Bon jour! (“Good day” in French)

Have you wondered what the foreign words in “Waters Like the Sky” or “Treacherous Waters” sound like as you’re reading about the adventures and mishaps of a brigade of fur traders in the 1800s?

If so, now you can check out the sound links for my brand-new French glossary 2!  Here’s the backstory:

My friend John Langlais

I had a wonderful conversation with John Langlais, a long-time member of La Société Canadienne Française de St. Cloud. He explained (modestly) to me that he’d grown up speaking both English and French-Canadian in Maine, where his family lived and attended public school in English. Later, he attended seminary in Quebec, studying Latin and Greek (among other subjects) for three years — in French!

While serving in the military, he lived in Paris and Orleans in France, because of his French-speaking background. When he returned to the US, he taught military science (ROTC) at the University of Rhode Island, where he did graduate study in French. What amazing depth in his background!

Oops! My bad

As John read through the vocabulary list, he immediately (but gently) pointed out errors:

  • I’d left out articles designating the masculine and feminine nouns;
  • He suggested “Aidez-moi” instead of “M’aidez” and clarified that usage when another person was present or not;
  • He decided that “capot” and “capote” were both correct. He thought the word probably started as “capot” which is related to hood, like the front cover of a car. (Or even a “hoodie,” which shows how the word has stretched to incorporate a new meaning.) It’s masculine so it requires the masculine article — le capot — and would be pronounced (kapo). No letter “t” at the end. John surmised that the voyageurs would use the colloquial “la capote” for their great-coat. The additional “e” allows the consonant “t” to be sounded. It’s then pronounced (kapot) and did you notice the feminine article?
  • He described the tasks of avant and gouvernail, the steersmen of the birch bark canoes;
  • He totally disagreed with the use of “Pas!” to indicate disbelief. (I should have used “Pah!”)

John also was even able to point out “slangy” French-Canadian usages that differed from Parisian French usages.

Useful, but not as impressive as John’s dictionary

To answer a couple of my questions, John consulted his encyclopedic Larousse French dictionary. Now I understand why my paperback version, with French-English/English-French, didn’t have enough entries.

It was enlightening to hear how the French-Canadian language developed over time. A very productive afternoon for me! And even more fun to hear the sounds of the language that voyageurs would have heard.

Now it’s your turn.

Listen to John who says each word twice. Then try pronouncing the words yourself.



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