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While studying French, I have found that many English words have found their way into French.  "Block" (city block), "iceberg" (iceberg), "stop" (stop sign), and "mél" (e-mail) are examples.  But the rules of exactly how to pronounce these words is confusing, and it is necessary to consult a dictionary many times.

Exactly what are the general rules of putting loan words into French, and how are words of foreign origin pronounced in French?  Do you pronounce the words as they are in their original language, or are they refitted into French pronunciations?

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In my experience when I have heard such words on the streets of Paris, the words are spoken as they are in the 'foreign' language--but more than often with a French accent.  So, 'faire le parking' sounds more like 'faire le parkeeng' and the 'stop' in 'stop sign' turns out a very terse 'stup'.  But this would be usual anywhere: here in New York people are always pronouncing 'croissant' as 'kwa-sante' (stress on the second syllable) when ordering their morning snack with their cawrfee.  Please note, that as a native New Yorker (un vrais newyorkais) I am not poking fun, just making an observation. 

Hi Terry --

As you have rightly observed, there's little guarantee per se of knowing exactly how loan words have come to be pronounced without either observing speakers' behaviour or consulting a dictionary.

In general, loan words are "fitted" to the sound system of French. So roughly speaking, the sounds of the original language (such as English) will be 'mapped' to the nearest (or near-ish) sounds in French. But that doesn't mean that there's a single way of performing such a mapping. And it wrongly assumes that the first people to coin or popularise the borrwing actually know or care how it is pronounced in the original language, both of which are often false assumptions.

You can come up with some generalities. For example, the occasional English suffix that is common enough in loanwords that it's almost become a morpheme of French (e.g. "-ing" and "-er") have a little bit of consistency.

But ultimately it's a bit arbitrary. Just as an example, consider the pronunciations of "Game Boy" and "Game Gear" in French (I pick them becuase they're loans from the 'modern era' and illustrate my point). In "Game Boy", speakers generally pronounce the "a" as a French "a" and they usually attempt to render the diphthong of "boy", as a (French, open) "o" sound followed by a (French) "i" sound. On the other hand, in "Game Gear", they generally pronounce the first 'a' as a (French, open) "e" sound, but don't attempt to diphthongise the vowel of "gear" (just rendering it as a French "i" sound). In addition, they pronounce the first 'g' 'correctly' as a hard "g" sound, but then pronounce the second 'g' 'incorrectly' as a soft "g" sound.

In other words, there's a rough attempt to map English letters to French sounds, but no really strong attempt to 'get it as close as possible to the English'. Nor is there much of an attempt to keep things consistent even between loan words within the same field (video gaming) borrowed at roughly the same time.

There is also variation among speakers. For example, the word "bowling" is regularly pronounced either "bou-ling" (i.e. a French "ou" sound as in "vous") or "bo-ling". The second is 'closer' to the English, so you might think that of the two, that would be the more common pronunciation. But it turns out that the former appears to be more common. Is there any logic behind this? Would you have been able to predict it? Not that I can see...

I'll add to this the fact that French speaking people might very well be unaware that words they use in their everyday life come from English. On the other hand, they might be aware of it, think it's sophisticated, and add the "-ing" Neil was talking about to... well, about anything (le parking (car park), faire du footing (to go for a jog)). I've also heard the very funny "bon week", which is meant as an abbreviation of "bon weekend"... and end up wishing something completely different.

To go back to the topic at hand, the only thing you can almost be sure about French pronunciation of English words is that, if there's an "r" in it, it will be spoken as a French /R/.


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