There is essentially nothing that I do in France that doesn’t involve an encounter with Zipf’s Law. One thing that I find quite useful here in France is to go to talks, conferences, and what are called journées–literally “days,” but in practice, a day-long mini-conference on some subject or another. It’s a good way to learn the technical vocabulary of my field in French, and also to have casual conversations with my peers about it. The other day, I went to a journée on natural language processing (what I do for a living) and artificial intelligence.
As far as I can tell, French researchers (at least in my field) primarily publish in English. My field is much more oriented around conference papers than around journal papers–our conferences are peer-reviewed and often quite competitive, while our journals are more oriented towards essentially archival coverage of long-term research projects. So, the latest and greatest research shows up in conferences, not journals. The conference papers are published, and they’re cited quite a bit more than journal articles. Although my French colleagues do primarily publish in English, there are also French conferences and journals in my field. The French conferences and journals ask for papers written in French from Francophones, but allow non-Francophone scientists to submit work in English. Being able to read some French has opened up quite a bit of stuff to me that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to read (and cite). I especially enjoy some of the work in French on lexical semantics; it isn’t necessarily any different in terms of topics, approaches, or the flavor of the results, but some of it is written so much more clearly than similar stuff that I’ve read in English.
One thing that still surprises me about French conferences is that during the question-and-answer period after a talk, the speaker and members of the audience address each other as tu, using the informal pronoun. You can read more about this phenomenon of French conference participation here, along with some speculations about where it comes from.
For official purposes, the French system often differentiates between French conferences and what the paperwork refers to as “international” conferences, which in practice seems to mean any conference outside of France. (That’s not obvious–for example, a conference in Germany, attended primarily by a local audience, apparently would count the same as a conference like the Association for Computational Linguistics annual meeting, which is attended by people from all over the world. I suppose that evidence of an international reputation is, indeed, supplied by presentation of your work anywhere outside of your home country.)
Just following the schedule gave me trouble, which doesn’t exactly make me feel bright. Here are some really basic words that I came across in the course of the day:
- la pause-café: this is what WordReference.com gives as the translation of “coffee break.”
- plein écran: full screen.