Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Canadian French

Canadian French is different from European French in several respects. One variety of Canadian French, Acadian, is so different that it can be classified as a separate language. I'll focus on the variety spoken in Quebec, a variety that is often called "Quebecois".

One variety of Quebecois is spoken in Montreal and is called joual. The word apparently comes from "cheval", the French word for horse. It can be described as a blend of rural French and industrial English and is often incomprehensible to speakers of standard French.

In pronunciation, Canadian French or Quebecois differs from European French in several respects. Differences can be noted in the pronunciation of vowels and consonants.

Diphthongization is common in Quebecois. The expression "Il fait beau" (It's beautiful), which refers to weather, is often pronounced with diphthongs in the second and third words. This is remarkably different from the European pronunciation.

The nasal vowel in words such as "en" (in) and "sans" (without) is a lower and more fronted vowel than in European French. In the words "ma" (my) and "ta" (your), a low back vowel is used instead of a central vowel.

Some French-Canadians use a trilled alveolar "r" instead of a uvular fricative or trill. This is especially true of western Quebec and of older speakers. However, it is less common than it was in the past. Also interesting is that some Montrealers use an alveolar approximant in syllable-final position as in "Bonjour" (hello) and they tend to be monolingual French speakers! Thus they use an English "r" but don't speak English. This appears to be a sound development resulting from language contact with English.

The plosives "d" and "t" are affricates when they precede high front vowels. Thus, the word "dix" (ten") has an alveolar affricate as does "tu" (you). Also interesting is that "d" and "t", dental plosives in European French, have an alveolar articulation in Canadian French.

The high front vowels "i" and "u" are lax when they precede voiceless plosives. In the speech of some French-Canadians, though, they are also lax before all consonants, including voiced plosives and fricatives. In the French of these speakers, they are tense only when they occur in open syllables such as "vie" (life). In the words "vite" (quickly) and "doute" (doubt), French Canadians regularly use lax vowels unlike Europeans who use tense ones.

Another feature of Quebecois is vowel lowering which occurs when the "e" comes before an "r". For example, the words "guerre" (war") and "hiver" (winter) sound very similar to "guarre" and "hivar".

Canadian French, also known as Quebecois, is a fascinating variety of French which is primarily spoken in the beautiful province of Quebec. I was very surprised while on my first visit to Quebec to learn that the word "bienvenu(e)" not only means "welcome" as in "Welcome to Quebec" but also "You're welcome", the response to "Thank you". This appears to indicate that Quebecois has been heavily influenced by English.

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