What makes Quebec French unique

Are you preparing for the Langfest in Montreal ? Or maybe you’re just curious about the « accent québécois »? You came to the right place!

It is no secret. The French you read on paper and the French you hear on the streets is fairly different. Contractions, silent letters and missing negations are just a few examples of the changes that undergoes the language when it is spoken. One of the beauties of French is that every region of Francophonia gives its particular flavour to the standard language and Québec is no exception. So, you wonder, what is Québec’s “zest” made of? Here’s a few hints!

Keep in mind that accents vary according to a lot of regional and social factors. I have tried to stick to some of the most common characteristics of the spoken language. There are, of course, many more.

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Difference in pronunciation 

D and T

One of the things you’ll notice is that Quebec French has friction sounds after certain letters. This phenomenon is called « affrication ». In front of vowels « i » and « u », letter « d » will be combined with a slight « z » sound, while « t » will be followed by a light « s » sound.

For example, « j’étudie » will become « j’étsudzie ». « Mardi » will sound like « mardzi »

“A” sound

Depending on the region, the « a » from Quebec French is often closer to « uh » (as in « butter ») than « a » (as in « what »). But this, again, varies greatly depending on the person to whom you are talking to.

Long lost œ̃

Linguistic nerds and lovers will be interested to know that the sound [œ̃] (that you can hear in French Quebec « un ») has almost vanished from European French but is still used in Québec.

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Difference in vocabulary

France and Quebec share a common history, but they are still separated by an ocean and a few hundred years of evolution. Even if Quebec French was first similar to the language spoken in Paris in the 17th century, it changed over time with (among other things) the influence of English Canadians and Native Americans.

Examples of words borrowed from the First Nations 

  • Maringouin (moustique) : mosquito
  • Atokas (canneberges) : cranberries
  • Caribou (renne): reindeer

Words from Old French

  • Barrer la porte (verrouiller la porte): to lock the door
  • Asteur (De nos jours): These days
  • Boucane (fumée): smoke
  • Blonde: girlfriend

Original words

  • dépanneur : convenience store
  • tuque
  • poudrerie: blowing snow
  • courriel : email

Of course, Quebec French has a lot of words borrowed from English too. Some of them have even been Frenchified! Take the verb “checker” (from English to check) or downloader (to download), to only name these two.

Je vais checker ça! : I’ll look at it!

Je l’ai downloadé: I downloaded it.

Younger generations, however, tend to not conjugate the English loan verbs at all.

In Quebec, the 3 meals of the day are called differently than in Europe. If you don’t want to miss your date with that pretty Quebecois(e), remember those :

  • Déjeuner (breakfast)
  • Dîner (lunch)
  • Souper (dinner)

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Other interesting particularities

Tu

Quebec French is characterized by the repetition of the pronoun « tu » when addressing a question (informal context only).

Example: Tu veux-tu du vin ? (Do you want some wine?)

The most surprising part is that this phenomenon is not limited to the second person singular.

Ex.:  Ton père est-tu là? (Is your father there?) Il vient-tu? (Is he coming?)

Prepositions

Some prepositions are contracted differently, leaving many non-native speakers puzzled.

Sur la Sa’ Le lait est sa’ table

Milk is on the table

Sur le Sul’ Y a du trafic sul’ pont

There’s traffic on the bridge

À la À’ J’reste à’ maison

I’ll stay home/I stay home

 

Personal pronouns

Some French pronouns are naturally contracted when spoken. Quebec takes it to another level.

Written Spoken (standard) Spoken (québécois)
Je suis J’suis / Chui Chu (sometimes chui)
Tu es T’es T’es (pronounced Té)
Il est Il est I’est (pronounced Yé)
Elle est Elle est É ou È
Ils sont Y sont (or ils sont) Sont (also Y sont)
Elles sont Elles sont (sometimes È sont) Sont (also È sont)

Pis

Sometimes « et » (and) is replaced by « pis », which is the contraction of « puis » (as in «after that»).

Example: J’ai pris mon sac pis chu parti !

Tsé

The contraction of “tu sais?” is a popular conversation filler, just like “you know?”.

Swear words

Like everywhere in the world, swear words are used by some individuals to express a variety of feelings. Due to its historical context, most of Quebec’s swear words are related to religious objects.

 

If you want to learn more about québécois, I recommend this very good video explanation by the adorable Solange (in French):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYm83H5TOMM

 

Here’s other interesting websites you may like (in French):

http://www.je-parle-quebecois.com

https://www.republiquelibre.org/cousture/FRANC.HTM

If you are to visit Québec any time soon and wonder if your standard French will do, don’t worry. We’ll understand you just fine! And we’ll be happy to have you here! 🙂

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