Bychoice (bychoice) wrote in linguaphiles,

From My Bad (?) French to Russian

I don't speak French very well, having studied it in school and then put it into use for about a year in West Africa a decade ago. That having been said, I am under the impression that using the third person pronoun "on" is more common and less formal in French than "one" is in English. It isn't uncommon for me to use it when speaking French, and now that I'm learning Russian, I find that I am using the Russian masculine pronoun он in its place when I speak Russian, even though that is clearly not right. Generally, I am trying to say things like "one can do X/on peut faire" or "one could find/on pourrait trouver" to make statements about things that are possible. I'm trying to substitute in люди (people) for "on" when speaking Russian, although I'm getting tripped up because one is singular and one is plural. Anyway, do any of you who speak Russian have thoughts on how I should be doing this? I really love Russian and would like to be understandable.
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  • 24 comments

oryx_and_crake

March 26 2014, 19:58:50 UTC 5 months ago

you should use impersonal constructs like можно сделать, можно найти. using он for that purpose is definitely wrong

also, I would like to recommend learn_russian

oryx_and_crake

March 26 2014, 20:00:18 UTC 5 months ago

p.s. on dit que ... - говорят, что... (no noun or pronoun needed)

bychoice

March 27 2014, 07:40:24 UTC 5 months ago

Yes, I am in that group, and it is great! Since I was asking about more than one language, I wasn't sure if I should ask there or here.

nick_marcevich

March 26 2014, 20:11:51 UTC 5 months ago

"Он" is only for male, not female. I guess the best choise here is "кто-то" (like someone, anyone) or "некоторые" if you suppose plural case.

oryx_and_crake

March 26 2014, 22:34:22 UTC 5 months ago

I am sorry, but this is wrong. The French "on" is an impersonal general construct and cannot be translated with кто-то or некоторые.

one_gin

March 26 2014, 20:42:59 UTC 5 months ago

There's multiple choice, I think. As pointed out in the comments above, one can use impersonal forms like "можно сделать Х" which don't need a pronoun. Besides that, you can in most cases use the second person plural (which is also the polite form of address) - "вы можете/могли бы сделать Х". You can think of it as though speaking directly of the other person/audience possibilities while addressing them, instead of using impersonal form - like "you can/could do X" - and it's going to sound so much better than "он может".

bychoice

March 27 2014, 07:35:38 UTC 5 months ago

This may not be a problem with Russians, but I don't like to say "you could do X" to Americans because with some people you end up getting into a fight because they say "Well, I would never do that!" or get offended for one reason or another. It is just easier to use an impersonal construction. Like I said, though, this may not be a problem when talking to Russians. Thanks for your suggestions!

one_gin

March 27 2014, 08:01:12 UTC 5 months ago

You are actually right about the risk of people getting offended. I was going to leave a warning that someone saying things like "you can do X" might make an impression of being too authoritative (and I don't think there's much difference whether one speaks to Americans or to Russians). I erased this warning as I thought the risk to be quite low, but then it's probably just my background in academy... where one can get to say things like "you can do X" quite often. In any case, an impersonal construction should always work.

bychoice

March 27 2014, 12:18:58 UTC 5 months ago

Most of the Russians I talk to are good friends or teachers, so perhaps they are less easily offended because they know me. Generally, when I speak to strangers (Russian strangers, since I live there now), I'm just desperately trying to communicate and am usually asking questions. This is good to know, though. Thanks!!

whswhs

March 27 2014, 14:45:38 UTC 5 months ago

Well, I think the English equivalent of "on dit que" is "they say."

muckefuck

March 26 2014, 21:37:23 UTC 5 months ago

As a side note, in contemporary colloquial French, on is more often used with the meaning of "we" than "one". In some varieties (e.g. Cajun), it has completely displaced nous.

bychoice

March 27 2014, 07:36:03 UTC 5 months ago

Cool! Thanks!!!! This is fascinating!

whswhs

March 27 2014, 14:48:22 UTC 5 months ago

The explanation I ran into a few years ago was that one says "moi, je vais," and the plural form begins with "nous," but was shifting from "nous, nous allons" to "nous, on va," perhaps to avoid repetition. Does that match your experience?

muckefuck

March 27 2014, 14:55:04 UTC 5 months ago

Not exactly. Although frequently used, the disjunctive pronouns still aren't universal. I probably hear on y va without nous more often than with it. (In Cajun, incidentally, nousaut(res) is preferred to nous, probably by analogy with vousaut(res).)

I'd be interested to hear what the experience of fluent speakers of French is.

whswhs

March 27 2014, 16:10:37 UTC 5 months ago

I'm not sure that's inconsistent. I could see an evolution from nous allons to nous, nous allons to nous, on va to on va. No one would rationally design such a sequence but language change often seems to take place by incremental steps that each make sense at the time.

muckefuck

March 27 2014, 17:56:09 UTC 5 months ago

I'm just not seeing the motivation for the jump from nous, nous allons to nous, on va. If anything, the sequence on va > nous(autres), on va makes more sense to me because there's an inherent ambiguity to on va which isn't present in nous allons. If anything, the motivation to use on seems to be that it simplifies the conjugation: one less distinctive form (and a rather marked one at that) to learn.

There are parallels in other Romance languages, e.g. the use of a gente (with 3S agreement) in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, where it has more-or-less completely replaced nós. And Portuguese, as far as I know, doesn't have anything resembling the disjunctive pronoun usage of French. (At least, I've never come across spontaneous use of, e.g. *nós, a gente vai.)

embryomystic

March 27 2014, 20:51:33 UTC 5 months ago

This fits with my experience of Québec French, certainly. Is it likewise in informal European French? I used to talk to a lot of European Francophones, but not in contexts where 1p pronouns were common.

come_to_think

March 27 2014, 00:26:02 UTC 5 months ago

I do not actually speak French, but my impression is that "on" is *sometimes* equivalent to "kto-to": "On frappe" = "Somebody's knocking". More often, however, it is best rendered with a passive: "Ici on parle francais" = "French spoken here". (Sorry, I don't know how to do a cedilla in this medium.)

oryx_and_crake

March 27 2014, 01:08:10 UTC 5 months ago

In Russian, impersonal constructs are used in both cases:

"On frappe" = "Стучат." (You can say "Кто-то стучит" as well.)
"Ici on parle francais" = "Здесь говорят по-французски." (In this case you cannot use кто-то - it will sound awkward.)

undre

March 27 2014, 05:17:17 UTC 5 months ago

Just remember it's nothing but homophony.

(if not to dig so deep that nobody can figure anything anyway,
if the link somehow exists, it is very ancient and undetectable)

bychoice

March 27 2014, 07:37:33 UTC 5 months ago

Thanks to all of you for your comments! This is really helpful!

freakyzoid

March 27 2014, 07:59:30 UTC 5 months ago

This might be complicated because we don't have a universal term like "one" that can be used in any impersonal case.
Often we would put a verb for plural third person (они) without a noun/pronoun or use passive voice. We may also use modal verbs or constructions with "someone" and other pronouns alike.
Thus "One does not do that" can be:
1. "Так не делают / так не поступают" ([they] don't do that)
2. "Так не делается" (it's not done like that)
3. "Не следует/не нужно так делать" (this should not be done)

In clauses we often use "тот, кто" (he, who) or just "кто" (who). "Кто хочет, может пойти со мной" (anyone who wishes may come with me)

bychoice

March 27 2014, 12:20:08 UTC 5 months ago

Great! Thanks!

freakyzoid

March 27 2014, 18:55:15 UTC 5 months ago

I could give more relevant examples of how to put it if I saw the context better, so feel free to ask )