Thursday, September 18, 2008

Around Town: The r's have it


By Anita Susan Brenner

It began as an innocent adventure. When we woke up one day, the idea was with us. It drank in our morning coffee, sweet and steaming in the dappled sunlight. It rode with us to work where It slept, hidden amid the documents on our desks. By the end of the day, it woke up and followed us home.

The idea was there when we fell asleep at night and awoke with us each the morning. Finally, the idea began to take on form and substance. It began to demand our full attention. Our consideration. Our commitment. And then, last week, we found ourselves unable to squelch it any longer.

The idea? It was this: to learn to speak French.

My husband and I are partners in this new adventure.

The idea seems silly at times. They say that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. As we get older, our memories go rusty on us. Given this, we have proceeded with some trepidation. How can we learn new names for objects, people and places when the gray matter wants to go south?

Next, there was the problem of the method. Should we take a class? (No! Too much time, plus the Dodgers might go into the playoffs.) Should we buy a software program. (No! Too expensive. What if we quit in the middle? We should use the money for Dodger tickets.) Should we hire a tutor? (Ditto. All of the above.)

We settled on a simple Berlitz CD. This week, we began to listen to it in the car.

Len learned to say, Je ne suis pas japonais and I followed with Elle n’est pas suisse.

We learned to ask for quatre croissants and a room avec un bain.

But then, we hit a roadblock. The problem is with the letter “r”. In Spanish, the “r” is trilled. In Hebrew, the “r” has a voiced uvular fricative, a sound that is hard to describe and harder to say. In English, there are many variations. Some people say the “r” as if it were “uh.” In French, the letter “r” has this mildly guttural sound.

All of this got me thinking about the meaning of life. Why is “r” a tough letter in all these languages. What is its history? Where did it come from?

According to Wikipedia, the ever changing user-created online encyclopedia, the letter “r” is one of the oldest letters. It derives from the Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘head’, pronounced t-p in Egyptian, but it was used for /r/ by Semites because in their language, the word for ‘head’ was Rêif $Capital { return "Š" } else { return "š" } (also the name of the letter). It developed into...[the] Latin R.Right.

Or as they say in France (and Madagascar), Superbe!


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a La Cañada resident and a trial attorney in private practice in Pasadena.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


My name is Steph and I'm a community manager with! Language learning site that connects students with teachers via live video learning. Before I started to help eduFire out with marketing efforts, I was using the site to learn Italian. I alos have purchased Rosseta Stone and found that this was a great combination when complimented by my course lessons on eduFire. I'm getting close to fluency and I think these two resources can be credited for my success. Just wanted to stop by and mention this resource to you. Good luck to you and your husband with your French studies