similar linguistic reasons, it is not uncommon to hear francophones say in English that a friend "just got her baby" (instead of "just had her baby"). It takes about 3 seconds to realize that the French phrasing makes more sense. I mean, she did just get it? Right?

Francophone co-workers might also remind you to "close the lights" (instead of "shut off the lights").

One of the reasons I love living in a bilingual province so much.

I'm sure that Anglos speaking French make similar missteps all the time, but I'm not familiar with any. (Any francophones are warmly invited to make us aware of our linguistic quirks in comments.) A tangential incident was when I ran into the Metro in Montréal during a surprise cloudburst to ask the clerk at a newstand "Avez-vous des poubelles, s'il vous plaît?".

"Poubelles", of course, is garbage, or a garbage bin. What I wanted was a "parapluie" - an umbrella.

He had the compassion to not laugh too hard.



Blogger Ronnie said...

The Pennsylvania Dutch also refer to hair as plural. I have no idea what the Dutch/Deutch for hair is but probably the equivalent of cheveux - and it does make sense doesn't it. Of course their word order is also strange sounding, but so is German and thus no surprise.

As to hair, my friends down there would have days when their hair was "stribbly" and I knew exactly what they meant - mine was too, frequently.

1:08 a.m.  
Blogger Mike said...

I think "close the lights" is almost universal outside of English. I remember our Bulgarian piano teacher said it and I've heard it from other ESL types since. Someone suggested that the usage comes from the days of gas lights when you were shutting off the gas rather than blowing out a candle.

A Montreal phenomenon I don't hear much about from other places in Canada is migration of words from French to English -- the two most common being "autoroute" for a superhighway and "depanneur" for a convenience store. No need to translate, so no chance for error. Perhaps Montreal is the only place where the two languages really stand toe-to-toe, however.

8:44 a.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

a college friend's German landlady used to remind her tenants to turn out the lights when they left the building by calling, "Did you make out the electric?"

funny word verifier on yr blog today: catoott

10:54 a.m.  

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