vendredi 17 septembre 2010
J is for joining in
Bienvenu au club! — Join the club
Xyst is a covered gallery in a gym; Wu is a Chinese dialect; a kot is a room rented to a student. Youp! (That’s an interjection.)
These words all have something in common — they get you out of a fix when you play Scrabble in French. X is worth 10 in French Scrabble. Personally I think it should be a lot more. In my shorter Oxford French Dictionary, which claims to have 45,000 entries, there are only three French words beginning with X. And one of those is xylophone, which is going to be pretty difficult to make. I know you can add X to the end of some words to make a plural, but the opportunity to do that doesn’t come up very often.
We play Scrabble in French once a week with members of the local Ainés Ruraux club. It’s pretty difficult, but would be even worse without access to the French Dictionary of Official Scrabble Words, which we have to rifle through frantically before every turn.
Literally, Ainés Ruraux means elderly country folk, but it’s open to anyone over 50. We thought it would be a good place to meet local French people. Our opponents may be a few decades over 50 in some cases, but they are pretty good at Scrabble. It took many months before Annick, who keeps the scores, uttered the words that still make me very proud: ‘C’est Dolly qui a gagné!’. [Dolly has won!]
Once a week Gavin gives an English lesson to around half a dozen members of club. Progress is quite slow, but they are now pretty good at saying to each other ‘’Ello, ‘ow are YOU?’ in a slightly Scottish accent.
They find pronunciation generally a bit tricky. Try explaining the sentence ‘My nice neice lives in Nice’ to a non-English speaker…
Then, every so often there is a lotto (Bingo) session. Following the numbers in French and crossing them off correctly on three cards is pretty tricky, but the other week I did win a packet of French toasts, a tin of ravioli and a packet of cup-a-soup (vegetable flavour). But, in my view, that’s preferable to the live goat, which was the prize in a nearby lotto a little while ago. Then, occasionally, there is a five-course lunch (with wine and liqueurs and a bit of dancing thrown in) for around 12 Euros each…
Adieussiatz! No, it’s not another strange Scrabble word. It’s the Occitan for ‘hello’ and, confusingly, ‘goodbye’.
Occitan is a Romance language spoken mainly in southern France — including the area where we live — and also in parts of Italy and Spain. There are some 1.5 million people who speak Occitan in their daily lives, while 5 or 6 million people have some knowledge the spoken language. It’s not unusual to meet some older folk who spoke Occitan at home and didn’t learn French until they went to school.
To make things even more complicated, there are six dialects of Occitan: Provençal, Gascon, Languedoc, Limousin, Alpine and Auvergne. (We’re roughly the Languedoc version.)
Nowadays, the majority of speakers are elderly, but the language is undergoing something of a revival, with more interest being shown in it — many towns and villages have their names displayed in both French and Occitan. And that’s where we come in. As part of our campaign to integrate more with the local French community, we decided to learn Occitan. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time.
Occitan first began to appear in writing during the 10th century and was used particularly to write the poetry of the troubadours. The troubadours performed their poetry of love, satire and war in the courts of kings and nobles all over France, Spain and other countries in Europe. Things have gone downhill a bit since then, and we ‘perform’ in a local community centre under the direction of our teacher, Muriel. Unfortunately, on one occasion the caretaker decided to leave before our lesson had finished and we all got locked in. It took a phone call to the town hall (luckily a fellow student had the number on him) to alert people to our plight; happily someone quickly brought a key round and duly released us.
It’s actually quite a difficult language and it takes ages just to learn the pronunciation. Books in Occitan seem to put a heavy emphasis on giants, myths and ogres and there is a lot of importance placed on singing. I’m ruled out of that particular activity as my singing voice is beyond bad, though Gavin chants away enthusiastically.
And we’ve even got an Occitan (OC) sticker for the car.