Re: Why Ligatures?

From: Alain LaBont\i ordi2domi (
Date: Thu Oct 16 1997 - 16:25:13 EDT

A 09:50 97-10-16 -0700, Mark Davis a écrit :

>I understand and agree with the reasoning for including œ (<oe>) in code
>pages for French, so this is a point of information only!
>It is my understanding that there is actually no "minimal-pair" in
>French for oe vs <oe>; that is, that there is no pair of words that is
>distinguished _only_ by the difference between oe and <oe>; Alain, do
>you know if this is the case?

[Alain] :
As far as spelling is concerned, you're correct (as far as I humbly know,
of course).

That is of course not semantic. The distinction is necessary for
pronunciation purposes mainly, the absence of diaeresis on the "e" of
string "oe" in words where the vowels should be distinct is a problem when
no joined digraphs are used. If we were to abolish the joined digraph, we
would have to reform French to include an "e diaeresis" on all occurrences
of "oe" where these represent two vowels (that way of writing occurs in
only two exceptions that I know of : "Noël" [which can be also used as a
common name] and "Joël" [a proper name] -- in all other cases of two
distinct vowels there is no [and there shall be no] joined digraph, nor any
diaeresis. The fact that there is no diaeresis would be, if the joined
digraph did not exist, contrary to the spirit of the French language
writing rules. History decided that we would have a joined digraph in cases
where the digraph represents only one sound at a time, a pure vowel and no
joining in other cases.

This had to be said in all honesty. It is not a matter of semantic
distinction, but just a matter of phonetic distinction (unlike English,
French is in general much more straightforward in its pronunciation rules,
albeit odd-looking to unitiated foreigners [which does not mean that there
are not also some cases where multiple pronunciations exist for a given
spelling, but these cases are less frequent than in English, and there are
no long lists of totally unrelated pronunciations]).

Alain LaBonté

An old joke:

When French missionaries were teaching the logic of French language
spelling to little Africans before beginning spelling courses, they were
verbally telling them the following story :

"For the word 'eau', you write the letter 'e' but you don't pronounce it,
then you write the letter 'a' but you don't pronounce it, then you write
the letter 'u' but you don't pronounce it, and you then pronounce the
letter 'o' but you don't write it". (:

Funny and odd, but straightforward (even archaic but bearer of a lot of
history; French is indeed the Latin language [enforced by law, by
Charlemagne, in fact] spoken by a Germanic tribe called the Franks who
overruled the Gauls who had already been overruled by the Romans [about
only 80 words of Gaul subsist in French, I have a list]!). French is the
first direct heir of Latin among the Romance languages (btw it was born
officially at exactly the same moment as the modern German language, in a
bilingual text written in 842, a peace treaty, "Les serments de
Strasbourg", establishing peace between the heirs [grandsons] of Charlemagne).

"[-]eau" (and even "-aud", "-auld" "-ault", "-eault" and so on) is always
pronounced "o", unlike the 11 distinct pronunciations of the ending "-ough"
in English (we have the reverse problem!)

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