French language

Distinctive Features

Phonetically distinctive French sounds are the nasal vowels and the uvular r. Three accents over vowels are employed: the acute (´) over e, the grave (`) over a and e, and the circumflex (ˆ) over a, e, i, o, and u. An accent may serve to indicate the pronunciation of a vowel, distinguish homonyms, or mark the discarding of the letter s from a word. A cedilla placed below the letter c (ç) signals that the c is to be pronounced as s. Ordinarily, c is pronounced as k before a, o, u, or a consonant and as s before e and i.

Written French uses the Roman alphabet. French spelling, which has many silent letters, is not always a reliable guide to pronunciation. For example, final consonants are generally not sounded. An s or x added to the end of a noun to form the plural is also usually not pronounced. In such a case, the plural number is actually indicated in speech by the form of the article, as in le garçon lə gärsôNˈ [the boy] and les garçons lā gärsôNˈ [the boys]. French spelling, however, is closer to the pronunciation than is English spelling.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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