Did you do French at school? Probably, if you’re English. You had all that stuff to learn about not usually pronouncing the final letter, that ‘choux’ (cabbages) is pronounced ‘shoe’. Perhaps you battled to remember when to use accents, and whether they should be grave (`) or acute (´) or circumflex (ˆ)? With any luck, you learnt some everyday phrases to use on everyday occasions.
And that was fine for the school trip to Paris and later, that nice holiday in Normandy.
Where you’ll come unstuck though, is down here, and across wide swathes of the southern parts of France.
You’ll be OK if you visit an attractive town some 25 miles from here, Limoux. It’s pronounced just as you’d expect, to rhyme with ‘choux’.
But last week, we went walking near a little village a few miles north, Hounoux. It doesn’t rhyme with ‘choux’. No, you must pronounce every letter – sort of ‘Hoonoox’.
Here, we spend our daily round with people who don’t talk standard French, as taught in all good GCSE textbooks. They’ll go to the baker’s tomorrow (demeng) morning (matteng), to buy their bread (peng). Then later they may work in their garden (jardeng). In the evening, perhaps the Music Centre will put on a concert, with one of the local ensembles (angsambles) centre stage. Très bien! (byeng).
There’s a sort of energy and vigour in the local speech patterns I find very attractive, as local people give full weight to every syllable in a word. So rather than Laroque, it’s Laroqu-e. I’m quite relieved it’s nothing more complicated than that, and that in any case, everyone round here is quite prepared to listen to standard French, or even Franglais.