Our guest blogger Anindita introduces us to the quirks of Quebecois French. Plus, translation software company Smartling shares their e-book on metropolitan vs. Canadian French.
Around this time two years ago I was counting down the days to my exchange to McGill University in the Canadian province of Quebec. Although I was aware that the Quebecois French and European French accents were quite different, nothing in my eight years of French training had prepared me for the linguistic shock I experienced upon landing in Pierre Trudeau airport. Before I provide some examples from the Quebecois lexicon, let’s delve into a brief history of this amazing dialect.
When French colonists began settling in North America during the 16th and 17th centuries, they brought with them Classical French. However, this variety became isolated from the influence of European French after Canada was ceded to Great Britain in 1763. As a result, Quebecois French retained many terms that are now considered archaic in France. Indeed, my friends from France were highly amused to learn that the Quebecois French word for ‘car’ is char (original meaning: chariot) and not voiture. Quebecois French was also shaped by speakers of Oïl languages such as Norman, Gallo, Lorrain etc. who settled in Canada as well as by English, which has predominated in most of North America.
Quebecois French can basically be summed up as a blend of these languages with its own unique flavour. Where else will you hear “’et j’étais comme…” (direct translation of “and I was like…”) or ma blonde (meaning: my girlfriend)? I still remember being delighted by the way Quebecers combined French and English when my Canadian friend said “J’ai fait f*** all” in response to my question “Qu’est-ce que tu as fait aujourd’hui?” Despite these Anglicisms appearing in the speech of young Quebecers, there has been some reluctance to adopt English words into the official lexicon. Even the French now say parking and le week-end but signs that say stationnement and la fin de semaine were visible all over Montreal.
But my unexpected favourite “Quebecism” was bienvenue in response to merci instead of the de rien I had become so accustomed to hearing in France. Hearing these words being spoken around me just made me realise that we don’t learn enough about non-European varieties of French in school and that the development of language is incredibly fascinating!
For those wishing to learn more about Quebecois French, you may like to read Smartling’s free e-book, French in Canada and French in France. Smartling is a language translation software company that specialises in easy, accurate website and document translation.
By Anindita Jaggi.