For the French Connaisseur

Whilst reading Racine’s Athalie in French for one of my modules this week I can accross quite a few words which were alien to me and I had neverbefore after years of French study. This is when I came accorss this website which has really impressed me with the large corpus of definitions it has for more obscure French words.

The website is that of L’Internaute magazine and has a few different useful functions for any French speaker or learner. What impressed me personally was the encyclopedia sections which can be found under the ‘Encyclopédie’ tab or here:

As well as being a factual database, this page also has a very useaful search bar a bit further down the page which allows you to find definitions of French words. The best part of this particular dictionary, out of the many availbable ones, is that the definitions are given in French with synonyms and an English translation as well. This can be very useful to anyone studying the language because it automatically provides you with a lexical field surrounding that particular word. This isn’t often the case with online dictionaries as the majority will give only the English translations, which although useful, are limited in their teaching capacity. Seeing the definition in the relative language can help the mind to contextualise the word.

Aside from that tab however, the website itself is full of interesting articles all written in French and can allow anyone itnerested in the language a further insight into the culture behind the grammar and vocabulary lists. Arguably a language is itself a protal into the culture it belongs to. It evolves alongside its country and the changes it goes through are often embeded in the social history of its speakers. One example from French would be the conscious decision by l’Academie Francaise to complicate the grammar by adding more irregular verbs. This was done in order to clearly separate the educated classes from the non-educated classes, and also meant that there could be more control over the evolving of the language. This reluctance to allow their language to change is a very strong part of French cultural identity. In my experience of French schools, a large part of the Geography lessons are concerned with the amount of French speakers in the world, the decline or fall of speakers. The existence of the French Institutes and French Schools in most capital cities show the French government’s commitment to the preservation of the language. Taking this into account it can be easy to see how access to the language can bring a further understanding into that social and cultural mindset. The ability to really appreciate a language’s subtleties, beauties and quirks and the access to first hand sources can broaden the speaker’s world.


About computeinanotherlanguage

QMUL Student doing languages and computing :)
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One Response to For the French Connaisseur

  1. Martin says:

    Hi Vicky,
    Thanks for this very interesting and useful overview of the Linternaute web resource for French language. Your point about language being a “portal into the culture” is very true. And you make some very interesting observations of how l’Academie Francaise tries to control the language. There’s an interesting distinction between the bottom up and top down development of language – that which is prescribed from above and that which evolves naturally amongst the people and makes its way into the mainstream language. The difference between the official language and the street language, perhaps.

    Thanks for the stimulating discussion!!

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