Every language has it’s own unique spoken variations. One commonly used slang in France, known as inverse French or Verlan, is becoming so common that it has even made its way into the dictionary. Learning and translating this French argot can be a fun and completely immersive way of learning the language..
What is French Verlan?
If you’re a professional French translator on the other hand, you’ve almost certainly had experience translating this French slang.
A modern subset of the language, French Verlan is an argot (literally “slang” in French) and an example of the phenomenon l’envers meaning “the inverse” (Verlan happens to be a play on the word L’envers). L’envers involves inverting the syllables of a given word to form a new word with the same meaning. This is similar in some ways to Pig Latin in English.
Different rules are applied to words depending on the number of syllables they have. Sometimes sounds are also added or removed to make the Verlanised word sound better. This inverse language started after the second World War, and is now commonly used as a semi-cryptic language by certain groups, such as inner city youth, to communicate in code with each other.
Re-Verlanisation and Translating French Verlan
Some Verlan words have become so common that they ended up in the dictionary. As such, professional translation services providers can only expect to be translating Verlan from time to time.
It also happens that common Verlan words, such as those ending up in the dictionary, are re-verlanised to make them slang again. This results in a word that is close to, but not the same as, the original word. An example of this is femme, meaning women:
Femme (Original) à Meuf (Verlan Translation) à Feumeu (Reverlanised Translation)
When performing modern day French translation, it would therefore be common to come across both Verlan and re-verlandised words. Figuring out the meaning is only one challenge for a French translator – proper spelling must also be taken into account.
Since these French slang words form primarily through verbal communication, appropriate spelling has been debated. Though some have argued that the letters should be preserved from the original word, most linguistic experts agree that the spelling should reflect the correct pronunciation, not the source word.
The flexibility in the language has made it attractive for some literary works, and as such makes it more prevalent in the realm of translation. The French author Auguste Le Breton uses numerous examples of Verlan in his writing, and any literary translator would have to be familiar with Verlan if they are to correctly translate his works.
Expanding Your Verlan Vocabulary
Many Verlan words are meant to keep communication about taboo topics hidden from those who would try to interfere.
It is most often used by young people in cities and big suburbs, and is extremely prevalent in rap music. It is becoming increasingly more common among all French youth, and some words have become so mainstream and integrated into daily life that older speakers don’t even notice that they are using Verlan.
That being said, the popularity of some Verlan words will not last. Many go out of use, as is often the case with slang that has been around long enough and is actively evolving.
There are still plenty of common Verlan words you should be familiar with. We’ve chosen eight of our favorite to help you on your next trip to a French-speaking country (or before you try to impress your friends with your abilities in translating French slang):
|Heavy; coming on strong
Which Verlan word is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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