Confusing French Pair: La Langue vs. Le Langage Posted by Jennie on Apr 7, 2010 in Culture, Grammar, Vocabulary
It’s hard to grasp as a débutant (beginner), but great French writing is elegantly structured without losing its clarté. More than croissants or fashion, I think la culture française se défine (French culture defines itself) by its language—both la langue and le langage.
These two words fascinated me when I first learned them. They have analogies in English, but they are such important concepts in learning a new language, especially French.
La langue is “the language,” as in la langue française, or the French language. (La langue is also “the tongue,” so when you hear about “la langue de Molière,” make sure we’re talking about the French language, not an old writer making out.)
Le langage is what we would also call “the language” in English, but it refers to something different. Le langage is the language used to express something, the choice of words; the wording, the expression, the verbiage.
“J’apprends une langue étrangère”: I am learning a foreign language.
“Molière écrit dans un langage assez complexe”: Molière writes in fairly complex language.
These are not brilliant examples, but I just want to illuminer la différence between la langue and le langage. Molière wrote in French (la langue) using complex vocabulary and style (le langage).
Moi, je suis assez forte en français (I’m pretty good at French) mais je me trompe souvent au niveau de langage (but I mess up a lot in terms of language/word choice/style). For le langage familier (colloquial, familiar language), there are lots of ways to practice, and we’ll talk about them soon. But le langage sublime, the one protected by les Lumières from Hichem’s last post, is much harder to maitrîser (master).
Dans ce thème, j’ai une proposition pour vous. (In this theme, I have a proposal for you.) I’d like to start writing, de temps en temps (from time to time), about a few choice examples of la littérature française. I’ll pull a few lines from my favorite works, and we can talk about the language (langue et langage), the vocabulary, the style, and the culture emanating from the lines. Being familiar with great works will win you many friends among the French, who are justifiably fiers of their tradition littéraire. It will also improve your French, langue (vocabulaire, et cetera) et langage. At the very least, it will make you sound great at cocktail parties.
Ça vous dit? Does that sound good? If so, then coming up soon will be one of my absolute favorites. Give you a clue: it’s by the same author as La Comédie humaine and it starts with a man alone at a party, looking out over Paris. Allez-y, devinez! (Guess!) L’écrivain s’appelle…?