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Les onomatopées… « aïe!! »

24 Jan

Firstly, the Merriam-Webster definition:

ONOMATOPOEIA

1: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)
2: the use of words whose sound suggests the sense
You know what they are, dear readers… These little sounds that we all make daily, whether we are expressing exctasy and anticipation upon being presented with a delicious, mouth-watering dessert (yum!! in English, or miam!! in French) or disgust when our sense of modesty or manners (savoir-vivre) has been challenged (yuk!! in English, or beurk!! in French).

Credits: Uderzo

I was reminded of these little interjections today, as I was reading a raving review of the new book « Les trucs d’anglais qu’on a oublié de vous enseigner » by Grant Hamilton, on the blog Le mot juste en anglais. I have myself been immersed in the American-English language for so many years (I think 10…), that I don’t even realize how « native » I have gone…

The beautiful thing about becoming bilingual, is that you instinctively switch the way your express yourself, your sounds, your intonation, even your body language from one language « set of rules » to the other!
After my first full-year immersion in the USA (I was 18 and worked as an au pair in South Carolina), I experienced the « reverse culture shock » when I returned to Strasbourg, France, to start my language studies. What was very strange, was that when I started classes the other students were convinced I was American!
They would come up to me and introduce themselves in English: « You are ze Américaine, right? ». I would reply in French, explain that I just came back from 1 year in the US but that I was from a village 60 km South of here… only to realize that my intonation in French had not quite yet returned to normal.
onomatopoeia

Image by sekundo via Flickr

But rest assured, dear French-learners… the balance comes back. You eventually truly switch everything, and you start sounding « native » in both languages. So when I speak English, or even if I speak French to my American husband (which we have only done for 1 year now) but I am located in the USA, I say « ouch!! » when it hurts, « darn!! » when I am upset, « bang!! » when I talk about a door shutting.
But, when I speak French, or I am talking to a Francophone, I say « aïe!! » (or aï-eeeeeuh when it really hurts!), « zut!! », « boum!! » respectively.
So you will know when the French language has become like a second skin to your whole body, not just your tongue, when you start reacting with these fun onomatopoeia. The best way to learn them: read some Tintin or Astérix et Obélix comic strips books, and you will be all set!
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