Grammatical Cats

Shameful! Only one post for May and we are more than half-way through the month already.

In my last French lesson, we discussed an article from Télérama, a French magazine about TV, radio, and cinema. The article, "Grammaire Amère"* by Fanny Capel, explores the lamentable decline in correct usage of the French language by schoolchildren and University students.  It begins with some examples of dreadful mistakes, and I am glad to say I spotted most of them! (Cette homme instead of cet homme, for example).  The article continues in a vein all too familiar from American and British education: standards are slipping, the teachers themselves have not been properly taught, some feel grammar is too boring and difficult to inflict on the children, others just feel overwhelmed and short of time. Plus faulty language is all around in the media, and many people don't even recognize the mistakes.

Of course, French grammar and spelling are extremely difficult. One's heart does go out to the small French child struggling with it. But, as with any language, real mastery of it can only come by reading and reading and reading--and not just texts, emails and websites!

The French, as is well-known, on the whole still care deeply about the way the language is used. The slapdash style of Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, has caused widespread perturbation, it seems. Perhaps, here, the search for ways of teaching linguistic mastery to today's children will end in success.

My own mastery is far from complete, of course... and yet, funnily enough, it's when English words are used in the midst of French that I'm often most thrown.  Visiting Lyon once, before living here, I asked an estate agent about areas and what kind of flats were available to rent. She asked, Quel type de budget?  The last word flummoxed me utterly, as I thought she was saying bouger, to move, which made no sense in the context; it couldn't be bougie, candlestick, nor did I think it was a French word for budgie; anyway, I gave up, and she had to spell out the fact that she was trying to ascertain how much money I had to fling around.

Now in this grammar article comes mention of certain proposals "prononcés en off,"  which means off the record. And then there is suddenly a strange reference, it seems, to domestic animals: Pour transmettre efficacement un message, faut-il accepter de sacrifier la forme, comme sur les chats?**

For just one second, I wondered in bewilderment what on earth cats had to do with it.

*Bitter grammar
**To transmit a message efficiently, is it necessary to sacrifice good writing, as on chats?