Quebec French or Québécois has always been something of a mystery to me.
I first came across it when I met a Québécoise exchange student at university and its different sounds (from standard French pronunciation) intrigued me.
In 2016, I finally made it to Montreal (a city I had long wanted to visit) but for one night only as a stopover on my way to my cousin’s wedding in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada.
While a little tricky to understand all the time at first on a 24-hour layover, Québécois came across as a regional form of French (and definitely not a separate language) based on the level of comprehension that I had.
But how did this unique form of French survive and evolve in the English and Spanish dominated region of North America?
Origins of Québécois
The name Quebec is derived from a Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows” and French explorer Samuel de Champlain for the administrative seat of New France, a French colony, in 1608.
A large number of settlers in the colony came from north-western France and while standard French pronunciation has changed over the last 4 centuries, Québécois has not evolved along the same path.
This is quite a common phenomenon mother and daughter languages or dialects. Africaans has developed on a different path to Dutch to become a whole new language. Ladino or Judeo-Spanish is another example of a daughter language that retains many of the historical characteristics of the mother language (Spanish in this case).
Today Québécois is considered mutually intelligible with standard French (along the lines of American and British English in terms of differences) and is therefore, not a separate language or a dialect but a regional form of the French language.
Moreover, the written form of the language is virtually identical to standard French so the differences are in the spoken form with large differences intra-regionally within Quebec.
3 Important Differences between Québécois and Standard French
1. Québécois uses the sound /ɛ/ (eh) in many words where this is not the standard pronunciation in French, e.g., droit (right, straight) and froid (cold) and the subjunctive of être (to be), i.e., sois. These words are pronounced as “drette”, “frette”, and “seille” in Québécois.
2. The use à (at) with times of the day, e.g., à soir, à matin and à tous les jours (“this evening”, “this morning”, “every day”) instead of Standard French (ce soir, ce matin, tous les jours).
3. There are some differences in vocabulary and Québécois tends to be more influenced by English than standard French, e.g., la job vs le boulot (“the job”), le char vs la voiture (“car” – quite literally the “tank”), faire le party vs sortir (“to go party”) and ma blonde vs ma copine (“girlfriend” – quite literally the “blonde”).
Have you learnt or do you speak French or Québécois? If so, write me your thoughts and experiences with these 2 different forms of the French language in the comments section below. I read all comments I receive.