Friday, May 27, 2011

Licence Languages

English is the international language of aviation, and all air traffic controllers are supposed to be able to provide services in English, but some pilots can get away without speaking English. First off, they only need enough English to understand basic ATC transmissions, and as anyone who has ever waited for a controller to get a read back from a Korean crew can tell you, that may not be much. Secondly, if a crew is operating only in a subarea of the world where a non-English language is prevalent, they may be able to operate legally using only that language. For example, you may fly in the province of Québec using French only, or between former Eastern bloc countries with only Russian. Pilots who are not native speakers of English undergo an oral exam to qualify as "English-speaking" on their licence, and anyone can test to have French added, too.

I speak some French. I took five years in school, but it wasn't intensive. It sounds better than Stephen Harper's French, but I don't know aviation vocabulary, and I never learned the subjunctive because we learned new verb tenses year by year, with passé historique in grade eleven and then I didn't take French in grade twelve. I'm going to assume that they taught us things in an order roughly corresponding to its utility, and given that one mostly encounters passé historique on historical markers and in textbooks, I can probably live a long and happy life without ever mastering le subjunctif.

But if I'm going to do work for an operation based in a French-speaking area, I'm going to learn some basic airplane vocabulary and try to increase my command of French enough to get French competency listed on my licence. This is not so much because I want to talk to ATC in French, but so I can talk to mechanics in remote areas of Québec without charades, and simply to socialize with pilots who prefer French.

The vocabulary of today will be basic parts of the airplane, because it's a massive cheat. The French and English were working on airplanes at the same time as the Wright brothers, and innovations and terminology went across the channel and across the Atlantic. Thus we have:

le fuselage - fuselage (main body of the airplane)
l'aileron (m) - aileron (wing trailing edge hinged surface used to control roll)
l'empennage (m) - empennage (tail section of the airplane)
le longeron - longeron (wing spar)
le canard - canard (horizontal stabilizer forward of wing)
l'aile (f) - wing (aileron is a diminutive form of this word)
le train d'atterrissage - landing gear (as in terre, land)
l'hélice (f) - propeller (think 'helix')
le volet - flap (maybe related to voler, to fly?)
le stabilisateur - horizontal stabilizer
la dérive - vertical stabilizer
le gouvernail de direction - rudder

I've taken all these from figure 1 on the first page of Entre Ciel et Terre. Interesting to me is the fact that the gender of the nouns, necessary for using each word correctly in sentences, is not included in the figure. I had to search the text to see which articles were used, or look up the words elsewhere. Obviously a word like aile would be familiar to anyone who spoke French well enough to be using this textbook, and volet is a word with a non-technical meaning that, like English flap, applies to anything that hinges off a main part, but there must be some words on the list that would be new to a new student of aviation. Would they just use their instincts to determine the gender? There are some forms that imply a certain noun gender, but even a native speaker can't predict that with perfect accuracy.

French speaking readers are encouraged to add or correct anything here, and to leave comments on the blog in French, for me to puzzle out, even if you have to use use le subjunctif. And while we're on language, a reader wanted to know how you all pronounce the English words inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular. Say where you learned English, and if it's your first language.


david said...

I had a similar post four years ago, where you commented on your love of the word "amerrissage":

coreydotcom said...

Did all of my schooling in French except for university and have never heard of the "passé historique". Maybe the passé simple? But no one uses that, EVER, when speaking in French. Passé composé? That's like je suis allé tu es allé il est allé bla bla bla.... very common!

Also without knowing anything about the word used in that context, dérive sounds masculine to me. Le dérive just sounds weird. La dérive sounds better but then again when I think of "dérive" to me it's like drifting away at see... maybe le dériveur? who knows, I'm just thinking out loud.

I think most non-native speakers have a hard time with the masculine/feminine of nouns and that's where us native speakers know automatically when someone is not a native speaker. Then the non-native speaker almost invariably asks for a trick on how to know when it is masculine or feminine and the answer is : "you just know".

Then there are words we don't even know what their genre is. For example, I was with 5 native speakers last week. All of us born and raised in Quebec. We were debating the genre of "bus". Yeah, like a bus in english. 3 of us live in Montreal. We say "le bus" with "bus" being pronounced like in english. The 2 from the south shore of montreal say "la bus" with "bus" being prounced like you would picture a parisian. So we fought about it for 15 mins with the conclusion being that it's a regional thing and we're both right.

Sorry for the rant, but I love French. a lot.

Cedarglen said...

You have made another wonderful post and you have had your fun. I also think that you are yanking my (and other's) chains. Are you going to fly for Seagull, or has your chain been yanked one too many times as well? What gives???

