Your lexicon–the words that you know, and what you know about them–is unlike every other part of your knowledge of your native language in that it continues to grow over the course of your entire life. By the time you’re a young child you know pretty much everything that you’re going to know about your language’s phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax. Your lexicon, though–that continues to grow throughout your life.
Now imagine someone who tries to learn a second language as an adult. Like everyone else who speaks that language, you’re going to be learning new words until you die. But, that’s going to be a lot more obvious to you than it is to people who speak it natively, because unlike them, you didn’t spend your entire youth learning the vocabulary of that language–start studying a language in your 50s, and you are literally 50 years behind a native speaker when it comes to learning the lexicon of the language in question.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that you don’t have to work very hard to find words that you don’t know: Zipf’s Law, which describes the fact that a small number of words of a language are very, very common, while the rest occur only very rarely–but do occur–ensures that you will be running across new words just going about your daily life.
Living in France, I have no difficulty whatsoever running into 10 words that I don’t know every single day. Ads on the metro, the services written on a window installer’s truck, the name of a street that I walk by on the way to the lab–that’s all it takes. Living in the US, it’s a bit harder, but it’s totally doable–listening to the radio, watching something on YouTube, or listening to a book on tape will do it. 10 words a day, every day (except the month of December, which I spend reviewing the words that I learned from January to November), and mine de rien, you have a vocabulary of thousands of words.
And yet: as Zipf’s Law would suggest, I still have no problem whatsoever finding 10 new words a day to learn. Case in point: today I wanted to figure out what the symbol ≠ means in the grammar book that I’m working through at the moment (Grammaire progressive du français : niveau perfectionnement, B2 – C2, by Maïa Grégoire and Alina Kostucki). So, I went to the “front matter” of the book–the table of contents and stuff like that. This involved reading the Introduction, where I ran across the following:
WordReference.com found me most of the relevant definitions, and yet: dictionaries being the beautiful but imperfect things that they are (like, say, my cat), it did let me down for a couple words: relever, and mécanisation. To wit:
….même avec un vocabulaire riche et une bonne connaissance de la grammaire, les résultats atteints son souvent entravés par la persistance de fautes qui ont traversé les différents niveaux d’apprentissage. Bon nombre de ces difficultés tiennent à des interférences avec la langue d’origine et aucune grammaire ” générale ” ne peut prétendre en rendre compte. D’autres, en revanche, relèvent de particularités de de la langue française, mal perçues par les étudiants, et que nous tentons d’exposer de la façon la plus claire possible.
My best guess for an English-language equivalent of relever de would be “to arise from.” Here are some examples of to arise from from Word Sketch, purveyor of fine linguistic corpora and the tools for searching them:
- The lectures focus on topics arising from research in science and technology.
- The investigation arose from a referral from both Houses of the NSW Parliament. (Arise is an irregular verb, with the past tense form arose.)
- He blames Jews for the ills arising from the industrial revolution, e.g., class divisions and hatred.
- Leukaemias are devastating diseases of the haemopoietic system that arise from aberrant stem or progenitor cells. (Leukaemia and haemopoietic are the British English spellings of leukemia and hemopoietic.)
But: looking at WordReference, I don’t see to arise from as a possible translation of relever de, or vice versa. Phil d’Ange?
The other problem word: la mécanisation. The only translation of this word in Word Reference is…”mechanization”! What that means: I can only guess (see above about how your lexicon grows over the course of your entire life), and none of my guesses would make sense in this context. Mechanized infantry is infantry equipped with armored vehicles to move itself around, and mechanized artillery is artillery equipped with its own transport system, but oral mechanization, as in the sample from my book? I haven’t the faintest clew. (That’s “clue,” for us Americans–something about the faintest clew just demands that you spell it like a Brit.)
À la partie théorique, située sur la page de gauche, correspond, sur la page de droite, une présentation en contexte (parfois illustrée) des points de grammaire, et une série d’exercices de réemploi : exercices à trous, transformations, mécanisation orale, écrit.
Native speakers: can you show an anglophone some love? (To show someone some love means to help them, to do something nice for them, to give them something. Super-slangy.)
Finally, here is a gratuitous picture of a fat old bald guy and his cat Keiko. As you can tell from the amount of light in the dwelling, the photo was taken in America, not in wintertime Paris. The teddy bear on the floor is the property of my cat, and I suggest that you not touch it.