This past week I attended a French conference. Almost all of the talks were in French, which means that I spent most of the week hurriedly scribbling words in my notebook to look up later. From a linguistic perspective, the most surprising thing to me was that during the questions-and-answers after a talk, people in the audience addressed the speaker with the informal pronoun tu, and the speaker addressed people in the audience with the informal pronoun tu, as well. Like many languages, French has formal and informal forms of the word you. Tu is the informal form of the word, and vous is the formal form of the word. (Some languages also have plural formal and informal forms of the word you. However, in French, both of those are vous (the same as the singular formal form)). You will hear lots of allegedly simple explanations of when to use each one of these, but in practice, it is far more complicated, and I often goof. Part of the reason that I love my French tutor back home is that the first two words that she taught me were the verbs tutoyer, meaning “to address someone as tu,” and vouvoyer, meaning “to address someone as vous;” these have turned out to be really useful, because often the first thing that someone who I know professionally says to me is “we can tutoyer.”
I asked some native speakers why vous isn’t used in this (pretty) formal situation, i.e. a presentation at an academic conference. Answers that I got were that everybody at the conference knows everyone else, and it’s weird to call someone that you know tu, and that besides, it’s not that large of a conference, actually.
Other than that particular linguistic observation, I mostly marveled at my own ineptitude. Why is it that I can read books about lexical semantics in French, but the only spoken things that I understood one particular day were J’ai trop mangé (“I ate too much,” said by someone a couple of seats over from me after lunch), and on t’entend pas (“we can’t hear you”–said by an attendee to a soft-spoken speaker–note the informal t’ (a shorter form that occurs before a vowel), rather than the formal on vous entend pas). If it weren’t for the PowerPoint slides, I would be lost all day…
In light of the embarrassment of riches as related to words that I didn’t know over the course of the past week, I’m just going to focus on verbs today:
- repérer: lots of meanings related to noticing, spotting, or finding things. In my field, it shows up in the related nominal form repérage d’entités nommées, which we express as “named entity recognition” in English.
- nettoyer: to clean or, figuratively, to clean out. You might need to nettoyer the data from a web page.
- constater: to note, notice, or observe; to record or certify. Nous avons évalué l’ensemble de ces résultats et nous constatons une amélioration sur l’acquisition de paraphrases sous-phrastiques. “We have evaluated the set of these results, and we note an improvement in the acquisition of sub-phrasal paraphrases.” Bouamor, Max, and Vilnat, Combinaison d’informations pour l’alignement monolingue.
- attraper: various meanings having to do with grabbing hold of or catching something. This came up in the context of a discussion of a French convention that I’m not sure I understand, by which students can choose to skip an exam and take a make-up. Apparently this happens often at the university level, if I understood correctly. I also heard réattrapage in the same context.
- prendre en compte: to take into account, but also to take on board. Elle permet aussi de prendre en compte les positions relatives du nom et de l’adjectif (postposition ou antéposition) dans le calcul du sens. “It also allows taking into account the relative positions of the noun and the adjective (postposition or preposition) in the calculation of the meaning.” Venant (2007). Utiliser des classes de sélection distributionnelle pour désambiguïser les adjectifs.
- engendrer: to cause, produce, or create; to lead to or bring about; to engender. There are also some meanings related to procreation. STAG a été utilisé avec succès dans une grammaire anglaise qui permet d’engendrer simultanément les analyses syntaxique et sémantique d’une phrase… “STAG has been used successfully in an English grammar, which permits producing syntactic and semantic analyses of a sentence simultaneously.” Danlos, STAG: un formalisme pour le discours basé sur les TAG synchrones. (Don’t quote my translation of the relative clause in this one–I’m not sure that I got it right.)
- disposer de: to have available, or to have at your disposal; to manage, run, or order. (There are other meanings if you don’t have the preposition, as well as reflexives.) Ce dont on a le plus besoin en TAL, c’est de disposer de lexiques à large couverture… “What we need the most in [natural language processing] is to have available large-coverage lexicons…” Maurel and Tran, Prolexbase: Un lexique syntaxique et sémantique de noms propres.
- se démarquer: to distinguish yourself, differentiate yourself, distance yourself, stand out from; in sports, to free yourself or to get free. (Very different non-reflexive senses, as well.) Un accent peut être stigmatisé, dévalorisé et générateur de ségrégation, ou au contraire revendiqué pour affirmer son identité, sa loyauté, son intégration à une communauté et se démarquer d’un autre groupe… “An accent can be stigmatized, deprecated, and a factor of segregation, and quite the opposite, claimed [remember that we saw this word used in a news story that talked about ISIS claiming credit for a terrorist attack] to affirm one’s identity, one’s loyalty, one’s integration into a community, and to differentiate oneself from some other group…” de Mareüil, Vieru-Dimulescu, and Adda-Decker, Accents étrangers et régionaux en français.
- remarquer:to note or see; to notice; also to relabel or remark. A l’aide de cette courbe, nous pouvons remarquer que globalement, au dessus de 2000 mots, l’information mutuelle des mots se “stabilise”… “With the aid of this curve, we can see that globally, above 2,000 words, the mutual information of the words “stabilizes…” Brun, Smaili, and Haton, WSIM: une méthode de détection de thème fondée sur la similarité entre mots. A few related expressions:
- faire remarquer: to make your point
- faire remarquer qqch à qqn: to point something out to someone
- se faire remarquer: to stand out, to get yourself noticed
- déclencher: to trigger, to cause, or to set something off. In the conference, it was used in the sense of “triggering” the execution of a rule. During the time of the conference, a couple of guys attacked an emergency vehicle in southern France, and the verb declencher was used to describe the action of the police initiating a wide search for the miscreants. Here’s an example from Twitter, just because I’m getting tired of typing citations from journal articles. It means “Dannyl Roof has admitted that he wanted to set off a race war:”
- rapprocher: lots of meanings having to do with bringing something closer to you. (In the reflexive, it’s approaching something.) …a été effectuée en s’efforçant de rapprocher les jeux d’étiquettes de ces deux corpus… “…has been carried out while endeavoring to bring together the tag sets of these two corpora…” Falaise, Intégration du corpus des actes de TALN à la plateforme ScienQuest.
- ajouter: to add or (in computing) append. …il est utile d’ajouter à l’annotation… Bonfante, Guillaume, Morey, and Perrier, Enrichissement de structures en dépendances par réécriture de graphes.
That’s an awful lot of words! And, that’s just some of the verbs–imagine how many nouns there were, too… If you don’t recognize the cultural reference in the title to this blog: it comes from an old musical number called Tea for Two. You can hear Doris Day sing it while wearing a dress with sparkly hems here. If memory serves, the lyrics include Tea for two, and two for tea, me for you, and you for me…