By Camille Masson
When one thinks of the French language, they typically think of Paris, France, and fine food. However, there are many other places where French is used, namely in the Canadian province of Québec. However, there are important differences between Québécois French and European French that can be found in their idioms, phonetic inventory, and grammatical structures. For example, in Québécois spoken French can differ greatly from written French, as written French tends to be more “standard” and will usually follow the guidelines emitted by “L’Académie Française”.
Unfortunately, it is quite frequent for language learners to be unaware of these differences, and this can lead to confusion when the time comes for those learners to practice their French in Québec!
This year, I had the chance to meet one exchange student who was learning French, and a few exchange students from France. Through meeting these students, I realized I needed to adapt my French for both the French learner, and for the students from France even though we both spoke the same language. This experience sparked my interest in sharing a few differences between Québécois French and European French. The differences I will write about here are only a few examples and may vary depending on the context of use. After all, people usually do not speak to their boss the same way they would speak to their friends!
In European French, one would say “Veux-tu partir?”, which means “Do you want to leave?”. In Québécois, the pronoun “tu” is repeated which results in “Tu veux-tu partir?”. This means that in Québécois we see sentences like, “T’aimes-tu la tarte?”, “Ça te tenterait tu?”, T’es-tu d’accord?” etc.
Both European French and Québécois use words derived from English, and are called integral anglicisms. These occur when words taken directly from English and applied in French, such as “toaster” in Québec.
However, Québécois also uses other hybrids, semantics, morphological, syntactic and phraseological anglicisms.
- Hybrid anglicisms are created by borrowing an English word’s meaning and form, and adding a French suffix. For example: “to customize” becomes “customizer”; “to check” becomes “checker”.
- Semantic anglicisms are French words that are given a second meaning that it does not have in French. This primarily happens with words that have a similar form in both French and English, but have different meanings. For example, “change” in European French only means “to change”, but it is often used synonymously with “monnaie” (coins of low denomination) in Québec.
- Morphological anglicisms are created by translating a word or expression directly from English to French when the meaning is already covered by a French equivalent. For example, a Québécois would say they are making an “appel longue distance” (long-distance call), while a European would say they are making an “interrurbain”.
- Syntactic anglicisms are created when a structural form is taken from English and used in French. For example, “To make sense” would be “Avoir du sens (to have sense)” in European French. However, it is often changed for “Faire du sens” in Québec.
- Idiomatic anglicisms are created when an idiom is directly translated from English and is then used in French. For example, “Out of the woods” is “Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge” (not to be out of the hostel) in European French. However, if you directly translate “Out of the woods” from English to French you get “Ne pas être sorti du bois”, which is the most commonly used version in Québec.
Spoken Québécois is quite different from European French. One of the most obvious differences are the contractions used in Québécois. Here are a few examples, their equivalent in France’s French, and their translation in English.
“Chu” = “Je suis” = “I am”.
As in “Chu fatigué” (“I’m tired).
“A” = “Elle” = “She”.
As in “A veut manger” (“She wants to eat)
“Y” = “Il” = “He”.
As in “Y veut manger” (“He wants to eat)
Many words are used in both Québéc and France, but with different meanings. “Écoeurant” is a great example of this. In Québec, it can both mean “disgusting” and “very good”, but in France, it only means “disgusting”. Another very controversial word is “Chocolatine” vs “Pain au chocolat”, which is the subject of debate in France itself. In Québec, “Chocolatine” refers to a pastry made from puff pastry wrapped around chocolate, whereas “Pain au chocolat” refers to a loaf of bread with chocolate chips mixed in the dough. In some parts of France “chocolatine” is not used, and “Pain au chocolat” refers to the puff pastry. This is a heated subject in the francophone community with everyone arguing that they are saying it the “right way”. However, I do not believe there is one universal and unique word, and instead you must simply adapt to your environment to make sure you get the right item from the boulangerie.
In conclusion, if you ever come to Quebec to learn French it is important to keep these regional differences in mind!
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