Aviatrix said...

coreydotcom: The passé historique was said to be used only in history textbooks and on historic plaques "on this site in 1683" sort of thing. It may have been a name they made up for passé simple to help anglophones understand, and not a real name. We didn't have to write in it, just understand it. I seem to recall seeing fut a lot. I remember reading a passages about trench warfare and learning the word mitrailleurs. For some reason my friend and I thought it was hilarious to coin the word mitrailleuses to represent female machine gunners, and then mitraillobots for robotic ones. You are right that inherent noun gender is an eternal puzzle for non-native speakers.

I knew that for French there wasn't a particular trick, with a few exceptions of endings that are generally one gender or the other, but I had thought that you just learned the gender automatically with the word, and that a francophone would have to be told the gender of a never-before-encountered word. But you just know? If I made up a word that sounded like a French word but wasn't, would francophones generally agree on whether it should be feminine or masculine?

Cedarglen: I considered leaving you all in suspense, but I'm really not that mean. I think if you read the Seagull versus Eagle post again, my decision is there. I'm not trying to concela nything, just dosing it all with a healthy helping of inshallah. Time only will reveal what actually happens. Seven or eight times bitten, eternally shy, eh?

david said...

@coreydotcom - "un omnibus" -> "un autobus" -> "un bus".

It's a strange word, because "omnibus" is a Latin dative-plural form, meaning "for everyone," and it could originally be masculine or feminine. The "-us" ending probably convinced people it was masculine, though, even though the original term was "la voiture omnibus".

Aviatrix said...

David: I forgot about that post, thanks. Definitely useful vocabulary. I was recently wondering about the translation of FBO myself, especially as English Canadians are also more likely to say "the shell" or "the esso." It makes me laugh to realize it. FBO is more American, I guess because they have more full service places that are neither.

Corey: So if you're reading terrible French, like Twitter or bulletin board postings by native speakers, they won't mix up their le and la? That kind of butchery is reserved exclusively for learners?

david said...

In Quebec outside of CYUL and CYQB, I think it's more likely to be "le Pétro-T" -- at least, that's where I always end up buying expensive avgas on my Hope Air flights.

coreydotcom said...

@ david: yeah but don't tell people who say "la bus" that they're wrong, although I'm on your side. They do concede that un autobus is masculine but "la bus" is still right to them. Makes sense?

@ Aviatrix(1): yeah things like "fut" are rarely said. We all understand it, just never hear it. You know what? If you came up to me and told me you were a "mitrailleuse" I would have totally understood + I would of thought that's how you say it lol. Also, yeah, generally I just know if a word is masculine or feminine even if I didn't know what the word meant. I don't have an example, but yeah. Further, yes, if you invent a word, we will assign it a sex. And we'll be right (or so we think)

@ Aviatrix (2): yeah on facebook french or whatever, we generally never make mistakes on the sex. When a mistake like that is made it spells "anglophone". I can't say as much about spelling and grammar but, hey we're not perfect.

Quoted word for word recent conversation on facebook:

Girl 1 : Allo Cocoooo! La tu vas arreter de boire de la biere pis faire quelque chose dinstructif de ton temps, parce que tas ben du chemin a faire pour topper le fait que je ball en Grece. :)
Cest tjs toi qui vient me chercher lundi? Si oui, amene Buffy, mercii.
Love youuu xxx

Brother: Jcrois que jtaccote facilement jpart pour Vegas demain .......difficile a battre a matiere de baller ;)

Friend: vegas hookers > greek boys. brother win

Brother: thanks man..jsavais ou etait tes priorités dans vie !

So yeah, horrible spelling but everything in the "genre" department sounds good to my quebecois ears

A Squared said...

Longeron doesn't mean wing spar in English usage. Perhaps it does in French, I have no idea, but here Longeron means a longitudinal stringer, usually in the fuselage, but it could be in the wing.

Anonymous said...

And since you're building an airplane in French, don't forget to check the weather... FUme, BRume and more...

Aviatrix said...

A Squared: Could be, I suppose. I'm going off a labelled diagram in the French version of the Canadian ground school textbook.

Ward said...

I grew up in Vancouver and we learned inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular, with the "yoo" sound: jug-yoo-ler, sir-cyoo-ler. Inaugural is a bit different, I expect it to be more of a "yer" sound: in-aug-yer-al. But there's usually a hint of "yoo", i.e. in-aug-yooer-al.

Peter said...

Sometimes I wish I'd studied French in high school instead of Spanish. I have no use for Spanish, but at least I could cook with French. (Even Latin would have at least been a bit more educational.)

I grew up in Kentucky, raised by New Jersey parents who don't have much of a New Jersey accent, and I say in-AHW-grul, JUG-yuh-lr, rek-TANG-yuh-lr, and SIR-kyuh-lr.

Matthew Flaschen said...

