Our English language is filled with words from French origins. In part, we can thank the Duke of Normandy for this, as the French spoken in the Middle Ages (a direct offshoot of Latin) was incorporated into English after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Modern French uses the same 26 letter alphabet as English (both based on Latin), but the vowel combinations and pronunciations are quite different than English.
Take for example the word “quimper”. In English, it looks like you would pronounce this “KWIM per”, rhymes with “whimper”. NOT SO! In the Merriam-Webster’s 3rd New International Unabridged Dictionary (official source for U.S. Spelling Bees), the pronunciation is “kahn PAIR” with accent on 2nd syllable (sounds like “compare”). Of course, if you’re familiar with France, you know Quimper is a town in the Brittany region of France, and “quimper” is the adjective used to describe the pottery from this region.
Because of the tricky pronunciations, French words that have made their way into English are favorite list words in U.S. Spelling Bee Competition. Upwards of 30% of the words used in Scripps’ National Spelling Bee competition have French origins. But with study and practice, many French spelling patterns are consistent, and not too difficult to master.
My daughter is a spelling whiz, and participated in the Scripps’ National Spelling Bee in 2007 and 2008. We credit much of her success to her knowledge of French, both from spelling study, and from being immersed in the language, through numerous trips through France.
Even though she never studied French formally until high school in 2009, her familiarity of common words in French came in very handy when competing. When riding in an elevator in France, you notice the word “etage” for “floor” or “level”. Well, the word “étagère” a spelling list word for the open shelf display cabinet, is directly from “etage” root word.
Many of the words she was asked to spell in the final rounds of national competition came directly from French: redoppe, Huguenot, boulangere (method of cooking with sliced onions in a casserole). Coincidentally, I have this photo of her taken the year before the Bee, standing next door to the “boulanger” which is from the same root word.
The word “Eclat” was also featured in the 2008 Spelling Bee, which means “brilliant”, “dazzling”. Coincidentally (again), Eclat is the name of the French perfume she wears from famous French perfumery Fragonard. She found this fragrance on a family trip where we visited the Fragonard perfume factory in Eze, France. So she was well familiar with this word!
So you see, in addition to art treasures, history, cinema, gourmet cuisine, wine, champagne, cheese, pastries, tourism, literature, architectural wonders, french perfume, fashion, and pomme frites — we have yet another reason to love France and the French! Spelling Bees! Vive la France!