Rachel in Paris

Rachel, a senior President’s Scholar majoring in political science and foreign languages in Dedman College, with a minor in English, is spending spring break 2010 doing research in Paris. She plans to study French slang by conducting interviews with speakers of “Verlan,” a language game involving word inversion.

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Making connections

Seine.jpg It’s 1:11 a.m., and I’m sitting up in the bar at the hostel, surrounded by more than slightly intoxicated 20-somethings from around the world, but I really wanted to type up the results from meeting with my first contact. I’ve gotten some unexpected results, but they are still very interesting.

For those of you who know some French, or any other romance language that has gender for nouns and adjectives, part of my research is focused on how agreement works when words are Verlanized. There seem to be a couple of different sets of rules operating in Verlan, but I’m not sure exactly what they are yet. I’m looking forward to getting different perspectives from my other interviewees, but I already have some tentative conclusions and hypotheses … in all, my first meeting was very interesting and very successful! My thanks to Nico and Esme for the help!!

Before meeting with Nico this evening, I ate dinner with a friend’s sister who is studying in Paris. It was great to hear her perspective on French life and French food especially. I had “boudin,” which I think is a type of blood sausage, but I’m not quite sure. It was delicious!

My friend’s sister also told me about someone she is acquainted with who did his senior thesis on slang within the Arab French population in Paris. She said she would help me get in contact with him, which will be very useful for my project – I am very interested in hearing what he found!

r-Notre%20Dame.jpg This morning, before my “work,” I did a bit of sightseeing. I went to Mass at Notre Dame, which was absolutely beautiful. I always think it’s strange, though, to go to Mass at big, famous cathedrals because with so many tourists walking in and out, I feel a little like I’m on display – even though I’m sure everyone is looking at the Cathedral and not the Mass attendees.

After Mass, I went on a whirlwind 3.5-hour guided tour of some of Paris’ major sights. It was really interesting for me to see La Place des Concords, the square where the guillotine was housed during the French Revolution. It was so strange to be standing where such a cruel operation had taken place – and all in the name of freedom!

Speaking of the worst of human nature, I found out that in the late 1800s, in the Grand Palais – one of Paris’ famous expedition halls – they once had an exhibition of humans in their “natural habitat.” It was a human zoo.

R-Louvre.jpg On a lighter note, I saw the “invisible pyramid” in the Louvre, and the Pont des Arts, which is home to dozens of padlocks left by lovers who fastened them there and together threw the lock into the Seine. Apparently, during Valentine’s Day, it was a popular place.

r-PontdesArts.jpg I also saw the building where the Academie Francaise is located. Staffed by “Les Immortels,” the Academie is responsible for preserving French as pristine as they can. That means ridding it of Anglicisms and slang – Verlan included.

Paradoxically, since the immortals are so concerned with preserving French as it “should” be, there is a huge divergence between dictionary French and actual spoken French. Street slang, Verlan included, is often seen as a protest against French elitism. Fight as they may, the immortals cannot reign in the popularity of Verlan among many Parisian youth. But, thank goodness they haven’t – otherwise we wouldn’t have Verlan as a window into how language operates.

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