The French language is spoken all over the world, and each French-speaking area has its own idioms and has given its own unique additions to the language during the course of History. So what about Canada, and especially Quebec, the Canadian province where French is the only official language?
Let’s start with a quick historical overview. Canada was discovered by the French seaman Jacques Cartier in 1534, and then became a French colony on the territory of the current city of Quebec. However once the British conquest started Quebec remained the only French-speaking area in the country.
As I am French, I take an interest in the French spoken in Quebec. Far from finding this version of our language ridiculous, I believe that the sounds and expressions used by our Canadian friends, however surprising and sometimes impossible to understand, are quite charming. I have to admit, however, from time to time it is rather difficult to understand each other and I sometimes have the feeling that we speak two totally different languages!
Many people in France just assume that Canadian French is only a parody of what some call “real French”, or the French spoken in France. Nonetheless, many ignore that Canadian French comes from the Parisian French from the 17th and 18th centuries; however it has absolutely nothing to do with the “Old French”. As any other language, it has evolved to take its own marks, and now contains many words inspired by English because of the proximity of Quebec to the English-speaking world. Thus it really is a parallel evolution – neither one of the two versions of French is inferior to the other.
So… is Canadian French a completely different language? Does it have nothing to do with the French spoken in France? The basis is, without any doubt, the same, but it is true that these two evolutions of the language both have their own ‘personality’. First, the accent varies… a lot. It is sometimes difficult for a French person to understand a Canadian, and I guess it is the same the other way round. Here are a few examples of the phonetic particularities used by Canadians:
– Nouns ending with “oir” are often pronounced “oèr” (avoir : “avoèr”)
– The sound “a” at the end of the word is pronounced “â”
– However, the sound “è” becomes “a” (jamais: “jama”)
– An old ancestral “t” sticks to some expressions: il fait frette (il fait froid)
– “il” is often shortened as a “y”: Y est malade (il est malade)
For an example of the French-Canadian accent you can check out Gad Elmaleh imitating the Canadian accent here –
As you can see, Canadian French is very different from the French spoken in France (and we like to make fun of each other!). Here is the proof with a few typically Canadian expressions:
|Canadian French||French from France||Translation to English|
|La pâte à dents||Le dentifrice||Toothpaste|
|Un aiguisoir||Un taille-crayon||Pencil-sharpener|
|Un barbier||Un coiffeur||Hairdresser|
|Un bécyque||Une bicyclette||Bicycle|
|Des barniques||Des lunettes||Glasses|
|Une calotte||Une casquette||Cap|
|Des flots||Des enfants||Children|
|Barrer la porte||Fermer la porte à clef||To lock the door|
|Chauffer||Conduire un véhicule||To drive a vehicle|
|Crouser||Faire la cour||To court someone|
|Partir le char||Démarrer la voiture||To get the car started|
The list could easily go on and on… and proves that Canadian French definitely has its own personality. Sadly, though, most French people remain incredulous when they face such differences.