vendredi 6 juillet 2012

I'm writing it! No, wait. I write!

Our academic semester ended a month ago so I was surprised to have a student drop by my office this morning.  I asked her if she had been traveling after her coursework had finished.    “Non, je suis en train d’aimer mon copain,” she answered.  I’m loving my boyfriend.

It was clearly a grammatical error, but an adorable one.  Her use of the present progressive conjured up images of how one might dynamically and actively love one’s partner; I pictured her running home and shampooing his hair, for example.  

 It’s odd that the student made this mistake in the first place, as French does not have the distinction between the simple present and the present progressive or continuous that the English language does.  “Je marche” can mean I walk (as in I walk all the time for exercise) or I am walking (as in I am currently walking to the store) .  I’m sure what she meant to say was “Je suis encore là car j’aime mon copain.” I am still here because I’m in love.

McDonald’s runs an ad campaign which annoys me with its use of the present progressive.  “I’m lovin’ it” is what I see in posters plastered all over Parisian bus shelters and billboards, usually featuring a sundae or some McConcoction.   The immediacy of this exclamation irritates me.  What, you are loving a sundae RIGHT NOW?  Highly doubtful.  If I were eating a sundae at this very moment, that last thing I’d be doing is crowing about it.  My mouth would be too full of ice cream to utter anything more than a slurpy “yum!”

Students of French can be perplexed by the apparent ambiguity of the simple present, with no option for a –ing suffix.  What’s the workaround? they’ll wonder, when they want to express that “doing something right now” aspect of a verb.   My student was correct in framing her phrase with the “en train de” modifier, which does imply an action which is happening at this time.  (Although I’m sure she didn’t mean she was loving her boyfriend right there in my office.)   

The French have caught on to the use of the –ing suffix, as an add-on to an existing noun.  It’s a little thing they do when they want to Anglicize a word and make is sound not only English, but cool English.  So when you want to tell someone you are a runner, you say you do “le jogging.”  If you like to stretch, you do “le stretching.”  The latest thing on the French culinary scene is “le fooding.”  If this linguistic trend progresses in a logical fashion, my student will soon be able to come full circle, and tell me that she is in Paris, still, for “le loving.”

2 commentaires:

  1. At first, the title of this post didn't make any sense. After reading the article, it
    became hilarious. I'm so geeky, I love articles
    like this about the French language. A subject
    which I'm failing miserably.

  2. Then there's the difference between the past tense and the present perfect, as in "I drove" and "I have driven". Even French people who speak English extremely well often have a great deal of difficulty choosing the correct tense. Their tendency is to always choose the present perfect, yielding beauties like "For the last thirty years of her life, my late mother has driven a Peugeot". Um no, she drove it. It's over and done with. She's dead.