Dear Old Canada

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.

[Français]

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4 thoughts on “Dear Old Canada”

  1. Very interesting! It’s very similar with what we have going on in the US regarding Spanish. Spanish has evolved from the Spanish spoken in Spanish, but even now a new type of language is evolving that is even different than the spanish spoken in Mexico. It’s always interesting how languages change!!

  2. I live in Canada and my first language is English, but I speak Quebec French…just to clarify, so our français de France friends won’t think they need a translator everywhere they go in La Belle Province….a lot of these terms are used interchangeably in Canada. People say “démarrer la voiture” here too, and may look down at someone who says “chauffer le char” as being very country. Although I’ve heard people call kids “des flots” before, I would say 98% of the time we too say “enfants”. And people here say “dentifrice” and “coiffeur” too. But a lot of it depends on region. People say ‘chauffer le char” in Saguenay but not so much in Montreal. A lot of times Quebeckers build verbs by putting -er on the end “flipper, switcher, checker” Here’s a funny one…in French Ontario, where I live, an English *phrasal* verb is “Frenchified” by adding the -er to the verb. (Elle a freaké out, ça a pas worké out, je peux te dropper off). Oh btw, Quebeckers tend to drop the “ne” in spoken negations (Je sais pas, elle a pas fait ça).

    For some songs that I would definitely use as examples of regional Quebecois, check these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8zS5GTiMUc & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crXVMTHZI1Q

    But keep in mind that in a lot of Canada, most Quebecois are perfectly understandable to speakers of other French varieties. I’m not going to deny however that it does take getting used to…an Algerian acquaintance of mine said it took him days to understand anything being said of him in Montréal, but everyone there could understand him perfectly!

  3. Hi there, doing a thesis on Canadian French, and most of the sources disagree with parts of your description, though it is very good and surprisingly tolerant for someone who is French.

    La plupart des spécialistes (Gendron, Straka etc…) disent que l’influence anglophone est à peu près nulle, même si parfois on voit des régions où une espèce de franglais se parle couramment (Chiac cf Acadieman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlkrEGSSEPE). Je dirais également que la facilité de compréhension entre Français et Canadien varie selon la direction. La plupart des Canadiens comprennent très bien le français européen, même si l’inverse n’est pas toujours vrai. Ce que je dis dans mon mémoire c’est que le manque d’expérience et un sentiment de supériorité chez les francophones européens font que le français parlé au Canada perd presque son statut de langue française, et cela n’est pas juste à cause des différences d’accents et d’expressions…

    Mais un sujet très intéressant…

  4. I left a comment on the French post, if anyone is interested. I was born French Canadian, grew up in Montreal, and got a French B.A. I am now living in Toronto. I can understand and speak any French we use in the country, from the educated French we read in books to the patois and the Ontario Franglais.

    The most amusing for me is when English-speaking people tell me they can’t speak with me because they have learned the Parisian French. I then swich to the French accent (without any difficulty) and say: Alors, parlez-le, sacrebleu!!! Most of them are unable to do so, of course.

    A very interesting article. À votre santé!

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