Why is Québécois French different from Parisian French?

Kristen Bradley

Why is Québécois French different from Parisian French?

If you’re translating content to reach a French-speaking audience, it’s important to consider not just the language itself, but the nuances that arise based on where your audience lives. A great example of this scenario is the differences between the way French is spoken in France vs Canada.

Québécois (someone from Québec) and Français (someone from France) share the same basic grammatical rules, so if someone from Canada and someone from France were both to write the same letter, the letter would read exactly the same due to both of them using standard French in writing.

However due to the history of Québec, spoken French there is quite different from the French spoken in France. Québécois French is based on the French spoken in Paris during the 17th and 18th centuries because during that time Europeans were colonizing the Americas and French royals sent Parisians to live in “la Nouvelle France” (aka New France which is modern-day Québec). But, after this initial colonization, the area became increasingly isolated from France which led to a lot of their linguistics becoming frozen in time as their language was not evolving along with their Parisian counterparts. This resulted in modern-day “Canadian French” holding many linguistic characteristics that are not shared by modern European Francophones.

Accent and Pronunciation

Due to the archaic nature of the language, Canadian French contains several 17th century pronunciations, resulting in a noticeably different accent than other Francophones (French speakers). The Québécois accent is known in the Francophone community to be “chantant” (sing-songy) when compared to other French accents. However there is no standard “Québec accent” because every city and town will have its own distinct differences in pronunciation and phrasing as is the case with any language.

In Québec, vowels are a bit more nasal-y than in France, for example “an” is pronounced more like “in” so a phrase like “les parents” (parents) may sound more like “les parrains” (grandparents) which could cause some miscommunications. Another difference in pronunciation concerns consonants. Some consonants, like T and D, are “affriquées” meaning when they come before a vowel a Québécois francophone would add an S or Z sound after them. For example, one would pronounce “fatigué” (tired) as “fatsigué” or “Mardi” (Tuesday) as “Mardzi”. Another difference in Québécois pronunciation is their pronunciation of “Un” (the). In Québec, “un” is still pronounced which is not the case in France. Most French speakers will pronounce “un” as “in”. In a similar situation “A” is sometime pronounced “ô”, so “l’art” (art) may end up sounding like “l’or” (gold).

Prepositions and Pronouns

Concerning pronouns, Québécois vary greatly from other French. Canadians prefer to use the informal form while addressing someone whenever possible. In Québec “tu” (you) is more likely to be used than “vous” (formal form of you) with the only exceptions being when speaking to someone you don’t know or when in a very formal setting. Canadians will almost always use “on” (we) where someone from France would use “nous” (we).

Québécois tend to replace “il” (him or it) with “Y”. For example, “Y’est malade” would be used instead of “Il est malade” (He is sick), or “Y fait bon” may be used instead of “Il fait bon” (it’s nice outside). Similarly, “elle” (she or it) is replaced with “A”. For example “A mal au ventre.” (She has a stomach ache) would be used in place of “Elle est mal au ventre”. When referring to themselves, Canadians replace “Je suis” (I am) with a “Chu”. So instead of hearing “Je suis fatigué” (I’m tired) you may hear a Québécois say “Chu fatigué”.

When it comes to prepositions, Canadians prefer to keep it short and sweet by shortening prepositional phrases. “Sur la” (on the) turns into “s’a”, “sur les” (on the) becomes “s’es”, “dans les” (in the) becomes “dins” and so on.

Language Influence

Another difference between Parisian French and “Canadian French” is the impact of First Nation languages on Québécois vocabulary. Québécois use many Aboriginal loanwords, for example, when talking about sandals someone from France would refer to “les sandales” whereas someone from Québec would refer to “les babiches”.

The use of French sounding words over Anglicized words is promoted in Canada, however the proximity of English speakers has also caused a lasting influence on the language. It wouldn’t be strange to hear a Québécois conjugate English verbs into French sentences, which is very uncommon for other Francophones outside of Québec. For example you might hear a Québécois say “J’ai plugé mon cellulaire” (I plugged in my cellphone), or “On a crossé la street.” (We crossed the street.).

Vocabulary

Québec has a specific regional vocabulary that differs from that of France. This is partly due to their isolation from the evolution of the French language that occurred centuries ago. But it is also an effect of their attempts to preserve the French language intentionally by creating new French-sounding words, and trying to Anglicize them as little as possible. For example, “Parking” in France is “Parking” but in Québec it has been changed to “Stationnement”. In France, “faire du shopping” means to go shopping, but in Québec it is changed to “magasiner” (derived from the French “magasin” meaning store).

As mentioned before, due to the prevalence of the English language, many English words have been absorbed by the Québécois. For example in France when talking about a car one would refer to “une voiture”, but in Canada one would refer to “un char”. When speaking about a cell phone, in France one would refer to “un portable”, but in Canada one would refer to “un cellulaire”. A job in France would be referred to as “le boulot”, but in Canada one may simply refer to “la job”.

A major point of confusion could arise when speaking about meal times between a Québécois and a Français due to the differences in meaning but similarity of words. In Québec breakfast is “le déjeuner”, lunch is “le dîner” and dinner is “le souper”. However, in France breakfast is “le petit-déjeuner”, lunch is “le déjeuner”, and dinner is “le dîner”. Differences like these could cause a bit of confusion between French speakers, or someone traveling to a Francophone country who may not be familiar with regional specifics so it is always wise to brush up on local phrasing while traveling.

All of these subtle distinctions must be taken into account when creating or translating any materials for French speakers. Even though there are a great deal of similarities between written content, there are certainly cultural colloquiums which may be more appropriate in content for an audience in Quebec than one in Paris. In terms of audio dubbing to website localization these considerations become even more significant. If you are translating or localizing content for Quebec, check in with a translation professional to make sure you can capture the true voice of the Québécois.

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