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Why and How Quebec French differs from Metropolitan French

It can be said that Metropolitan French (or Standard European French) and Québec French (or Canadian French), while both rooted in early modern Classical French, are two distinct varieties of French. Reviewing the history of how the French language came to be in Canada, will help us understand the differences better between Metropolitan and Québec French

The History of Canadian French

During the Age of Exploration, King Francis I (Francois 1er) commissioned a western expedition to find another route to China. In 1534, Jacques Cartier, the leader of the expedition, landed in the Gape Peninsula, planted a cross, and claimed ‘New France’ for the King. French settlers began to colonise the new territory, which subsequently expanded until it took up half of what is now known as the North American continent.

The French colonists continued to settle in New France until the 17th and 18th centuries, bringing with them Classical French, along with a smatterings of the type of French that is spoken north of Paris, and of langues d’oil during the era.

The year 1760 saw the beginning of British rule of the New World, which isolated the French colonies in Canada, particularly those living in the modern day Québec region. The French that was brought to the colony was also isolated, during this time the noticeable differences between the French varieties began to appear. Standard European French developed with European influences, while Canadian French were infused with significant influences from the English language.

Modern Day Canadian French

The late 1800s saw a shift towards industrialization in the Canadian Confederation. This increased the interaction between the French Canadians, English-speaking Canadians, and the United States. Business deals were mainly in English, which forced French Canadians to use English alternatives for words that were missing from the French Canadian vocabulary during the time. These words were mostly adopted from the fields of manufacturing, trade, law, and the government.

The Quiet Revolution in the 1960s saw a major drive towards embracing their cultural identity among French Canadians. This also promoted a sense of Québec nationalism that is still present even today, with some Quebecers still wanting to become an independent state from Canada. In 1977, the Charter of the French Language was drafted by the Parti Québécois and its obvjective was to protect the French Canadian language-also known as Québécois. The Charter of the French Language made Québec French the primary language used in business in Québec, and, moreover, severely limited the use of English in public signs. At present, Québec French is the primary language spoken in Quebec and is also widely used in Ontario and New Brunswick.

The main differences

Metropolitan French has evolved directly from its European roots. Although it can be seen to have a few influences from neighbhouring foreign languages, such influences are subtle, even barely noticeable, in spoken Metropolitan French. With strong influences from the British and the nearby United States, Québec French, on the other hand, displays a greater number of adopted English words, especially in informal spoken Canadian French.

It is almost a given that the two varieties of French, when spoken, will have different accents and intonations; just like British and American English. Curiously, the written, as well as the formally spoken Québec French, shares, with minor differences, the same structure and grammatical rules as Metropolitan French. It is when Québécois is spoken informally that the differences between the two varieties of French become obvious. A French Canadian will generally have no problem communicating with anyone speaking Metropolitan French, though he or she may have to adjust his accent somewhat to be understood.

European French speakers, for their part, will easily understand formal spoken Québécois, but may get confused with informal spoken Québécois. The reason for this is that informal Québec French uses idioms, words, cultural references, and expressions that are unfamiliar to those who speak Metropolitan French.

Differences in Word Use between France French and Quebec French

The way French and common Québec use words differ a lot at the structural level. Here we summarize the most complicated elements that can be heard in everyday conversation.

Double Words

Words are repeated to intensify its meaning. These are often used in a negative sense.

Structural Diff : 1

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH
I wasn’t really that fond of it.Je l’aimais pas ben-ben.
His music isn’t really that great.Sa musique n’est pas fort-fort.

English Usage

Quebecers use English to make an idea sound better or express something extreme. For example:

Structural Diff : 2

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH
That was really the worst.C’était vraiment bad.

It also goes for famous English phrases that are not yet incorporated into everyday use. The general rule is when a French word is difficult to incorporate in a sentence they just use the English word for it.

Les Autres

Quebecers often combine words like how Americans would use “you guys” or “Y’all” rather than just saying “you”. Nous has a similar meaning to “we all” so Quebecers say nous autres, and vous with vous âutres rather than simply saying nous.

Nous and Vous

One of the dillemas in Québecois usage is when to say the verbs nous and vous. Unlike their Gallic counterparts, Quebecers are very informal. For them, using vous is more likely to create distance than show politeness, at least among the young people. To remedy this, the “vous” form of the verb is used in introductions and then people use the verb “tu” after that. 

Supressed Articles

If you want to refer to a time that is familiar in context, you can use the stand-alone particle à instead of ce. It can be used as à matin (this morning) or à soir (this evening). Most of the time the particle following à (meaning “to”), jusqu’à, or dans is dropped as can be seen in these examples: dans maison (dans la maison), à gare (à la gare), à prochaine (à la prochaine).

Tenses

Quebecers often use the conditional when making an order or asking for something.

Structural Diff: 3

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH
... I’ll have the beef (when ordering at a restaurant)Je prendrais le bœuf

The Major Grammatical Differences Between Quebec French and France French

Several grammatical features of spoken French in Quebec distinguish it from metropolitan French. For example, the syntax of informally spoken Quebec French uses much less specifiers such as relative clauses wherein que is used as a relative pronoun in many cases. For example, a Quebecer might say, j’ai réservé l’hôtel que je t’ai parlé while a metropolitan speaker will say j’ai réservé l’hôtel dont je t’ai parlé.

Some specifiers, like prepositions, collocate with certain verbs are completely removed. For example, a Quebecer will say, voici le malade à t’occuper  but a person from France will say voici le malade dont tu dois t’occuper. This Quebec French way of forming sentences often results in major syntactic differences between the two French varieties.

