Aug 162008

(asked Lilabet from somewhere in Canada)

Her full question: Since we’re on the topic of accents, I live in Canada and find that the Québec version of French seems more nasal than French French. If you’ve ever heard a Québécois(e) speak, do you find their version of French much different than yours? Both in terms of vocabulary and accent?

Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of Québécois speak… Sadly, it seems that Québec has taken a habit to always send their worst singers to France, because they know they can become famous here.
Can you imagine that Céline Dion became famous in France decades before the rest of the world? She was a teenager… Even though I must admit that she’s not as bad when she sings in French as she is when she sings in English (in French, sometimes, she actually sings, not constantly yells like she does in English).
But I’m getting sidetracked here.
Back to languages.

So, yes, Québécois French is quite different from French French. It even may be the most different French from French French among all the native French languages… Mmmm… Actually Cajun French may be the one…

And yes, the difference lies on two levels.

First. The accent.
The Québécois accent is definitely more nasal. I’d even say it’s very nasal. Actually, when I imitate the Québécois accent, I just nasalize everything I say (I think I’m pretty good at it, and also quite funny… I’m sure Québécois disagree).
The tonic stress is a different too, I can’t really explain how (I’m not a phonologist) but it is.

Second. The vocabulary.
Québécois French has a very different lexicon from French French. For three main reasons:
1. It’s the French that broke off from France the earliest. One can argue that Belgian and Swiss French are older, but their proximity to France makes them closer to French French.
As a consequence, the meaning of some words has changed differently in Canada and in France. Sometimes the meaning changed in France, sometimes it did in Canada, sometimes it did in both countries, but in different ways.
2. Because the Québécois are so scared of English and of disappearing because of it, they make a point in finding a French equivalent to every English word that is being used in France (and sometimes it gives some pretty “interesting” things that can make a linguist choke… I’m still trying to recover from “courriel”).
3. Paradoxically, the proximity to so many English speakers has a definite influence on the vocabulary and Québécois French uses a bunch of English words (sometimes “Frenchified”) that French people don’t use at all, to the point that I feel that the Québécois actually use more English words in their everyday life than the French do.

More Questions Answered:

  4 Responses to “How are Québécois French and French French different?”

  1. Thanks, that is a very good analysis. I find it so odd that in Québec they say ‘bienvenue’ instead of ‘de rien’. AVout Cajun French, I have never gheard it spoken, but I can imagine it would quite interesting…

  2. Actually, if you want to hear a very good example of Cajun French, I can recommend this youtube clip of a film made using a real Cajun family in the 40s:

  3. I wanted to mention that there is now a course that teaches spoken Québec French and will answer any kind of question you might have on the issue!

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