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Is the following scenario plausible?

French speaker: What's wrong?
English speaker: L'amour
French speaker:I'm so sorry for your loss

The idea being that the English speaker meant to say 'love', but instead said 'death' due to the vowel quality. I'm not sure whether this is a mistake that would actually happen.

I apologise. I'm writing a story, and I'm concerned that i've invented a mistake that never happens. In the given situation, If I pronounced 'l'amour' as 'la mort',could that cause confusion, or would the French speaker know what I meant?

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  • Not all dialects of English have the vowel-consonant combination /ʊr/ (which is the closest English sound to the French /ur/) — for example, some dialects pronounce rural /ˈrʊrəl/ as /ˈrərəl/ and tour /tʊr/ as /tɔr/ — so this seems like a very plausible mistake to me. Jun 25, 2023 at 13:06
  • I find the reverse is more likely: English speakers fail to distinguish between French or and our, because without the off-glide [uw], we're missing a key marker of our /u/. So I often hear people saying porquoi and so on.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:14
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    @PeterShor Oh, I see what you mean. By the opposite I meant that the French speaker wouldn't mistake or/our, whereas the English speaker would. But you're going to the logical conclusion that this mistaken English speaker's or could be heard (accurately) by the French speaker. True. I think another factor in this particular case, though, is the fact that we have an awareness of the word L'amour in English and have overly naturalized it, pronouncing it very much with an [uw] sound.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 25, 2023 at 13:29
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    For the purpose of your story, I think you could either explicitly write in the narration "But he pronounced it more like 'or'," or you could have him use the Spanish instead, since Spanish el amor "love" sounds like French la mort "death".
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 25, 2023 at 15:59
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    I would never assume that "la mort" can be a suitable answer to "qu'est ce qui ne va pas" any French would find that weird and almost immediately say "oh tu veux dire l'amour" (and even "l'amour" sounds a little odd), maybe you could add some words before to make the mistake more plausible, like "oh tu sais... l'amour/la mort" but even like that the "la mort" would sound weird Jun 25, 2023 at 16:55

2 Answers 2

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As was pointed out in the comments by Luke Sawczak, the word amour is now almost an English word (borrowed from French, but it is in English dictionaries). It is pronounced with the vowel of tour, which in most dialects is different from the vowel of tore and more. This latter vowel is the one which English speakers learning French would probably use to pronounce la mort. If an English speaker was using these vowels in these words, French speakers probably wouldn't be confused.

However, there might be a way to save your idea. Not all dialects of English have the vowel-consonant combination /ʊr/ (which is the closest English sound to the French /ur/) — for example, some dialects pronounce rural /ˈrʊrəl/ as /ˈrɜrəl/ and tour /tʊr/ as /tɔr/. For a speaker of one of these dialects of English, this seems like a very plausible mistake to me.

However, this confusion might not seem believable to a speaker of one of the more standard English dialects, who use different vowels in l'amour and in more.

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For a modern french speaker, they are pronounced too differently for a confusion to be possible.

In "amour" (love), the "o" is actually bundled with the "u" to create a new sound "ou" (which sounds a bit like the italic parts of these words in english: too, dew, good, Uganda).

In "mort" (death), the "o" isn't bundled with anything (and sounds like in sport, optimal, John)

That said, in the transition between latin (amor) and modern french there has been a time when "l'amour" was indeed pronounced the way "la mort" is pronounced today, so maybe that could help with your story. Alchemists in particular, who were fond of obfuscating the meaning of their text, have been known for messing with this on purpose.

In a more modern context, French is spoken by all kind of people with different accents, and I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere it was common to speak "amour" as "amor". Other than that it could be someone trying to sound spanish or italian. Anyway, I hope you find a way to write your story!

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