Another good example of grammatical difference between Metropolitan and Quebec French is the subject and object pronouns are, most of the time, not the same. In spoken Quebec French on is almost always used instead of nous. Some prepositions are also shortened in Quebec French. Examples are a Quebecer will say dins instead of dans less’a instead of sur la, and s’es instead of sur les. These are just a few of a large number of grammatical distinctions between the two varieties of French-and there are even grammatical structures that exist only in Quebec French.

As a reminder, here are the most important grammatical differences:

The /tsu/ construct

When Québécers add /tsu/ in their sentences it results in a tricky combination. It can be seen anywhere in the language. For example, when someone asks a question they add /tsu/ or /s’tu/ to their sentence. It’s also used in their idiomatic expressions such as:

World-level : 1

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH
Do you have...t’as-tsu
Is that for real?s’tu pour vrai ?
Could it be that...(Ça) se peut-tsu que...
Can you...tu peux-tsu

Il and Lui

Most of the time, Québécers almost remove pronouns and particles to their utterances and just add them to their ending sound. Here are some examples:

World-level : 2

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH 
I’ve often said...J’y ai souvent dit...
There are three.Y en a trois.

can mean two different things — the word “there” (indicative), and the word “now”. So when you hear the expression , la could mean “As for that…” — or in the most literal sense, “there, now…”

Ne… pas

A Québécois sentence in a negative sense often includes the ne or the pas but it could still have a negative sense without it.

World-level : 3

ENGLISHQUEBEC FRENCH
I can’t come to the phone right now.Je peux pas répondre au téléphone en ce moment.

The Main Vocabulary Differences Between Quebec French and France French

Québec French vocabulary is distinctive from Metropolitan French; primarily due to the strong influence of the English language upon it. Also called Anglicisms, the borrowed English words are a bit more frequent in spoken Québec French than in Metropolitan French (although it is noticeable that the use of Anglicisms has greatly increased in France since the past decade). With the Quiet Revolution however, the burgeoning sense of Québec nationalism made French Canadians try to consciously limit the use of Anglicisms in more formal forms of speech. When Québec French uses too much Anglicisms when spoken, it is usually considered as franglais, which is a derogatory term.

The loaned words in Québec French are not limited to English alone. Some are borrowed from the aboriginal languages that the early settlers were exposed to during colonization. Examples of these aboriginal words include carcajou, meaning wolverine, atoca for cranberry, manitou meaning VIP, and micouène, which is a large wooden spoon.

There are words in Québec French that refer specifically to French Canadian culture that do not exist in Metropolitan French. Some examples of these words are poutine, tuque, and dépanneur. The word dépanneur, does exist in Metropolitan French but it is used to refer to a mechanic or an electrician who makes house calls, whereas the word refers to a “small grocery or corner store” in Québec French.

The vocabulary of Québec French also gives evidence of its isolation from France during the British rule in the 1700s. Some words in Québec French appear to have evolved differently in New France. Some examples of this are barguiner, pogner, and magasiner endured due to their frequency of use in informal speech, yet evolved differently from its European counterparts.

The Differences in Pronunciation Between Quebec French and France French

The common language spoken in Québec – Québecois – can be easily identified by its distinct accent. You can say that Québecois is as different from Parisian French as North American English is from British English.

Here is a brief comparison of Québécois French and Metropolitan French (or France French) pronunciation.

The Vowels

Vowels are where the most noticeable differences between Metropolitan French and Québec French can be found. When spoken in Québec French, the vowels, with nasal intonation, are even more nasalized. Although the un sound is no longer used in Metropolitan French, it is still very much in use in spoken Québec French. When spoken, the word an in Québec French sounds like the Metropolitan French word in. This shift can perhaps be likened to the differences between British and American English.

Most other vowel sounds are similar between Québec French and Metropolitan French. However, it must be noted that the high vowels i,u, and ou are pronounced lax when used in closed syllables in Québec French. Since some vowels used to have a long pronunciation in 300-year old Classical French, it has been retained in Québec French pronunciation even though the pronunciation was lost in Metropolitan French. Words like pâte and patte, and maître and mettre sound virtually the same in Metropolitan French, though not in spoken Québec French.

Other differences in the vowel usage between spoken Metropolitan French and Québec French include the intonation of the vowels, and the speed in which the vowels are pronounced in sentences.

The Consonants

For consonants, there are very few differences between Québec French and Metropolitan French. These differences however, are, nonetheless, noticeable. Take for example the pronunciation of the letter “R”. Metropolitan French pronounce a trilled or a flapped “R”. While this is also the case in Québec French, a good number of French Canadians still pronounce “R” with a uvular sound, much like it did in Classical French several hundred years ago.

Another more distinctive pronunciation in Québec French is the way the letters “D” and “T” is pronounced as “DZ” and “TS” when it occurs before the letters “U” and “I”. This unique Québec French pronunciation is even carried over in formal speech, where it is normally expected for the speaker to sound more like Metropolitan French.

How Quebec French Differs From France French When It Comes to Informal Conversations

Francophones in Quebec often use the second-person pronoun tu more often and in a greater variety of situations than speakers of Standard European French do. While this does not pose much of an issue in French speaking Canada, it is viewed as impolite in France. Even in Québec however, an elderly person might get insulted if the word tu is used when addressing them, especially when it comes from someone serving them. Such persons who use tu instead of vous are regarded as rude and are lacking in manners. This is why sales-people, government personnel, and suchlike in French speaking Canada are instructed to use vous instead of tu when speaking to customers.

In day-to-day conversation, Québec French is also starkly different from Metropolitan French. As mentioned earlier, a Metropolitan French speaker will easily get confused if ever they find themselves in an informal conversation with a French Canadian speaker. The reason behind this has little to do with accents, but more with the Québec French speaker’s use of idiomatic expressions, vocabulary, slang words, and cultural references that will be completely alien to the Metropolitan French speaker.

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