44

Let me throw out a few examples and potential evidence either way:

We have heard Picard utter isolated words and phrases in French ("merde", "maman") and, in "11001001":

PICARD: "Incroyable! Vous êtes Parisienne?"
MINUET: Au fond, c'est vrai, nous sommes tous Parisiens.
PICARD: Oui, au fond, nous sommes tous Parisiens. The spirit of that city can always enchant my soul.

Alas, this only really shows a working knowledge of French (tourist-level), especially since he sort of just parrots Minuet's line back to her and then switches back to English Federation Basic.

We also have "Code of Honor", where Data refers to French as "an obscure language called French", which suggests that some people may not even know what French is. (!)

On the other hand, we certainly get the impression from "Family" that Robert and Jean-Luc Picard's parents were rather traditional.

Plus, we are led to believe that in the future, we have advanced to point that people have such good learning and retention, that if Picard decided to sit down with a book on French grammar and a dictionary in his spare time for a couple weeks, he would suddenly be fluent. And this seems like the sort of thing that Picard would consider important to do.

So, bottom line:

Is Jean-Luc Picard fluent in French or not?


Related questions:

  • 16
    You're making an assumption that they should have had extended conversations in French during the show to prove fluency. I would think that being born in France, raised in France by a Luddite would be enough to prove fluency in his native tongue. – JohnP Apr 23 '18 at 17:51
  • 28
    So we should pardon Picard's French? – Machavity Apr 23 '18 at 17:55
  • 20
    “Plus, we are led to believe that in the future, we have advanced to point that people have such good learning and retention, that if Picard decided to sit down with a book on French grammar and a dictionary in his spare time for a couple weeks, he would suddenly be fluent.” Where are we led to believe this? – Adamant Apr 23 '18 at 18:15
  • 6
    By your logic... Is worf fluent in Klingon, data fluent in binary .... – Naib Apr 23 '18 at 18:39
  • 7
    I don't have the context, so I'm wondering -- when Picard ask "Vous êtes Parisienne?," is the implication that he recognized her accent as being Parisian? If so, then that argues for a high level of fluency, since most non-fluent French speakers wouldn't be able to tell a Parisian accent from a Breton accent. – Ben Crowell Apr 24 '18 at 15:17
61

Picard appears to speak fluent French. Not only was he born and raised in France but we see him speaking French confidently with a French accent, swearing in French under his breath and singing French songs on multiple occasions.


The longest instance of Picard speaking (what appears to be fluent) French is from TNG: 11001001

MINUET: Aren’t you going to introduce me?

RIKER: Captain Picard, this is Minuet. Minuet, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

MINUET: Enchantée. Comme c’est merveilleux de vous voir ici.

PICARD: Incroyable ! Vous êtes Parisienne ?

MINUET: Au fond, c’est vrai, nous sommes tous Parisiens.

PICARD: Oui, au fond, nous sommes tous Parisiens. The spirit of that city can always enchant my soul.

Notably, he recognises her accent as being "Parisian" rather than just "French" which suggests a reasonable degree of experience of French regional accents, presumably as a result of his having been born and raised in Labarre, France.


He uses a little bit of French in TNG: Elementary, Dear Data

Picard says "merde"

(and again in TNG: The Last Outpost).


In TNG: Chain of Command, Part II he states that his family would sing songs in French each week.

PICARD: Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse.

MADRED: Wake up. Where were you?

PICARD: At home. Sunday dinner. We would all sing afterward.


He sings Frère Jacques in TNG: Disaster

PICARD: I’m afraid I don’t know that one. I know. Frère Jacques. That’s a song I used to sing when I was at school. Patterson, do you know that one? Good. It goes like this. “Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?”

ALL: Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines, ding ding dong, ding ding dong.

PICARD: Very good. Now, keep singing.

