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Liaisons, Numerous and Dangerous

Let's have a listen to Cali's beautiful tune C'est quand le bonheur, paying special attention to this line:

 

Il paraît que vous faiblissez devant les hommes bien habillés

It appears that you swoon for well-dressed men

Caption 22, Cali - C'est quand le bonheur

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Do you hear a "z" sound sneaking its way in between les and hommes, such that we hear “les-Zhommes”? You might also notice an "n" sound between bien and habillés, such that we hear “bien-Nhabillés."

What you are hearing are examples of liaison, which often happens when the (usually silent) final consonant of one word can be heard pronounced at the beginning of the following word, if the following word begins with a vowel or a mute h (learn more about the distinction between “mute h” and “aspirated hhere).  

In most cases, the sound produced by liaison is very straightforward. In the Cali song, for example, the n of bien tacks right onto habillés. Simple! As is the first liaison we hear in the next line of the song:

 

Je suis tendu, c'est aujourd'hui que je viens vous offrir ma vie

I am tense, today is the day I am coming to offer you my life

Caption 23, Cali - C'est quand le bonheur

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We hear a liaison in "c’est-Taujourd’hui." The final consonant of c'est, t (which we usually don't hear in French), binds with the vowel sound at the beginning of aujourd'hui.

But liaison doesn't always result in the sound you might expect. The next liaison in the line is in vous offrir. As in the case of les hommes, we have a preceding word that ends in an s (generally not pronounced in French) rendering a "z" sound that binds to the next "vowel-starting" word, resulting in "vous-Zoffrir." 

A final s is not the only consonant that renders a "z" sound in liaison; the same is true for a word ending in -x. Let’s return to Cali and his romantic vieux amants (with our handkerchiefs close by):

 

Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour...

Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose love...

Caption 35, Cali C'est quand le bonheur

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As you can hear, Cali is singing of "vieux-Zamants"; the final x in vieux, usually silent, renders a "z" sound at the beginning of amants.  

Another case where a consonant produces an unexpected sound in liaison involves words ending in -d. Here, the liaison carries over not as a "d" sound, but a "t" sound.

Here's an example concerning Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was the basis for Nicolas Cage's character in the movie Lord of War:

 

L'un des hommes les plus recherchés au monde, finalement arrêté dans un grand hôtel de Bangkok.

One of the most sought-after men in the world, finally arrested at a big hotel in Bangkok.

Captions 5-6, Le Journal - Viktor Bout

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Did you catch where Bout was arrested? Not in a "grand-Dhôtel," but a "grand-Thôtel."

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As you expose yourself to more authentic French, you will become accustomed to liaison and start to get a feel for where it does, and doesn't, belong. It's a tough subject to get a full handle on, and it's not uncommon to hear native French speakers adding a liaison where it "technically" shouldn't exist, or vice versa. 

Here is an interesting article on liaison from french.about.com:

http://french.about.com/library/pronunciation/bl-liaisons-L.htm

And another, from the Académie Française:

http://www.academie-francaise.fr/langue/questions.html#liaisons

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C'est l'heure de ton Yabla, pauvre gosse!

Some French adjectives change their meaning depending on whether we put them before or after the noun they modify. For example, in Le Journal's video Les microcrédits, we learn about a fellow who realizes his dream of opening a business. This pauvre homme (poor, as in "pitiable," man) had spent years doing nothing every day. But, because he was also an homme pauvre (poor, as in "penniless," man), he qualified for a microcredit loan, and is now a proud restaurateur!

 

Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria, il y a maintenant trois mois.

He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria, just three months ago.

Caption 3, Le Journal - Les microcrédits

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Sa propre pizzeria means it's his alone, but if he wants customers to keep coming back, he'd better make sure it's also a pizzeria propre (a clean pizzeria)! As you can see, if placed in front of the noun, propre signals ownership; if placed after, it indicates cleanliness. 

We hear another interesting example when rugby-player-turned-singer Cali sings the romantic ballad C'est quand le bonheur?

 

Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour

Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose love

Caption 35, Cali - C'est quand le bonheur

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You may notice that Cali does not mention anyone's age; ces vieux amants, "those old lovers," refers to lovers who have experienced long-lasting love. They might be in their twenties or in their eighties—we don’t know. If Cali had placed the adjective vieux (old) after the noun amants (lovers), then we'd know that he meant elderly lovers (who, for all we know, met last week at bingo). So, amants vieux would indicate their age, while vieux amants indicates the duration of their love.

Dropping in on the Paris Poetry Fair, we hear:

 

Antonin Artaud, grand homme de théâtre, grand poète du vingtième siècle...

Antonin Artaud, famous playwright, famous poet of the twentieth century...

Caption 9, Marché de la Poésie - Des poètes en tout genre

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Notice that grand, placed before the noun, means "famous" or "great"—quite different from when it appears after the noun. Un homme grand means a tall man—a man of physically grand proportions. Can you spot any poètes grands (tall poets) among the aspiring grands poètes (great poets) at this Paris Poetry Fair?

Did you see Le Journal's piece about teen use of marijuana?

 

Selon lui, certains signes devraient alerter vite les parents.

According to him, certain signs should quickly alert parents.

Caption 24, Le Journal - Cannabis en hausse chez les jeunes

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This specialist talks about certains signes (certain, as in "some specific," signs). But are these also signes certains (certain, as in "definite, unquestionable," signs)? Watch the video and decide for yourself!

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Keep an eye out for these and other adjectives that change their meaning depending on where they sit!

Extra credit: Certain language sages have noted that, generally speaking, these types of adjectives take a more figurative meaning when placed before a noun, and a more literal one when placed after. Can you see what they mean?

Grammar

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