Of course, the first two aren't that common, so I could be wrong about my own "natural" pronunciation:

in-OGG (rhymes with hog)-yer-uhl




ler and yer rhyme with her. The capitalized syllable is stressed.

I'm a native speaker born and raised in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.

Anonymous said...

"For example, you may fly in the province of Québec using French only, or between former Eastern bloc countries with only Russian."

Never try to fly in former Eastern bloc countries with Russian RT. Few can understand and even less can speak Russian. At least in Central Europe. I don't know about Baltic states.

Russian is a long forgotten language here. People below 30 don't know a word, over 40 forgot everything and over 50 have idological reasons not to speak. The controllers speak English here. You will have to wait loooong time to get response in Russian. Longer than your endurance for sure.

Reading your blog more than a year, I enjoy your texts. Thank you and good luck with new job.

Happy landings.

sean said...

Born and bred in Melbourne, Australia:
inaugural - in-AWE-g you-ral (alhtough I've heard in-AWE-g-ral a bit)
jugular - JUG-you-laa
rectangular - rec-TANG-you-la
circular - CIRC-you-la

Would be really helpful if I could use IPA symbols, but I just can't master them.

Richard said...

But, "le subjonctif" (note spelling!) is your best friend ever in Francophonie! Almost all francophones pass their time finding fault with foreigners' french. Just learn to use, correctly, the subjunctive, in a couple of cases, and they will be vastly impressed, stop finding fault with your french, and actually listen to what you are saying!

"Afin qu'il le fasse...." Or, of course, "Soyez les bienvenus".

Give it a whirl, do!

Anonymous said...

With some help from Wikipedia, I think my pronunciations are:


English is my first language and I learned it in the south of England. My accent is roughly RP, having been apparently learned from Radio 4.

I'm still dithering a little over whether the sound I make is [jʊ̈] or [jə], not helped by being in a shared office where pronouncing them out loud would get odd looks. I think my tongue position varies between the last two syllables of each word, so [jʊ̈] wins.

[ ʊ̈ is a Near-close central rounded vowel, in case the combining characters mess up ]

Philippe said...

We really do use longeron for wing spar. A wing rib is a nervure d'aile. The funniest one for me for which I cannot guess the etymological origin would be the term for wing tip, which is "saumon d'aile" - literally the wing salmon. Even more puzzling since I believe there are few, if any, salmons in France. Lots of tasty ones in Quebec though.

Ed said...

Years ago I was in a technical conversation in a large oil company in the Hague which was mostly in English (of course) but with occasional asides in Dutch which I only understood a few words of - just enough to cause me to ask how they knew the gender of a gas-liquid chromatograph. The Dutch all laughed and said "you just know".

Cedarglen said...

I'm still LMAO, with you, not at you. As one who is limited to modest native English as a modest bit of 'Street German' I respect those who can do French wellenough to be tolerated by the native users. If you work for the Francophile folks, the rest of the termonology will come in short order. I would not worry about it. If you try, even the often nasty Frenchies will help you. God, how I hope this works out for you... You need to fly! -C.

Cedarglen said...

And I still cannot type. Make that 'and' a bit of German and a few other corrections. Fly, Girl. FLY!!! - C.

Amanda said...

"inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular"

OK, I'll bite. I'm a native US English speaker, grew up near Wash DC, now in Ohio:
in-AWG-yur-al, JUG-ya-ler, reck-TANG-yool-ur, SUR-kyoo-lur

pat said...

Hi Aviatrix,
We say "La dérive". It's feminine Don't ask why, that's it, that's all ;-)

I've never heard the term "passé historique" either.

"Volet" is not related to "voler" at all. It's also used for "window shutter".
a Volet in french is basically a shutter.

"Volet de capot" is "cowling flap" (not sure if the translation. it's the flap in front of the oil radiator or engine cylinder).

Aviatrix said...

la dérive corrected to the correct gender.

volet de capot is probably properly 'cowling flap' in English. Mostly one says "cowl flap" or just "cowls" as a checklist item. And you don't need to say "cowling" very many times before it doesn't seem like a word anymore.

Sarah said...

" inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular"

Native US English speaker, childhood ( have not grown up yet ) in the upper midwest:

in-OGG-yural, JUG-yu-lar, reck-TANG-yu-lar, and SIR-kew-lar.

I hope we see the conclusions of this project.

Language is fun to talk about, but I'm going to miss talking about airplanes. C'est la vie.

Carmi said...

I don't speak any useful French (maxed out at 120 words or so), but I do speak a different language that has genders. It's not that you just know, it's that you've been corrected tens of thousands of times growing up, and now you've got it.
My best illustration in English is the choice of words that signify location. For example, you could be in the gallery at Trafalgar square, on the veranda, sipping tea.
How do you know if you should be in Quebec or at Quebec? You just know.
The bonus for this example is that it works in French too, so your new friends will understand.