ALL: Frère Jacques, frère Jacques, dormez-vous? Dormez-vous? Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines. Ding ding dong, ding ding dong. Frère Jacques, frère Jacques, dormez-vous? Dormez-vous? Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines. Ding ding dong, ding ding dong. Frère Jacques, frère Jacques…


He sings Auprès de ma blonde with his brother in TNG: Family

PICARD(S): Auprès de ma blonde, qu’il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon… Dum, dum, dum…


Moving down the canon scale, in the EU novel A Time to be Born, Picard’s mother carries on a conversation in French with a teenaged Jean-Luc at home. It’s not clear what language he’s speaking since the conversation is translated for the reader, but he definitely understands her.

“Here, Jean-Luc, eat your lunch,” said a feminine voice speaking French.
He whirled around to see his mother carrying a tray of food into the room; she set it on his desk and smiled at him. He glared at the wall where the picture window had been in the cabin, because he assumed they were watching him. “I know that’s not my mother.”

The novel What Lay Beyond confidently states that French is his mother tongue:

“May I help you, Captain Picard?”

Startled, the captain looked at the interface and saw its expression had not changed. The words were in French, his native tongue.

“Yes, you may,” he said in the same language. “How do I disengage the gateways?”

The novelisation for Generations states that his conversation with his wife and children in the Nexus is in French (with the proviso that this is a weird alternate dimension where weird things happen).

“Go on....” A soft voice at his elbow took him aback. He whirled, and saw his gentle captor—golden-haired, straight, slender—smiling at him with the same indulgent love in her green eyes.

He had never met her; yet he knew that this beautiful creature was Elise, his wife of the past sixteen years. And she had spoken to him in French.

  • 2
    Um, I already quoted that and explained why it doesn't prove either way whether Picard is actually fluent. – ThePopMachine Apr 23 '18 at 16:49
  • 1
    Singing songs is a really low bar. Especially those songs. That doesn't demonstrate fluency. – ThePopMachine Apr 23 '18 at 17:15
  • 26
    Trying to "prove" that he speaks it fluently is pointless. No matter how many examples were provided, one could always claim "ah, but maybe he lied when he said he was fluent", "maybe he's only memorized those specific 200 phrases?!". I think to anyone familiar with the ego-centrism of the US, it should be clear that writers intended that Picard was fluent in french if not his first language. – Shufflepants Apr 23 '18 at 20:33
  • 5
    @ThePopMachine If you’re going to ask this kind of question in this kind of detail, you’ll first have to decide how to prove that anyone is fluent in any language. What do you call ‘fluency’ to begin with? Must he be able to recite Chrétien or discuss Bouhours in French to be fluent, or will smalltalk at the pub suffice? The examples given in Valorum’s answer state that French is his native language; that is nearly always a good indicator of what most would agree on calling fluency. There really is really no possible way of answering the question more authoritatively. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 23 '18 at 22:48
  • 1
    Valorum's answer is excellent and it properly makes the argument that it appears he is fluent. This is exactly right. The ones with the pitchforks here are the people complaining that this evidence isn't enough. It's enough for what it is, and I'm not refuting that. It's evidence that the writers probably intend him to be fluent, even if the direct evidence is a little weak. The direct evidence is lower on the canon scale. This is the way answers should work. You don't argue over the interpretation. You present what evidence there is and what's its pros and cons are. – ThePopMachine Apr 24 '18 at 3:27
16

I would presume that Jean-Luc Picard is fluent in French. It is possible that his French is a bit rusty from lack of use. If, as suggested, Data's comment of French being an obscure language implies it is rarely used, Capt. Picard may have limited opportunities to keep his French polished. I credit him with French fluency based on the comment Chain of Command, Part II "At home. Sunday dinner. We would all sing afterward." If he was dreaming, and singing in French, as a result of being raised with French as the language of the household, it will be his native tongue, and the one he's most fluent in, even if he learns many others, including in childhood. If, as is possible even now, he was raised with French in-home and Federation Basic for school and all outside interactions, then he'd be a native bilingual, equally fluent in both languages.

