Wednesday, November 14, 2012


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When I lived in France in 1987-1988, I shared a flat with a German girl. Given I spoke German and she spoke English, we decided that because we were in France to improve our French we would speak to each other in French when we were in France (which of course was the majority of our year together), in German whenever we crossed the border into Germany, which we did on a dozen or so occasions, and English if we came to Scotland, which we did once. At the time I had already had a French partner for two years so was very used to speaking French, whereas she had learned more from books. I therefore knew that the French pronounced oignon /ɔɲɔ̃/ and not /waɲɔ̃/ as you might expect from the spelling, but my flatmate stubbornly refused to pronounce it properly, even when the French people all around her were constantly correcting her!

We often used to drive from the Vosges to the Doubs on weekends, where my partner lived at the time. We passed through a tiny village just south of Vesoul called Ognon /ɔɲɔ̃/. I used to wind her up commenting it was called the same as the vegetable, she used to growl back that the pronunciation was different. We agreed to disagree, though I smugly knew I was right!

I stumbled upon the French spelling reform on wikipedia recently. Oignon has officially been changed to ognon to reflect its pronunciation! I wonder what my old flatmate has to say about that, given she now lives in France! If I had some spare cash I'd be tempted to go on a wee holiday to the east of France and send her a postcard from Ognon as an 'I told you so!' :-)

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