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Les deux (suite) November 2, 2007

Posted by Lee in French.
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This follows up on a post from Kate McCulley’s The Grammar Vandal blog, where she tries to tackle ann oh-so-american pronunciation of “les deux”. It’s an uphill battle, mon amie.

 

One of her commenters was correct when he said that it’s hard for our american mouths to properly enunciate french words, but it goes farther than not being able to pronounce the vowel (which Kate , by using an “uh” sound, came quite close to).

First, remember that French vowels are always completely pure. There’s no variation within the sound. So, when some people try to pronounce deux, it comes out “dyuh”. But that’s just our american mouths showing our preference for diphthongs: double vowel sounds that follow one upon another.

Say “cow” you go from the very open “ah” sound down to the “whu” sound. That’s a diphthong. Try “say”. You have an “a” sound that morphs into an “e” sound. French vowels don’t do that, so your “uh” has to be short and unwavering.

Second, French consonants are not produced with the diaphragm like ours are. In essence, they’re just pronounced with the air you have in your mouth. In addition, the French “d” is dento-labial: place the tongue so that its tip touches the back of your teeth and make a very gentle “d” sound that might should a little like the voiced “th”.

When learning phonetics and pronunciation, I had to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is the standard way of writing punctuation in a lot of the world. In that alphabet, I’d write [də].For an example of how IPA works, check out the page on Vladimir Nabokov. His last name contains this same vowel sound. You can see that Sting mispronounces it for the sake of a rhyme in Don’t Stand So Close To Me. He says [na bə kov] where it should be [na bokəf].

And Kate wanted the word they were pronouncing (lay doo) to be something like le doux, but, unfortunately, that construction doesn’t really work in French. If you’re using doux as a nooun, it must be preceded by en (passer en doux = give something to someone secretively.What I hear is something like “Les dues”, meaning the things that are owed to you, or the things you must do.

Try explaining that next time you’re on the phone.

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