It is not fair to judge the character's language skill, or fluency, by that of the writers, and the audience. The writers may choose to use French, but they're going to want what they use to be useful to the plot and story/character development, and fit with what the general audience will still grasp without having to run to Google for a translation of the show. Naturally the foreign language used in a show is going to be simple or tourist-level, otherwise the audience is going to need open captions for the foreign phases.

  • 4
    "It is not fair to judge the character's language skill, or fluency, by that of the writers, and the audience". Not wrong. Sorry if I sounded offensive, wasn't the point. But you do raise an interesting point: how are we supposed to evaluate a character's fluency other than by its writers'? There may be some answers on Writing.SE, now that I think of it. – Jenayah Apr 23 '18 at 18:05
  • 1
    @Jenayah A writer's dilemma! That's what's so nifty about backstory, it offers what the writer cannot prove, yet can use in the plot. And, not offensive, just often forgotten. We, as the audience, tend to immerse ourselves into the story, and it's world, and forget that the writers have their limits, either personally or by design. – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 23 '18 at 18:19
  • 1
    Maybe I did not understand you fully, but infering that the household spoke French from them singing a few traditional French songs is a bit of a stretch. In my household, everybody can sing some Christian songs in Latin, but no one does speak that language. – Philippe-André Lorin Apr 24 '18 at 9:08
11

A big problem with trying to prove this is the Universal Translator.

There are several episodes where they have to "tune in" to a language to turn it from "incomprehensible Alienese" to "normal English" - it is entirely possible that Captain Picard is frequently speaking French, and everyone else just hears a translation in their own language.

(An excellent example of this is in the DS9 episode where Quark gets his own ship, and travels to Earth with Rom & Nog - the Universal Translator breaks, and none of them speak or understand English)

  • Hello and welcome to SFF! Whilst this is a decent answer to the question it would appear that the main point of your answer is contradicted by @Valorum's answer where we see him speaking French. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 24 '18 at 9:39
  • @TheLethalCarrot Hmm... I'll have to skip through my box-sets and look for examples of people speaking in a language that should be translated then. (e.g. Klingon when Riker is on the Officer-Exchange programme? Or the episode where Picard has to learn the complicated greeting speech so as not to insult the diplomatic delegation?) – Chronocidal Apr 24 '18 at 15:26
  • The DS9 episode is "Little Green Men", for reference. – Wai Ha Lee Apr 25 '18 at 7:39
  • The real question is does Picard fluently speak English? Maybe he's always speaking French and the translator is working its magic. – Servitor Jan 17 at 21:52
2

Data's off hand comment that French is considered obscure shouldn't be given too much weight. Picard was clearly rather irritated by it, as a native speaker would be. Besides who knows what consistutes an obscure language in the 24th century? Only a few hundred million speakers, mostly on Earth? Perhaps Data considers any langage to be obscure if it doesn't dominate at least a half dozen highly populated worlds.

As was noted above, Picard could well be speaking French through the Universal translator most of the time. This isn't contradicted at all by the fact that we occasionally hear a few lines in French; when we see events unfolding aboard a Klingon vessel we usually get the vast majority of dialogue in English and only a few lines of Klingon, but we can safely assume those conversations are occuring entirely in Klingonese.

Furthermore, the universal translator might be the explaination for Picard's British Accent. Perhaps, just as it recognised that the Companion has a fundementally feminine personality and gave it a womans voice, it recognised some thing about Picard's manner ( perhaps he has cultivated a perfect standard Academie Français accent) that tells it that if he were an English speaker, he would speak in R.P. like a classically trained British actor.

Perhaps a more laid-back and easygoing francophone, such as Monsieur La Forge would be assigned an American accent.

  • 1
    Although these are good points, none of them directly address the question of whether Monsieur Picard can parle français. – Valorum Oct 4 '18 at 13:06
0

He clearly can speak french. He knows (real) french songs. He clearly followed a french education when he was a kid. But his accent is awful...compared to nowadays pronunciation... I had to read the subtitle during his conversation with Minuet...I am Parisian and I did not recognized their accent :o)

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