Québécois: Your Complete Guide to Understanding Canadian French

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Québécois: Your Complete Guide to Understanding Canadian French

Canadian French vs. European French: Differences?

Why learn Canadian French? Are not all French alike?

It depends. If someone asks you:

Is your blonde ready to board the ship?

You may be wondering… Quoi?

This page will explain what it means.

Learning about Canadian French and its history is the finest way to impress (and understand) Quebeckers!
French Canadian History

Let us start with Canadian French’s origins.
In the mid-16th century, French explorers created a colony in Canada. North American British colonies appeared simultaneously.

As part of the Treaty of Utrecht, France gave Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay Area to Britain, allowing English to prevail. In 1867, Canada’s government spoke English.

This alienated French-speaking Americans and Canadians from their Francophone European counterparts.

Modern terminology stopped entering French-speaking Canada as French immigration plummeted.

As you will see, québécois evolved differently from European French due to this isolation.
Quebec and French Differences

The two varieties of French differ in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Look at examples from each group.

Canadian French pronunciation

The pronunciation difference stands out. Quebec French is different like other French accents.
Many French Words Shorten Canadian French

Québécois contractions abbreviate, combine, or erase words.

Tsé truly means tu sais. S’a substitutes sur la, and Canadian French uses chu for je suis!

More examples:

Y replaces il in y’aime and yé/y’est.
Peut-être becomes p’t’-êt’.
Elle transforms
Quebeckers eliminate ne from negative expressions, like many French dialects.

Words With “Dzifferent” Sounds

Quebec French t- and d-words sound distinct. They sound like “ts” and “dz” when pronounced.

This makes tu n’as rien dit sound like tsu as rien dzit.

The numerous subtle differences add up to a French that seems so different from the European French we learn at school!

Next, québécois grammar.
Canadian vs. European French Grammar
Differently Use Tu and Vous

Are you practicing your tu and vous forms?

If so, bad news… Canadian laws differ.

Québécois use tu more than French. Everywhere except business conversations.

If in doubt, use vous.

Do not worry about mistakes. Quebecers understand that tu and vous are difficult for French learners, so do not worry if you mess up!
“Tu” Question Particle

A query… Notice the extra tu in the original example?

Look again: tsé-tu si.

Saw it? Canadian French is characterized by this subtle addition.

French Canadians add a tu for emphasis, but it does not change the question.

The question’s subject does not modify it. Even while talking about others, it is tu. An example:

She will come? (vs elle vavenir)

It looks odd, but natural speakers use this short word this way. Try it!
Canadian vs. European French Vocabulary
Quebec French Reminisces

Quebec French were interestingly shaped by their 18th-century isolation from mainland France.

European French speakers invented new words for concepts as society and technology changed. French speakers in Canada either did nothing or changed the meaning of terms to meet the new concepts.

Char is Canadian French for automobile. This old French word means “chariot,” unlike the European French word voiture!

French pioneers employed water conveyance for extensive voyages, hence the verb embarquer. In modern Québécois, embarquer means to board any vehicle, including cars and buses!

“Because” is à reason que. European French speakers, who use “parce que,” find it archaic.

These instances are like English speakers calling a portable radio “wireless”.
Canadian French Has English Loanwords

“But doesn’t all French have English loanwords?” you question.

Yes, but Anglicisms shaped québécois.

Quebec French has several loanwords and loan translations from English due to centuries of English rule.

A handful, with European French equivalents in square brackets:

Peanuts (cacahuète).
Welcome [please] Thank you. (In danger).
(to observe)
Believe [faith] to trust
Le travail (job)
Cellular phone
The weekend (weekend)
Blonde (girlfriend)

Quebec French uses hundreds of loanwords daily.

English speakers absorb it faster, but Quebeckers find it controversial.
Guarding Quebecers

Quebec native French-speakers worried for decades about English’s huge impact on their language.

Canadian French borrowed many vocabulary from English, and public services outside of Quebec province were offered in English, encouraging the population to speak English.

Quebecers felt ostracized and their language threatened by Anglophones.

The 1960s “Quiet Revolution” culminated this.

The Official Languages Act gave French-speaking Canadians access to public services.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) was established at the same time.

The OQLF is well known for suing organizations who prefer English on public signs and fighting Quebec’s small businesses over signage.

From hospitals to coffee cafes, they observe everyone!

The OQLF also publishes lists of approved alternatives to European French Anglicisms to urge individuals to use more French terminology.

Slang, pop culture, and technology are the most likely sources of borrowing, thus they target these words!

Their suggestions:

[European French]

Parking lot.
Chewing gum chewing gum
Email (email)
Clavarder [chatter] online chat
(to shop)

The effort to conserve Quebec French has resulted in an interesting combination of older English loanwords from before the OQLF and Quebec-approved alternatives to modern terminology.
Canadian and European French: How Different?

Looking back at all these variances, Quebec French is very different from French spoken in France.

Let us check the introduction phrase again:

Is your blonde ready to board the ship?

The qualities we described should make translating it to European French easier. Should get:

“Is your girlfriend ready to ride in the car?”

English too… “Is your girlfriend ready for the car?”

So there! You are prepared for la belle province now. Until then!

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