Saturday, May 20, 2017

Those crazy French numbers

Illustration from the NYTimes:
The Benefits of Failing at French
I am now an advanced beginner in French (201) - I stepped up from the upper level of beginner (103). WHOOHOO!

While I like French I really do have an impulse to reform it. French could do very well without genders for inanimate objects. I understand from Mark Twain this is true of German too.

There is absolutely no purpose to genderizing things which do not have actual sexual functions. And especially because there is no logical sense to the assigned genders. For example the word for milk is "lait" which is masculine. Now milk invariably comes out of females. So why would milk be masculine? Semen (sperme) at least is masculine.

But even worse, while milk is masculine, the products of milk can be masculine or feminine. Cheese (fromage) and yogurt (yaourt) are masculine,  while cream (creme) and ice cream (glace) are feminine. So you're probably thinking aha, the higher fat incarnations of milk are feminine. Except sorry, no, butter (beurre) is masculine.

And as if that isn't bad enough, your adjectives must have agreement with your nouns as to the gender. For example, here I am saying: "that is a good milk, that is a good cream."
  • C'est un bon lait
  • C'est une bonne crème
Notice that the words "that is" - c'est - is the same but every other word is different. You have to use un for milk because it is masculine, but une with an e because cream is feminine. And you have to stick an extra n and an e on the end of the word for "good" - bon - because cream is feminine. So you have two chances to screw up the gender in the sentence.

And the numbers! French has a crazy numbering system. It doesn't have a separate word for the numbers seventy (sixty-ten), eighty (four-twenty) or ninety (four-twenty-ten). I've mentioned it on this blog before.

English has plenty of its own oddities and irrationalities but I have to say, as much as I enjoy French I don't see why they don't just invent a word for seventy, eighty and ninety. It's not that hard and they are certainly welcome to borrow English words in the way that they also borrowed "weekend" and "jogging" and "email." And English speakers have no problem appropriating words from other languages, so I don't see why the French are so snippy about anglicisms.

I am actually better than the rest of my classmates (only four others besides myself for this 5-week course) at numbers because I was in the habit of practicing my numbers every day using my Google translate app on my iPhone. But I still can't get it to recognize when I say the French word for 100 which is "cent" in part because so many other common French words sound like that - sans (without), santé (health), saint (holy), son (his), sont (are), centre (center), son (sound), sent (smell), sen (feel) and Dieu sait combien des autres.


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