French and French Canadian

Just as Great Britain and the USA are divided by a common language, so are France and their former colony in the Americas, Canada. In fact the dichotomy here is even bigger than between the two versions of English. While it is widely known that Canada is the second largest area of Francophones after France, what is lesser known is what makes these dialects different. France’s colony in Canada was the first permanent colony in the area around the St. Lawrence river. It was originally known as La Nouvelle France (New France). Today the largest concentration of French speakers in Canada is still in this area, modern-day Quebec. Canada is officially bilingual (English and French), and within the province of Quebec, French is the only official language. 23% of all Canadians are mother tongue French speakers, including 80% of Québecois.

Canada is officially bilingual (English and French), and within the province of Quebec, French is the only official language. 23% of all Canadians are mother tongue French speakers, including 80% of Québecois.

While Canadian French and Standard French are mutually intelligible, there are some differences between them in terms of pronunciation, words and spelling. In terms of pronunciation, one difference is that nasal vowels shift, for example /œ̃/ as in parfum becomes /ɛ̃/ as in quinze, which is similar to the vowel in the English word “cans”. There are also differences in the consonants, for example, [t] and [d] shift to [ts] and [dz], respectively.

The first-person singular conjugation of the verb “to go” (aller) is “je vas”, similar to “tu vas, il va” rather than the standard French “je vais”. When you consider how frequently this verb is used, you can see how important this difference is. Another example, this time of a spelling difference, is “s’assoir”, rather than “s’asseoir” (to sit).

As Canada is also an English-speaking country, and one that shares a border with the United States, there has undoubtedly been a lot of borrowing from English. On the other hand, as Quebec is essentially an island surrounded by English, it must protect its language from assimilation, and is therefore resistant to some anglicisms that are commonly used in France. A clear example is that their stop signs say ARRÊT, rather than STOP, which is used in France. Other examples include “le fin de semaine” rather than “le weekend”, “le magasinage” rather than“le shopping”, etc. It is also interesting that people eat “dîner” and “souper” (dinner and supper) as they do in some parts of England, rather than “déjeuner” and “dîner” (lunch and dinner) as in France and the United States.

Recent technological changes have brought along a new set of vocabulary, which also differs between French Canada and France. For example, “e-mail” becomes “courriel” a contraction of “courrier electronique” (electronic mail). The term “email” is preferred in France. Similarly, “spam” is “pourriel” a combination of “courriel” and“poubelle” (trash can). Another interesting word is “clavarder”, meaning to chat (online), which comes from“bavarder” meaning “to chat” in the traditional sense and “clavier” meaning “keyboard”. In France, the term is simply “chater”, borrowed from English.

With an ocean between them, the French language has grown and changed in different ways in this former colony to what it has in the mother country. English Canada has also had a significant effect in both adding to the language, and in causing it to take measures to protect itself. The result is a language that is both interesting for its uniqueness yet still connected with its roots.

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