In the French language, a liaison is defined as ” the pronunciation of a latent word-final consonant immediately before a following vowel sound.”
As an example, take the phrase “vous avez,” which means “you have” in English. In general, the word “vous” is pronounced “voo.” However, when “vous” comes right before a vowel sound, a liaison is formed with the following word and you must say “voo-zavay.” This is done to avoid awkwardness, because without the liaison you would have to say “voo-avay,” which is more difficult to say, especially in rapid speech.The previous example is of a proper liaison; however in French, various words are frequently squished together in normal conversation in other patterns that can be difficult to keep track of (see also: elision). Even if a foreigner knows all the vocabulary words in principle,
I experienced an interesting example of this challenge a couple of weeks ago. My rental agency had made an appointment with a painter to come into my apartment early one morning to paint over some water damage in the kitchen. About an hour into the procedure, I told the man that I would have to leave for work soon, and asked if he was almost done. He said he would need at least another hour to finish up, and asked if I could leave him with a key to the apartment, so that he could lock up when he was done. I agreed, and as I was leaving, he called after me that he would leave the key in the “bottelette.” I understood him up until the word “bottelette,” which was unfamiliar. I asked him to repeat the phrase, which he did, and I still didn’t understand what he was talking about.
At this point I was already rattled from several minutes of French conversation before my morning coffee, and too embarrassed to ask for more information. So, rather than doing the sensible thing and telling him that I didn’t understand, I nodded in agreement and fled the apartment. As soon as I got to work, I pulled up Google Translate, and then Google, but I could not find an explanation for this word. Botellette? botelet? battelette? batelot? No imaginable spelling of the word I thought I had heard yielded an explanation.Finally, afraid I would never see my apartment key again, I called my husband in the U.S. and asked him what on earth a “bottelette” was. He paused.
“You mean, a boîte aux lettres [mailbox]?”
Curses! I immediately saw that I had once again failed to recognize one long French word as several smaller ones stuck together. Later that day, I indeed found my apartment key nestled in with my mail.
Another valuable vocabulary word (and life lesson) gained!