À quel moment de la journée?
I’m inspired by Usree’s posts and will try to post a little more regularly here too…hope that others join in! I’ll get back to an old post on “Raspberry Jam” soon, but am immediately moved to write about my crash course experience in French 1 for a research project I’m involved in. It’s been a little overwhelming to be without words in this new language…
“À quel moment de la journée?”
Such reads the title in the little inset box near the beginning of Chapitre 2 in the text I was reading before starting French 1 this semester. The box introduces Vocabulaire such as: “le jour – day, daytime,” “le matin – morning, in the afternoon,” etc.
What’s less than fascinating to me about this, but probably most important in terms of getting where I need to be to just get by in French, is the vocabulary building through association that can be leveraged with this list. “Jour” is most familiar through colloquial use in English: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “soup du jour” at a restaurant (actually it strikes me that most of the French I’m already familiar with may come from experiences in restaurants). “Matin” is totally new to me, I think, though the longer I stare at it and say it, the more it seems like maybe I’ve heard or seen it somewhere (aren’t most words like that? Nested in different memories, hanging out by themselves somewhere in the far recesses of our minds, or more out there in front, networked with more common words…). “L’après-midi” is new. Here I put a little bookmark to come back to later: what is “après”? What is “midi”? What other words do they get combined with and how are they used?
“Le soir” and “la nuit” are relatively new, but familiar in different ways—the first because I’ve already learned “Bonsoir” (is that how to spell it?) so it’s an “intra-French” association, and the second because, well, it sounds and looks enough like the English “night”. I’m sure that a lot of learning French vocabulary is going to be about remembering what’s different and how it’s different from what I’ve learned in English for 30+ years, and to a lesser degree what I can remember from high school Spanish. Kind of like finding the critical differences in pronunciation, and on the keyboard like I was writing about in my last entry
So what’s more fascinating? Well, simply that “moment” in French gets rendered as “time” (point in time), and “journée” as “day”. These are the restructurings or refigurings of meaning across the two languages that pull on so many pre-existing associations, habitual uses, and infuse forms that * look * so familiar with new meaning. It’s a feeling of both difficulty and inspiration. Like trying to brush your teeth with your other hand, or saying the alphabet backwards. Especially since the word “journée” looks so much like “journey”. Are our days really journeys? Do journeys imply ‘days’ or name them outright? Look at it: JOURney. A little light goes off in my mind as I take a step back from the English word I’ve been carrying around in my head for my whole life, never having seen the day…
Lakoff and Johnson rocked a few people’s boats in 1980 with the beginnings of cognitive metaphor theory—we all use metaphors all the time when we speak, without ever giving a second thought to it. Isn’t one of the joys and benefits of second language learning the ability to make the familiar foreign, to feel the carpet pulled out from under you and find what it takes to regain your balance? And I feel this kind of visceral pleasure a lot with metaphors. Until they get routinized, until they start to fade into the background of ‘the way things are usually said’ in that language, there’s a life between the target and source domains in at least two languages—learning new expressions makes you want to compare the source domains in the two languages, compare the target domains, and all the cross-linkages. Of course a lot of this is imagination, since I’ll be the first to say I don’t ‘speak’ or ‘know’ French right now. But this is a space to be explored, to play with in testing out the metaphor and trying out all kinds of permutations, to see if we can take ‘side paths’ through durations of time in French in this case…
Just as there’s a joy in discovering these connections (which may just as well be bunk) there’s a little sadness in thinking about losing the ‘freshness’ of being thrilled at little things like this as my French improves.
Well, no need to worry about that in the meantime. How do you say “journey” in French?