If You Listen Closely, You’ll Hear the Brits Go “Ribbit”

“Frogs.” A not-very-polite-or-modern but surprisingly well-used British nickname for the French. Over the years I lived in France, I came to know the relatively-harmless, mostly-unreciprocated contempt my British friends and coworkers had for the French.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve now lived in the UK almost as long as I lived in France, and I wonder if the British fully realize just how much of their daily language usage is French-inspired…

I find that some of the structures it took me a while to wrap my head around in French appear, in directly-translated form, in casual British English (e.g. the attaching of a definite article to the end of a statement; pronouns followed directly by certain adjectives; occasional omissions or misplacements of certain auxiliary words like who and that; questions ending in comma + then). And some French words appear, untranslated, when in American English we have non-French equivalents (aubergine and courgette for eggplant and zucchini are two vegetable examples).

I even wonder if French should be credited with some methods of British articulation. I find that the British and French speak more from their throats than Americans, who speak more from their nose (leading to me being mocked once or twice by entire classrooms of French preteens holding their nose to imitate the way I speak English).

This shouldn’t have surprised me so much. After all, the countries are geographically close and spent hundreds of years invading one another. In the 11th century, the Norman invasion brought the population of the British Isles under Frenchish rule, and this meant that French became the language of the elite. French’s prestige-language status endured long after the Normans lost control of England. I’m not remotely an expert on any of this, and certainly the French influence on the English language is no original revelation – here’s a tiny taste from Wikipedia, for a start. But as someone who speaks a version of English that has diverged significantly from its French-influenced parent, who also speaks French as a second language, I find the parallels endlessly illuminating and fascinating.

You could spend a lifetime expanding upon and studying this, and some do. For now I’m content to enjoy the delicious irony of British derision for the French when so much French comes out of their mouths (via their rather-Gallic throats).

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh yes, the irony. As a South African now a British citizen, I find the British attitude to the French rather bemusing. I wonder if Brits would be quite so disdainful if they had their DNA tested!! Half of England is likely at least partly French, amongst other European nations. But when it comes to disdain, I think the French win hands down…especially the Parisians

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My English husband has referred to a nose as a “nez” from time to time over the years. It wasn’t until I started learning French that I realized that, despite his English accented twist on it, he was really just saying the French word for nose! I know I have many more examples of this but the aren’t coming to me at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill says:

      Ahh right!? So many examples, I wish I could remember them all!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s