Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Empirical Guide to French Pronunciation

The French ‘e’ (usually pronounced as the ‘u’ in ‘duh’ and is identical to अ of the Devanagari script) also helps me pronounce French words with much effort. In my mind ‘e’ serves as a delimiter when it appears towards the end of French words.

Consider the conjugation of finir (To finish) for third person plural (they) …
In the present tense, it is finissent. Locate where the ‘e’ comes in the last few letters of the word. Stop your pronunciation just before that. Going by this rule, ‘finissent’ should be pronounced ‘feeneess’.

Let’s try another one ... for the imperfect past finir conjugates to finissaient. Where do you think you need to stop? Just before ‘e’. Right. So this will be pronounced ‘feenee-say’. Same goes with student for French: étudiant (pronounced ay-too-dee-yaN – since there is no ‘e’ towards the end just drop the last letter and try) and étudiante (pronounced ay-too-dee-yaNt).

Ok, what about this? Italien and italienne (male and female Italian, respectively). Since italienne has a ‘e’ right at the end, all the letters need to be considered. So, this will be pronounced ‘eetalee-en’ (soft ‘t’ and ‘l’, please), while italien is pronounced ‘eetalee-aN’ (the ‘n’ modifies the pronunciation and makes it nasal).

So how exactly does this empirical rule go:
a) Check for ‘e’ in the last few letters of the word.
b) The moment you encounter your first ‘e’, try using only those words for pronouncing that appear on the left of the ‘e’.
c) Take into account the ‘z’, ‘n’, and ‘r’ especially if they appear at the end of the word. The delimiter in those cases would be ‘ez’ (pronounced ‘ay’), ‘en’ (brings out the nasal part of you) and ‘er’ (generally with the infinitive and is pronounced ‘ay’).
d) If you do not encounter any ‘e’ towards the end, just drop the last letter and give it a go.

Simple rule, isn’t it? Strictly speaking it is not a rule. It just helps me to read the French words correctly. Remember nothing can replace hearing the actual word in French.

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