whimsical

An Open Letter to the French Language

Ciao bella!

Wait, no –

Salut!

Ça va? I hope you’re doing all right. It’s… well, it’s been a while. When was it we last saw each other? Oh yeah… for a month in high school. Although that short time together helped change my mind about you, it wasn’t enough, and the intervening years only widened the gap between us.

I thought we’d never see each other again, frankly. I flirted with Greek and Hebrew, had a fling with Russian (which I ended when she reminded me too much of you), went steady with German and finally got serious with Latin. I have to be honest, German and Latin really spoiled me – I got to pronounce every vowel and consonant. And the rules! I always knew where I stood with them. They were predictable, reliable, and – yes – a little harsh.

But linguistics poisoned me against you. Even though I know no single language is better than any other, I still ridiculed your tendency to eat your vowels and drop your consonants. I saw these linguistic proclivities not as the creative and enterprising innovations that they are, but as a sign of your laziness and decline. After all, you used to pronounce all those letters and syllables. Back in the 1400s.

As I grew up and more or less officially moved in with English, I thought less and less of you. After all, I wasn’t even seeing German any more, why would I try to reconnect with you?

Then we visited Brussels. I – erroneously – thought I could get by with my German. Technically, Belgium is a trilingual country, and I was on speaking terms with two out of three. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my due diligence until a few weeks before our trip, whereupon I discovered my error – Brussels is predominantly French-speaking. But I didn’t even want to talk to you, let alone catch up, so I fumbled through our trip, feeling awkward and clueless and lost at every step.

I returned to English feeling chastised and confused. My feelings for you weren’t what I had expected. I found myself increasingly annoyed at my own inability to understand you, and I grew angry with myself for not even giving you a chance. But no! It was your fault for being so ornery! I couldn’t be wrong. If you would just pronounce all your consonants, maybe I could understand you. Maybe if you just met me half way…

We fought. For the first time, and the last. I didn’t want to recognize my feelings for you. I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. But soon it became too obvious. All this time, you had waited for me. All this time, I demanded you meet me in the middle while I kept taking steps back. When I was refusing to even try to understand you, how could I expect you to change for me?

You know, we always cling the hardest when we’re about to let go.

This is all to say: je suis désolée. J’ai tort.

Can we try this again? Start at the beginning? I know we can’t pretend the rest didn’t happen, but I’m willing to give it a chance. I can’t promise I won’t trip on your elisions, or slip into a German accent, or bemoan your vowel choices, but I can promise to respect you. You are your own, beautiful language, with unique morphemes, a high density of final-consonant deletion, and a bizarre fixation on cows. You deserve to be taken seriously.

How about it?

Me

P.S. Duolingo has been amazing at helping me understand you better. I'm glad you two are friends.