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DestiwtDorlwTwistedWorld

ThecreativeuseoflanguageanditsrulesisverypopularinFrance,wherewordplayisanaturalpartofeverydaylanguage.

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Keuf,meuf,keum:whatsoundslikenonsenseforFrenchlearnersiscommoneverydayspeechfornativespeakerswordswithtwistedsyllables.TheFrenchlovelanguagegameslikethis,knowsProfessorElmarEggert.TheexpertinRomancelanguageshasinvestigatedyouthandcolloquiallanguageinFrance.ThedirectoroftheInstituteofRomanceStudiesatKielUniversityisparticularlyimpressedwithVerlan,aplayfullanguageinwhichlanguageboundariesarebrokenandnewwordscreatedartificially.ThisiswidespreadamongyoungpeopleinFrance.Thesyllablesofwell-knownwordsareinvertedandpartlysupplementedwithvowels,explainedEggert.Thus,leflic(thepoliceman)becomeslekeuf,lafemme(thewoman)becomeslameufandlemec(theguy)becomeslekeum.EventhenameVerlanisanexampleofVerlan:itcomesfromtheFrench'lenvers(theinverse,orback-to-front).

Elmar Eggert
JenniferRuske

ElmarEggert

Thisformofwordtwistinghasexistedfordecades.Previously,Verlanwasusedbycrookstoconfusethepolice.Fromtheendofthe1970s,theyoungpeopleintheParisiansuburbsdiscoveredthisformofwordplay,andusedittodistinguishthemselvesfromadults.However,thisonlyworkedforawhile.Inthemeantime,anumberofthetermshavebecomepartofthecolloquiallanguage,andareusedbymanypeople,frommusicianssuchastheBelgianrapperStromae(Alorsondanse),whosenameistheVerlanwordforMaestro,rightuptothehigherechelonsofsociety.Meanwhile,youngpeopleareconstantlyevolvingtheirgameofdifferentiation:bynow,existingcolloquially-usedVerlanwordsarebeingtwistedandshortenedfurtherforexample,beur(fromarabe,aFrenchpersonofArabicdescent)hasbecomereubeu.Thismakesunderstandingthespokenlanguageevenmoredifficultfornon-nativespeakers,continuedEggert.

OnereasonforenjoyingwordplayandlanguagegamesinallcirclesisthestrongawarenessoflanguageamongtheFrench,aswellasthedesiretousethelanguagecreativelyandbenditsrules,accordingtoEggert.Wordplayisusedinadvertising,findsitswayintotheliterature,andispartofeverydaylanguage.ForFrenchmenandwomen,apersonsespritandeducationarereflectedinhowtheyspeak,saidthelinguist.Thosewhotakeprideinthemselvesarenotvulgarinconversation,butuselanguagegameslikesentenceswithseverallevelsofmeaning.Intheassumptionthattheircounterpartwillunderstandtheintendedmeaning.Thisissupportedbythefactthatspokenandwrittenlanguageisverydifferent.Aformofjeuxdemots(playonwords)is,forexample,theinterchangingoflettersorsyllables.Insteadofaninelegantexpressionsuchasletroudemoncul(kissmyass!),language-consciousFrenchwillswitchtherfromoneplacetoanother,andusethesimilar-soundingbutnonsensicalexpressionletoutdemoncru.

Wordplayofthisnaturecanbefoundinmanyofthewell-knownsatiremagazinessuchasCharlieHebdoorLeCanardenchan.ItisthusnotsurprisingthataftertheattackontheeditorialstaffofCharlieHebdoinJanuary2015,thephraseJesuisCharlie(IamCharlie)wascoinedasacreativeexpressionofdeep,sharedanguish.Thatsentencespreadaroundtheworld,saidEggert.

EvenifthestatusandimportanceoflanguagegamesandwordplayareparticularlyhighinFrance,theycanalsobefoundinothercountries.ForexampleinBuenosAiresandthereonlyincertainareastheyoungpeopleslanguageVesre(fromreves,reverse)isspoken,saidtheRomanistEggert.ThisissimilartoVerlan,butunlikeinFrance,ithasnotyetbeenthoroughlyinvestigated.Livinglanguagecanneverbefullyexplored,explainedtheprofessor.Becausetheyoungconstantlyre-inventtheirownlanguage.InFrance,AnglicismsandArabismsareincreasinglybecomingpartoftheyouthlanguage,whichtheyareconstantlydevelopingfurtherbeyondtheboundariesofthelanguagerules.

Author:JenniferRuske