Discuss and learn French: French vocabulary, French grammar, French culture etc.
An interesting observation.
I have just tested myself, with the aid of a (native French) friend, and I do indeed make a very slight difference between -ai and -ais. This raises another question, which is getting a long way from this thread, about people who have been brought up bilingually, but who have spent vitually all their lives, apart from holidays - even extended ones - in the country of one of the languages and therefore miss the unconscious updating (vocabulary, idioms, pronunciation, syntax) in the other language which occurs when you are in daily contact with it. My relatives always tell me that I speak very correct French (and I can generally get away with being thought French in company), but I think they mean that my French is too formal or old-fashioned. Can we follow this up on another thread?
People systematically make, and systematically pick up on, all kinds of subtle phonetic cues. And some of these may indeed be specific to particular dialects.
It just turns out that in the specific case of "prendrai" vs "prendrais", I'm not aware of evidence for such a (systematic, reliable, naturally made without the intervention of dictation instruction or conscious discussion of the issue) difference.
On the contrary, native speakers frequently confuse the two spellings "-ai" vs "-ais", and in modern dictation, the two forms tend to be differentiated by spelling out the ending (e.g. "Je prendrais, A-I-S").
Sorry, just to be clear -- I'm not accusing specifically your grandmother of making this up. It was once common practice in the school "dictée" exercise. But as far as I'm aware it was simply an invented convention for that exercise-- there's little evidence that speakers would generally otherwise have made that distinction naturally.
(And even if they once did, that has no bearing whatsoever on whether they do or "should" now.)
I don't think I suggested that anyone "should" make a distinction. Just that some people do. (That's why I put "correct" in quotes.)
Is it permissible on this forum to express a view different from that of the moderator?
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you suggested the "should". The view of your grandmother that you are sharing with us is a very valuable and welcome contribution. As an educator, I'm just trying to present an alternative point of view and to try and make sure that readers are explicitly aware that the actual state of the language isn't misrepresented.
But I repeat: all views are welcome. Please consider my responses to be an attempt to bring knowledge/contributions to the debate, not "interventions of the moderator".
"The view of your grandmother that you are sharing with us is a very valuable and welcome contribution"
I'll second that ! It is really fascinating to hear little anecdotes like that of Jean Dervin's grandmother.
Just one more contribution, and then I'll shut up.
It is possible that the school "dictée" 100 years ago actually reflected common usage (albeit with a bit of exaggeration), rather than the "dictée" giving rise to an artificial pronunciation.
Re the possibility of the "dictée" rule reflecting common usage 100 years ago (sorry for replying here -- the Reply button below appears not to be appearing): it's actually not clear at all that this is the case.
It's not exactly clear when free variation between the open/close 'e' vowels in certain positions (as is the case today) emerged-- it may have been as early as when final consonants stopped generally being pronounced. Remember that a general conditioning factor as to which vowel you get is whether it occurs in an open vs closed syllable, so the dropping of final consonants, firmly established by the 1700s and which surely began to occur a good century earlier at least, changed a large number of closed syllables into open syllables. So the 'confusion' of e.g. "ferai" vs "ferais" may have essentially occurred for as long as these forms existed as such.
On the other hand, there are accounts in the 1800s of 'ferai' vs 'ferais' being differentiated by having a close/open vowel. That could be an indication that, even after final consonants were dropped, the vowel quality difference remained in "ferai" vs "ferais" etc. But such accounts generally occur in pronunciation/public speaking manuals, so it's not clear how descriptive they are actually being.
One slightly puzzling thing is that the issue doesn't seem to be raised as being significant at the time when the -ois spelling was replaced with -ais (in the early 1800s and adopted by the Académie in 1835, though the pronunciation change it represented was over a century old by that stage). You would have thought that as there was a focus on the spelling of these verb endings, more commentary about the potential confusion or lack of confusion between -ais and -ai would have arisen, but I've seen little if any discussion of the issue from the time.
*But*... What is absolutely clear is that by the end of the 1800s, these vowels were in free variation for many speakers. Lesaint, in his "Traité complet de la prononciation française" (1890), writes, for example: "Combien donc une oreille délicate doit-elle être choquée d'entendre prononcer avec le son fermé les mots [...] 'il est', 'il serait', 'du lait'...". In other words, there was a preconception among the 'delicate-eared' that they wished for these vowels to have a certain distribution, including distinguishing the future vs conditional, but reality clearly begged to differ. So, I think we can be clear that what your grandmother was taught was prescriptive convention, not a general pattern in pronunciation of the time.
Hi all (Hej Gustaf!), I've just discovered you while looking for some information for a student of mine...!!
I realise I have come to this discuss rather late, but in amongst all of this you seem to be forgetting dialects? Each language has regional variations each with their own vowel sounds - compare London to Bradford, Stockholm to Ystad, Hamburg to Munich...etc etc etc. Each country does have its equivalent to the Queen's English, or "Hochdeutsch", all which make variations to the way words are pronounced. that's my two pen'orth anyway!
Just adding that I found something worthy of mentioning, from about.com:
However, you can't say "si vous voudriez" to mean "if you would like," because the French conditional can never be used after si.
Beware of statements like this. It's not that the French conditional is never used after si, though it's probably true that's it's often less usual in French that it is to use "would" in English. But it's not absolutely impossible to say e.g.:
Veuillez préciser si vous souhaiteriez recevoir plus de renseignements.
The notion that it can "never" be used seems to have come about because of a notion called the "sequence of tenses" (itself a bit of a nonsense) which supposedly says that only certain combinations of tenses occur in the main clause vs subordinate clause. Most grammar books bang on about it at some stage. Again, the only problem being that strictly speaking it's not actually true...