Count On The Swiss

27Jan10

Trivia question: pick a random person. Conditioned on the event that they live in a country with both French and English as official languages, what is the probability they live in Canada?

I took French classes in school from grade 5 to grade 12, most years of which were mandatory. But I have barely used French in real life; part of the reason I chose to come to Lausanne is that I could hopefully improve my skills a bit in this area.

A striking feature in French is how numbers are translated into words. The numbers 17, 18, 19 are pronounced “10 7” (dix-sept), “10 8” (dix-huit) and “10 9” (dix-neuf)… the numbers 70, 80, 90 are pronounced as “60 10” (soixante-dix), “4 20” (quatre-vingt), “4 20 10” (quatre-vignt-dix)… the ultimate weirdness is the last few numbers before 100, e.g. “99” is “quatre-vignt-dix-neuf” or four twenties, a ten and a nine.
Swiss French behaves more decimally in this regard:

3 trois 30 trente
4 quatre 40 quarante
5 cinq 50 cinquante
6 six 60 soixante
7 sept 70 septante
8 huit 80 huitante
9 neuf 90 nonante

So 99 is “nonante neuf”! So far there were only two other words in Swiss French different than the (Paris) French I learned in school: a “cornet” is a plastic bag (I have no idea why) and a “natel” is a cellular phone (due to the name of the first cell phone company here).

Answer to trivia: a little more than half. According to the internet the only officially anglofrancophone countries are Cameroon, Canada, Rwanda, Seychelles and Vanuatu; Canada has a population of about 33 million and the other four combined have a total population of about 30 million.

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