Saturday, June 28, 2008

La bon pro-non-see-a-see-on

There was an interesting article on Language Log today about phrasebook pronunciation; that is, the transcriptions that are supposed to help tourists say the phrases correctly. If you know French, try to work out what these are supposed to be:

poo-vay-voo muh deer kawN zhuh dwah deh-sawN-druh
oo ay lah stah-seeyoN duh may-troh
zher per trons-por-tay ma vwa-tewr sewr ser ba-to
pwee zha-vwar ewn a-vons der kray-dee
oo sawng lay areh der kar
kawnbyang der tahng dewr ler vwahyazh?

Now check:
Language Log » Phrasebook pronunciation, or, kawnbyang der tahng dewr ler vwahyazh

Of course, the main problem with phrasebooks is that even if you can make yourself understood, you probably won't understand the answer. I've always made a point of getting some books and tapes from the local library and learning a few phrases at least a month before going on holiday. Nobody expects tourists to be fluent but they usually appreciate some effort.


The Tefl Tradesman said...

"Ou est la station de metro"? That's one, and there's a 'voiture' mentioned in another. Other than that, I'm lost - typical bloody tourist!

Andrew said...

There are games that have this as a puzzle; it can surprisingly hard even when you speak the language natively. Of course, they make it as hard as they can by changing every syllable even when they don't need to... but clearly the phrasebook is doing this too. The last one is a phrase I could translate myself, but I'd have guessed it was Chinese from what they've written, and I can't see how anyone is more likely to hit upon the correct pronunciation from "sewr" than "sur". I can see where they're coming from, but I can't think of an English word with "ewr" in it that one could use as a reference -- and nor is there an English word pronounced like "sur", which renders the task impossible. (I might have gone with "syur" for that one.) And where have all those 'g's come from?

For reference, I also got "ou est la station de metro" only; I stop at GSCE French. I can see a couple of the others now I've been told the answer.

Anonymous said...