Week 6: Speaking Slang and Contractions

One of the things that I quickly noticed when I arrived in France was that French speakers tend to drop the “ne” when saying a negative sentence. For instance, instead of saying “je ne sais pas,” they just say “je sais pas.” Then during this week in class, one of my teachers clarified this tendency by drawing out the progression of slang on the board. It went something like this:

In formal speaking or writing: “je ne sais pas”

In casual conversation: “je sais pas”

But then, the French can get even more creative (or lazy, however you want to see it) just as we do in English with contractions:

“Je sais pas” —> can contract to —> “j’sais pas” (which is pronounced quickly like “shay-pa”)

This explanation made so much sense to me because when I first began hearing conversations between natives, I was always surprised by the sudden “pas” that seemed to pop into a phrase here and there. In general, my host mom tries to remember to include the “ne” as much as possible when she’s speaking, but she’ll often forget to when she gets animated about a certain topic. And yet, after being here for over a month, I’ve become used to how half the negation is omitted in casual conversation, although I’m still habituated to using the “ne… pas” construction myself when speaking.

But in addition to the contractions of “je ne sais pas,” my teacher also covered some other common slang words and phrases that are used by the youth. One of these comes from the common phrase, “je suis désolé” which means “I’m sorry.” Just like in English, it’s okay to drop the subject and verb to just say “désolé,” but then our teacher explained that if you’re with a group friends, the cool thing to say is just “déso” (rhymes with LEGO). But again, that’s only to be used if you are casually hanging out with friends. Any other setting with any trace of formality requires you to use a more politically correct version of “désolé.”

I enjoyed learning about this in class because it’s not something that’s typically covered in a textbook or explicitly explained. Even in English, slang is usually just something you pick up on and interpret with only the occasional explanation of its meaning, so in a foreign language it can be even more difficult to discern the nuanced meaning of casual words. But once you catch this inside look of the language through these words, conversations become all the more enriching and fun because it’s like you’re clued into the hidden undertones that you had never known before. Who knew contractions could be so important?