French Culture Awareness #5: Les tics de langage

You probably haven't heard of these in English but in French, we have what we call les tics de langage... What is that? I hear you asking... Well, tic is... tic ! and langage is... language ! So this is a language tic. Does it help? Maybe not.

A tic de langage is something that you say very often when talking in a given language but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It has no importance on the grammar or syntax point of view... So, why do we use them?

We actually acquire these depending on our social, economic and sometimes political background. It is a way to be part of a certain group of people who think and talk like us. When you mime the way people surrounding you talk, you are being part of that particular group and everyone knows it because they can clearly hear that you and your friends have the same way of expressing yourselves. "Tic" comes from the Italian word ticchio which originally meant "regurgitation of the horse". Yes, it's a horse's burp. So a tic de langage is a linguistic burp! And just like a burp, it does not mean anything, it does not add any information to your speech and it can easily be removed from any particular speech.

You must know one verbal tic in English... "Like" ! Have you ever heard people on TV adding "like" 10 times per sentences? Well that is what we mean by tic de langage. This like doesn't mean anything and most speakers have no idea that they are using that word out of context and several times per sentence. When you have a tic de langage, you don't realise that you have it until someone points it out to you.

When you learn a foreign language and you listen to authentic materials, you might come across these meaningless words and that is where it gets difficult for you: you will try to understand these words when they actually don't mean anything! It is interesting - and useful - to know that they exist so you don't unnecessarily focus on them when you could focus on more important and meaningful words to help you understand what people are saying.

Some example of French tic de langage: en vrai, de base, t'as vu, wesh, donc, du coup, alors, quoi, carrément, de ouf, frere, tu vois, genre, vas-y, en fait, en mode ... without forgetting the famous French "euh"!

Using these words a lot in a formal or professional context is rather negative as it shows a lack of variety and command of the language but it is fine to use them in an informal context. If you go and study French in France, you will probably pick up a few of these in no time!

You can watch this video (in French only!) for the full explanation:

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