Language for Breakfast

This morning over fresh bread, butter, jam and steaming bowls of hot chocolate (for my daughter) and tea (for me), I was helping Fiona, who is fourteen and in the equivalent of eighth grade, with last-minute studying for two exams.

First she did her Latin exercises.  She quickly “um’d” her way through infinitives, and the masculine and feminine singulars and plurals, grumbling the whole time. She hates Latin. I absolutely love it, and wish I could go in her stead.



Then, she moved onto music.  They’re learning about American music, and she had to remember how many different types there are.  She started naming them, and I accompanied her in the list, checking to be sure she didn’t forget anything.  I have to admit, it was hard not to laugh as I heard my daughter pronounce Gospel as “Go-spehl”  and “folk” as “fuhlk.”  It continued.  R and B and blues became “Ehr n’ Bay Bloosse” and Jazz was “Jhazzh” .  Rock, was “Rhawck” and so it continued.

I would never laugh, but the pronunciation did crack me up.  My daughter speaks almost perfect, unaccented English. But when she’s studying in French, she speaks perfect, unaccented French and horribly accented English.  Her nimble mind lives in whatever linguistic country she happens to be in.  Were she and I to be discussing Rock music, she’d say “rock” just like me. But in class, she’ll say “Rhawck.”

I’m fascinated by her studies, and her dual life.  The other day Vanessa Paradis’ breathy voice was coming from the radio, and when she lisped once, Fiona said “She does that because of her ‘dents de Bonheur’.”

“Dents de Bonheur”?  I’d never heard that expression and Fiona confirmed it’s what you call front teeth with a space between them. How charming is that?  And how obscure, to the foreigner.  My son grew up here too, and I guess we never listened to Vanessa Paradis together, because he never uttered that expression, so I never learned it.

People hear me speak French and say “Oh, you’re fluent.”  Hah.  Fluent  means you are born in the country of whichever language you speak, because how else would you pronounce words just one way – the correct way – and know a phrase like “dents de Bonheur” for “space between front teeth”?

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