Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dangerous liasons

I recently bought some facial cleanser, actually cleansing milk, if you want the precise term. On the bottle was written

Visage et Yeux (Face and Eyes)

in case I had any doubts as to which body parts I was supposed to use it on.

Eye is a funny word in French. The singular is oeil and I can't even describe how to pronounce it and I don't want to bore anyone with phonetic symbols. Anyway, it's a funky word. Un oeil, l'oeil, le troisième oeil...

The plural is yeux. I know. Ridiculous. Completely illogical. That one is pronounced with an initial y as in yeah sound followed by a vowel we don't have in English. The x, like many final consonants in French, is silent. Because y is a y, if it is preceded by a consonant, that consonant is pronounced, even if it's usually silent. Bear with me.

For example, les yeux. The s in les is only pronounced if the following word begins with a vowel or a y or an unaspirated h. Don't ask. Anyway, yeux is nearly always used with an article in front of it. Des yeux or les yeux, or deux yeux bleus. Which means that it is always preceded by a [z] sound, because final s and x are both pronounced as [z] in cases like this. This process is called liason.

So, when I read the bottle, over and over, I couldn't imagine how in the heck to say it correctly. You can't put the [z] in just gratuitously, there's no article in sight. But you can't leave it out because it just sounds so strange. And you certainly can't liase the [t] because that sounds even stranger.

I asked a few native French speakers. Without leading them. I wrote down the phrase and asked how they would pronounce it. No one could give me a straight answer. None of them wanted to add the [z] because there was no article and no one wanted to pronounce without because it 'hurt their ears'. (Seriously, two people said that.)

Which made me wonder if the [z] hasn't become a part of the word yeux now. A silent partner, if you will. It's always there, even when there is no evidence of it's being there, other than the feeling of offness.

Who's your silent partner?


beth said...

I'm so confused! Too complex for my English speaking mind.

Lorraine said...

Steve Martin.

charlie said...

Never had a silent partner which, I suppose, is what makes liazzzzonzzz so dangerous!

charlie said...

add an 'i' to that plse. Otherwise 'i' is silent, which is perhaps how it ought to be :o)

Eric said...

Could this be the French Marketing equivelant of Mapul or Xmas?

Nicole said...

Beth - I don't believe you, but I'm sorry anyway.

Lorraine - I think I've seen his fetching close to your right shoulder in every photo I've ever seen of you.

Charlie - It doesn't have to be that kind of silent partner. It could be your lucky star.

Eric - Husband and I have long agreed, the French are very good at inventing and total crap at marketing.

Grish said...

Milky cleansing facial clenser in a silent bottle.

I realize that makes no sense but I couldn't think of anything thought provoking to say... hehe