3

There's a similar pair of pronunciations in Korean, and ; their pronunciations are not exactly the same as é and è but very similar. And the modern Korean has lost the distinguishment between these two, now sounds the same as .

So I guess that the modern French might have the same kind of shift from é to è, or vice versa. How are they now? And if there is a convergence, do French have difficulties telling these two apart when writing? Since the collapse of the distinguishment of and started quite a long time ago, some Koreans get confused no matter how well they are educated.

4
  • 2
    They are quite distinct in my opinion. For most words, under dictation, we don't have any problem writing the correct accent from the pronunciation.
    – Frank
    Sep 22, 2023 at 3:12
  • 1
    French is my mother tongue, but I never succeeded to hear distinct sounds between <é>, <ê> and <é>. I now rely on orthographic rules to spell words. When I was a kid, I didn't know all rules, so I wrote a flat accent over the <e> and it worked : I never had a remark about this from my teachers.
    – Graffito
    Sep 22, 2023 at 15:49
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? Différences de la prononciation de : e, é, è, ê et ai
    – livresque
    Sep 23, 2023 at 4:49
  • @livresque Well what I actually was curious about was whether /ɛ/ and /e/ are converging in colloquial French or not; but the link you mentioned is worth reading btw. Thanks.
    – JYC
    Nov 1, 2023 at 5:34

1 Answer 1

5

For the most part, the slightly more open sound of è (e accent grave = e with a deep accent) versus é (e accent aigu = e with a high-pitched accent) is preserved in most words and in most accents.

There are some words where the spelling and sounds do not match, most notably "événement" where the second é tends to be pronounced with an è sound - to the point where an alternate spelling of the word was proposed by the spelling reform (la réforme de l'orthographe).

And, of course, some regional accents (such as the one from the south of France, l'accent du midi) pronounce the "è" with a sound that to my ears at least is close to the é sound.

9
  • Thanks for your reply. So these two are mostly distinguishable unlike modern Korean, while there are some regional diffrences, not 'languagewide'.
    – JYC
    Sep 22, 2023 at 6:53
  • @DavidHockley do you have a word example for the southern accent thing? I don't think I've noticed it before. Sep 22, 2023 at 8:57
  • 1
    @guillaume31 Wikipedia lists a merger of /o ø e/ with /ɔ œ ε/ as a feature of Meridional French, resulting in a system of complimentary distribution where the open-mid variants are found in stressed syllables and before /rC/ clusters, and the close-mid variants elsewhere. There are homophonous examples given for /o ɔ/ (nôtre = notre) and /ø œ/ (jeûne = jeune); none is given for /e ε/, but those should be easy to find (e.g., j’aurai = j’aurais). Sep 22, 2023 at 9:42
  • 4
    @JanusBahsJacquet Yes, there is clearly a positional rule in Southern French (e.g. lait, poulet endings) but there are no cases where a written è is pronounced /e/ because there is no French word that ends with è. The OP question is unclear about whether it applies to phonemes or letters. Note however that with the Corsican accent, è is pronounced /e/ regardless of its position.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 22, 2023 at 10:09
  • 1
    @jlliagre If you use the ‘modern’ spellings in the future stem of verbs in -éCer, you would have cases where ⟨è⟩ is [e], like j’espèrerai(s) – but then why would you spell it like that as a southerner, when j’espérerai(s) is equally valid? I’m not sure if the e in légèrement would be pronounced, but if it is, then that too ought to be [leʒeʁə'mɑ̃] with ⟨è⟩ = [e]. If it’s suppressed as in Standard French, I suppose the result would be an /rC/ cluster, which would open it back up to [ε]. Sep 22, 2023 at 11:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.