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La Nuit by L'il Octopus

Jeff Ellis

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First time read for me as a Pick from the Past. 

I have to say that it took Austin a lot longer than the average reader needed to figure out what was going on.  

I also found myself pondering the fact that “La nuit,” which means “the night” in French, sounds just like “l’ennui,” which means “trouble” or “problem” (as  well as “boredom”) in French.  Coincidence?



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On 1/2/2022 at 11:59 PM, Rutabaga said:

“La nuit,” which means “the night” in French, sounds just like “l’ennui,” which means “trouble” or “problem” (as  well as “boredom”) in French.

You raise a fascinating point about language and what you are trained to hear. The similarity you highlight applies to English ears, brought up to understand the mother tongue. Your brain is attuned to English, even if you speak and understand another language. It is why you can understand English in different accents and when badly spoken, the brain interprets, it looks for English, and it understands English tone and pronunciation. For a French person, as an example, they seek French words and intonation. La nuit and l'ennui are as far apart and different as missed and messed. I had this conversation with a French person, discussing how I had always heard "l'année dernière" last year, when listening to news reports, but what actually was said was, "la nuit dernièr" last night, which of course makes more sense in most cases, when they are talking about what happened yesterday. He could not understand how I did not discern the difference which was as evident to him as night and day. That's what I mean by English ears, you don't hear the language like the native speaker unless you are truly bilingual, which means you grew up speaking both languages or, in rare cases, you have a photographic memory. Because I knew one guy who could learn any language simply by listening to it spoken and could speak the language without any foreign accent. He spoke at least nine languages fluently, and believe it or not, but it is true, after meeting a Scandinavian boyfriend and coming back from a stay in his boyfriend's country, I think it was Finland, he could speak Finnish. I diverge from the thread, but I find it a fascinating topic, so forgive me.

As a little addition, the mechanism in the brain that perceives the language is the same that reads text and puts in words which or missing or makes corrections to errors, making it difficult for authors to self-edit. Did you pick up the error? Words which or missing!


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I posed this question to my friend who is a middle-school teacher in the south of France.  His initial response was a blague (joke):

Pascal:  La nuit je dors. Et mes élèves pendant mes cours si c’est l’ennui ils dorment aussi.  (At night I sleep.  And my students during my classes, if it's boring they sleep also.)

I persisted saying this was a genuine question:

Me: Cet ami insiste qu’il y a une différence, quoique qu’il soit subtile, entre prononciation de les deux. Vrai ou non?  (My friend insists that there is a difference, although it be subtle, between the pronunciation of the two.  True or false?)

And he replied:

Pascal: Heuuuu petit problème d’orthophonie alors. (Hmmm . .. a small problem of correct articulation therefore.)

Car la nuit son A et l’ennui son an.  (Because "la nuit" has the sound A and "l'ennui" the sound "an")

Alors c’est très rare que l’on confonde.  (Thus it would be rare that we would confuse them.)

So I followed up:

Me:  Et si je dit « La nuit je ressens l’ennui » une francophone peut remarquer différence de prononciation ?  (And if I say "at night I experience boredom" a native French speaker could tell the difference in pronunciation?)

He responded by recording himself speaking my little sentence into his phone several times and sending me the audio recording.

I have to admit that I could hear a difference (notwithstanding his heavy Provençal accent -- he lives near Nice), but it was not so much the vowel sound as it was the cadence of the two syllables.  "La nuit" was spaced out, whereas "l'ennui" was kind of run together and almost swallowed.  Based on this, it seems likely that a native French speaker would note the difference.  The actual vowel sounds were the same (at least to my ears); it was only the rhythm that set them apart.

He added:

Pascal:  Il faut vraiment faire exprès de mal prononcer. Pour faire un jeu de mot.  (It is truly necessary to intentionally mispronounce the words.  To make a word game.)

Il faut être anglophone pour confondre.  (You would have to be an English speaker to confuse them.)

So while it is still true that "la nuit" and "l'ennui" are technically homophonic, I concede that in spoken French a native speaker would distinguish them.  




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