As this piece is longer than the ones that I usually write, I have divided it into 8 parts.
First of all I am going to provide a little history about the language and try to explain why there are so many words in English that, when you first meet them, seem to have the same meaning.
If, like me, you live on an island, you always have a longing to live on a continent or a landmass, the sort of area where you can roam and wander at will by road to wherever you like over hundreds of miles meeting people from various countries and regions quite different from your own.
Here of course in the UK there is Scotland and there is Wales but somehow that’s not quite the same. Now the strange thing is that if I get in my car and drive 20 miles south, I’ll be in the centre of London where by and large everyone speaks English and I can without much difficulty understand what’s being said and also be understood when it’s my turn to speak.
But if I just go a mere 23 miles south from the port of Dover in the southeast corner of England, I’ll end up across the water in the north of France and language and communication take on an entirely different turn.
Over hundreds of years the French and English haven’t exactly been the best of friends. We’ve had a few wars and disagreements during that time. It all started of course when the Duke of Normandy, known as William the Conqueror, came over with a large army in 1066 from the north of France and defeated the English King, Harold. William didn’t care much for English and tried very hard to make the natives speak French with the idea of wiping out English completely.
He didn’t succeed, I’m pleased to say, but the result has been that we now have thousands of words that have a distinctly French background and for learners of English it is a huge problem whether to use the words with the French flavour or the Anglo Saxon flavour.
Needless to say, we are now the best of pals with the French these days, well, most of the time. And so it is that the British love to go to France for an annual holiday. And that is precisely what I did the other week.
Well that’s probably enough history as I am sure you will agree. I promise I won’t attempt any more along those lines because I want to talk about the present.
If you want to discuss this article, you can do so on the forum here: Going French, Part I