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Calling All French Speakers

25 October 2007

Growing up in a bilingual household, the most important phrase a kid could use was puis-je. Because without it, one could never ask,

Puis-je avoir cinq dollars pour la foire?*
Puis-je quitter la table?

Or, the most important: Puis-je avoir un autre morceau de gateau?***

This year, living in elite-land, Trixie is learning French as part of the sixth grade curriculum (something the Des Moines school district can’t afford to do). And may I just say, she is doing a fabulous job? I’m amazed at how quickly she’s taken to it, and how much fun she’s having learning those little dialogs for class. She even spells well in French (yes the language of pebblex and owlx)!****

This makes me happy. (Especially since she was the kid who told me that, given the choice, she didn’t want to learn French ever—she wanted to learn Spanish instead [Oooh! Dagger through my heart!])


They are taught, not puis-je, but est-ce que je peux (lit., is it that I can; can I).

In my youth, if we ever said est-ce que je peux, we’d get a look, and silence until we asked correctly. It just wasn’t done!

Sound-wise, too, where pwee-zhe kind of just glides through your lips, ess-uh-kuh-zhe-peuh hangs around a sprays a bit of spittle on the person you are speaking to. Blech. Not pretty.

Am I making this up? Is est-ce que je peux the more correct usage? Could puis-je be a Belgian thing? (Like the crass Belgian usage of saying “seventy-three” rather than the much daintier French “sixty-thirteen”?*****) The Consort, who learned French in this very same school district when he was a kid, tells me he never came across the puis-je form until he met me.

Of course, she’s also being taught the word magaziner, so I should probably just give up.(6*)

*May I have five dollars for the carnival?
**May I be excused from the table?
***May I have another piece of cake?
****I grew up on a steady diet of phonics, and I loved it. Trixie is a pure child of the “whole language” concept (where the teachers encourage writing without learning spelling first, because the kids will just “pick up the spelling as they go” [which is crap, in my opinion; Trixie would read and comprehend way above her age level, but wasn’t very good at spelling those very same words].
*****Oh, those silly Belgians. [Is the thick sarcasm in my tone coming through? ;-)]
6* [I figured you lost count at five asterisks, because I did] That’s the French Canadian word for shopping. It is literally “store-ing”. Does that sound weird or what?

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