Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Cheap, shallow and super: French deficiencies

From:Philippe Caquant <herodote92@...>
Date:Sunday, February 29, 2004, 17:09
I checked in about 20 languages, including German,
Russian, Hungarian, Finnish, Greek, Portuguese,
Maltese and Latin. Nearly all of them have an
adjective meaning *cheap*, except French, where we
have to say *bon marche'* (e acute), which is an
invariable expression. It only seems to be the same in
Italian (*buon prezzo*) ; in Dutch, the two words
seems to be integrated (*goedkoop*).

In fact, there is an ambiguity, the word for *cheap*
seeming to be generally something between an adjective
and an adverb. When we say in French *bon marche'*, if
may be understood as a short form for *a' bon marche'*
(a grave, e acute), which is an adverbial locution:
J'ai achete' des cerises a' bon marche' = I bought
cherries at a good price
Ces cerises sont [a'] bon marche' = Those cherries are
Je sais ou trouver des cerises [a'] bon marche' = I
know where to find cheap cherries
Il vend des articles bon marche' = He sells cheap
items [more or less: trash]

The problem is that in French, adjectives normally
agree in (gender and) number with the nouns, while
adverbs don't.
Il vend des articles chers [or: one'reux] = He sells
expensive items
Il les vend cher (no final s, because adverbial) = He
sells them at a high price
(There is also an adverb *cherement*, but its use is
different: il vendit cherement sa peau = he sold his
life dearly).
Ces cerises sont che'res (e grave) = Those cherries
are expensive (*cerise* being feminine in French).

So if we consider that *a bon marche'* is invariable,
we have to conclude that there isn't any adjective
meaning *cheap* in French. This is very strange, as
the concept is very common in any language (true, I
couldn't find the word in Esperanto neither, but there
must be one ; since *expensive* is *multekosta* or
*altekosta*, *cheap* should be... well, the contrary).

It's also striking that French hasn't a word for
*shallow*. This is even worse than *cheap*, because if
I want to find the English, German or Spanish word for
*bon marche'* in a lexicon, I can look at *marche*, or
sometimes at *bon* ; but if I want to translate *peu
profond* (the equivalent for *shallow*, lit. = little
deep), I might often NOT find anything, neither at
*profond*, nor at *peu*. So it will be impossible for
me to know that there is such a word like *shallow*,
or *flach* - in Spanish, I think that it is *bajo*,
but I'm not sure.

The status of the word *super* is also ambiguous in
French. Normally, it should be a prefix, like in
*superproduction* or *superstructure*. When the
compound word is not lexicalized, there sometimes can
be an hyphen between *super* and what follows. But
*super* is also used (in familiar language) as an
adjective (*c'est super* = it's great ; *cette voiture
est super* = this car is great ; *c'est une super
voiture* = it's a great car. And so we quite logically
come to such ads: SUPERS OCCASIONS (super bargains),
and there... it hurts, at least, it hurts my eye,
because I find it very difficult to admit that there
can be a final s after *super*; and it hurts my ear to
have to pronounce *super-zokazjo~".

How lucky are you, Anglo-Saxons who don't have to
fight with all these problems ! (though I clearly see
that you have other ones, for ex in pronouncing IKEA).

Philippe Caquant

"Le langage est source de malentendus."
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Do you Yahoo!?
Get better spam protection with Yahoo! Mail.


Carlos Thompson <chlewey@...>