08 January 2006

Zee Silly Americanzzz-uh

[posted by Amy]

Ah, the new year: a time for turning over a new leaf; a chance at a fresh start with a clean slate. For me, the old year involved a lot of picking on the French for their misuse of the English language. This was all in good fun, of course, but it has run its course. It's time to pick on someone else's poor language skills. Fortunately, I don't have to look any further than my home country to find ample targets. It took me a while to find examples of English speakers butchering the French language, but I finally found the classic example in a well-known cartoon character: Pepé Le Pew.

I didn't care much for Pepé as a child. I only watched the annoying amorous skunk because he came on in between Bugs Bunny sketches. Mainly, I thought it was dumb that the cat du jour couldn't just stop and say, "Hey, you moron, I'm a cat with paint on me," thus ending the stupid chase. Seriously, why does the skunk get to talk, but not the cat? (If you can answer that question, you can probably also explain why Goofy talks and walks like a person, but Pluto is a "normal" dog.)

Anyway, I was reminded of M. Le Pew while trying to explain to Isabelle why Americans think that English spoken with a French accent is sexy. No, I'm not implying that we all fell in love with French accents because we watched a dippy cartoon skunk -- I merely used it as an example of how the French are stereotyped in the US. To illustrate, I referred her to the Looney Tunes website to watch a classic Pepé cartoon, Wild Over You. After viewing this episode for a few seconds, I wondered if she would ever forgive me for passing on that wretched Franglais. Here are some examples:

1. To make most things French, the writers threw in a "le" in front of a lot of words. Further, "le" is mispronouced in the cartoon (it should sound like "luh") whereas the characters say "lay." (Note that in Le Zoo, Le Hyena Ha-Ha says "Le ha ha," when introduced.) My personal favorite is when the dog sees "the skunk" (i.e. the painted cat) and runs away screaming, "Le YIPE YIPE YIPE!!"

2. On a slightly higher intellectual plain, the writers also mimicked French by switching the order of a few words, vaguely remniscent of the way French adjectives often come after the noun. Case in point with the newspaper headline: "Catte de wilde on le loose!" instead of "Wild cat on the loose!" (Oh, I guess that's "lay" loose.)

3. In high school French class, we often "cheated" when we didn't know a French word by adding a long A sound to the end of the English translation. (For example, "Je think-ay that you-ay are crazy-ay.") Using the same technique and adding a "vous" on the end, you get the cartoon subheader on the newspaper: "Disappearayvous!"

So, I guess I really can't claim cultural superiority when it comes to working with second languages. If nothing else, I have to credit the French for trying to reach out to a population that stubbornly refuses to learn or speak any other language but its own. In the end, however, I got a good laugh out of the Pepé cartoon this time around. After all, in a city full of Parisites, where else can I hope to hear such romantic and sincere proclamations as "You are zee corned beef to meee ... I am zee cabbage to you, non?"


At 8/1/06 20:14, Blogger JODSTER said...

Great post. I love the Looney Tunes. Your disertation on M Le Pew is terrific! I'm still smiling.

I haven't been online with any regularity for a few weeks (holidays and such) but you may have already guessed that from my terribly neglected blog.

Can't wait to sift through more from France, right here at your blog!

I'm STiLL laughing at Pepe.. corned beef and cabbage.. :)


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