How French has evolved over the last 30 years


As a student of French, you will know that the language, just like many others in the world, has evolved a great deal over the last thirty years. New words emerge regularly. You will also have learned from your teachers that language has different registers: standard (or everyday), elevated (or formal), and familiar. And in today’s world, it is the spoken language that is used routinely. For example, perhaps you’re aware of the French form of slang known as verlan? This type of language, which involves inverting the syllables of words to avoid being understood by others, is now common in music (particularly rap), but also in everyday life. Young people in France will say teuf to mean fête (“party”) and meuf to mean femme (“woman”). And did you know that popular Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae’s name actually comes from verlan, too? “Stro-mae” is the inverse of “mae-stro”. Of course! So verlan is a form of slang, that is, a type of language used by a particular social group. In the vernacular of social housing estates, there is also a tendency to drop the silent ‘e’. In Faïza Guène’s novel Kiffe kiffe demain (Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow), the main character Doria often uses the expressions j’vais (“I’m going”), j’veux (“I want”) and j’crois (“I think”). We are also living in an age where language is shortened. The abbreviation “LOL” and its French equivalent “MDR” or mort de rire (which literally means “dying of laughter”) have long been used by teenagers in speech and in text messages. As I mentioned above, new words are officially accepted into the dictionary every year. In 2016, for example, you can use the words droniste (someone who pilots a drone), youtubeur (someone who publishes videos on YouTube), and selfie in French. Neologisms such as e-commerce and courriel (“email”) are also created to keep up with new technologies. Finally, English words are increasingly common in current usage. Fast-food, wifi and football are all heard every day. While we’re on the subject, you might also encounter some portmanteau words (in French, such words are actually known as mots-valises, or “suitcase words” – no kidding!). A portmanteau is where two words have been combined to form a new one. For example: internaute, meaning “internet user” (a combination of internet and the suffix -naute, which denotes a person who navigates), or franglais, meaning “Frenglish” (a combination of français (French) and anglais (English)). The French love using idioms in their conversations. So you can see just how much the French language is developing and continues to evolve!

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