It’s Tonguetwister Tuesday!
Je cherche Serge.
zhuh SHAIR-shuh SAIR-zhuh. Click below to hear this!
I’m looking for Serge.
Ten times, quickly. Looks easy, right? But switching back and forth between the zh sound, the sh sound, and the s sound gets tricky. Pretty soon you will find yourself saying Je serche Cherge….And suddenly, you are speaking Old French!
Here’s the thing: the Latin word circare (pronounced, in the Middle Ages, as cheer-KAH-ray and meaning to go around) had morphed by 1080 into cerchier (pronounced sair-sheAY), meaning to look for or to search. This French word is the source of the English word search.
Eventually the French word settled down to its modern form, chercher. But in the dialect of French spoken in Picardy, in the north of France, there was confusion (both in pronunciation and in spelling) between s or soft c and ch. Contact with English-speakers from England and Normandy (remember William the Conqueror?) encouraged this confusion. So several variations on this word–cercher, chercer, sercer, and more–persisted for several more centuries, until France became a unified kingdom and Renaissance writers made great efforts to standardize the French language.
But all that won’t help you to pronounce the tonguetwister, will it?
Note that chercher in French means to look for. You don’t need the for in French. Whoever or whatever you are looking for goes directly after the verb.