I Miss You in French

Do I Miss You or Do You Miss Me in French?

Language and Philosophy are Tight

It’s a much-discussed field of study, the relationship between language and philosophy. Have you seen this research on language spoken and your perception of time? The same people, speaking a different language, perceive time in a different way. Fascinating stuff! Given long enough to pursue this interest, I fall into a wormhole of ticklish questions such as, “What is the nature of meaning? What does one mean by meaning? How do we know what we know or don’t know?” and other such rhetoricals.

It reminds me of that highly quotable scene in Kill Bill:

There are many studies comparing the meaning or sense of words coming from the speaker to the received and implied meaning in the listener. So often it happens there is a disconnect between speaker and listener. I find it fascinating that we are even able to communicate at all.

(Or am I the only one who feels this way because I’m married to a non-native English speaker?)

What Do You Mean by That?

Are you learning a second (or third, or fourth) language? Do you have a friend who didn’t grow up speaking the same language as you? If so, I bet that you have run across something that stuck in your head, something that was familiar, yet so different to the way you are used to thinking that you couldn’t let it go.

It’s one of the reasons I completely adore those lists of words that only exist in other languages. They are a reflection of what is important to the people of another culture. Important enough of a concept to create a working name for something which we as non-natives can understand as a human condition. But in our language, it does not have a name. For example, I absolutely adore the German word, “Kummerspeck,” which translates literally to “Grief Bacon” in English and refers to the weight you gain through emotional overeating.

In France, Do I Miss You?

So this is THE philosophical difference that really caught me in my French class. In addition, it’s an unusual sentence construction that is nearly always used in our language level tests at the end of the year. So let me help you cram for the test…

In English we say:

I miss you.

I am the one who is missing you. It’s my own darned fault. You may have left, but I am the one who needs to get over it. I am doing it, I am missing you.

In French, the reality of longing is viewed quite differently. Oppositely, even. The sentence for the same sentiment in French is:

Tu me manques.

Yes, it’s one of those reflexive verbs that we know and love so well. Literally translated, it looks like “You me miss.” But oh nononono! You would be sorely mistaken to think that. This is You making Me miss You. You are the active person, this is just something that is happening to me. You did it to me. It’s your fault that I feel this way. Even though the longing is within me, I am the passive participant.

So poetic, isn’t it? I am fascinated by this turn of the table.

It’s like my first big breakup in high school. I missed him and it was his darn fault for having dumped me. It was out of my control. It was his fault that I ate all the bacon.

Let’s sit down with a bottle of wine and really chew this one over together. Bordeaux goes with bacon nicely.

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Midwestern by birth and global by nature.

2 thoughts on “Do I Miss You or Do You Miss Me in French?

  1. I was just trying to tell someone that my son was upset because he misses his brother and sister. Unfortunately, I got so twisted up and mixed up by the syntax that I’m pretty sure I just blathered gibberish. Now I know that I *should* have said, “Son frère et sa sœur lui manquent.” Next time I’ll be ready!


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