Canadian French

65zp07Canada has two official languages: English and French. Canadian French is the umbrella name of a number of dialects that that differ in its vocabulary and pronunciation from standard French (e.g., the French spoken in France and Belgium). The most important of these dialects are Québécois and Acadian.

In the early 17th century France founded two colonies in North America: ACADIA (in what is now Nova Scotia) and NEW FRANCE (in what is now the Province of Québec).

Brief History of Acadia

Like many other settlements in the New World, Acadia had a very tumultuous history as the object of territorial struggles between two rival European nations. Situated in the vicinity of the present day State of Delaware. The North Atlantic region of America was first explored by the Italian sailor Giovanni da Verrazzano for the King of France. You may have heard the name Verrazzano. It was immortalized in the name of the longest suspended bridge, the Verrazzano Narrows, that hangs over the mile -wide channel at the entrance to the New York Harbor.

The first organized French settlement in Acadia was founded in 1604 by Pierre du Gua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, on the present U.S.-Canadian border. In 1605 the colony was moved to Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia).The French claimed for Acadia lands that had also been claimed by England and this launched the colony into a territorial that continued for decades, until King Charles I gave Acadia back to France. A renewal of French colonization ensued until 1636, when the region found itself in the middle of a civil war caused by a bitter power struggle between two of the colony’s leading French officials. From 1654 to 1670 Acadia was under British rule, but reverted to French rule where it remained for the next four decades.

Port Royal was captured by the British, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14). The Treaty of Utrecht which concluded this war, gave Nova Scotia to Great Britain but left Cape Breton Island and Île Saint-Jean (from 1799 Prince Edward Island) with France. In 1755, as war with France became imminent, the British deported many French-speaking Acadians,who eventually found their way to French-ruled Louisiana, where their descendants became known as Cajuns. At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the North American phase of the war between England and France that began in 1754, Île Saint-Jean and Cape Breton Island also formally came under British rule; the province of New Brunswick was separated from Nova Scotia in 1784.

According to records for 1707, well over half of the settlers of Acadia came from provinces located in western France, south of the Loire River (primarily from Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge but also Guyenne and the Basque Country). The remainder of the settlers came from a variety of provinces located north of the Loire (Anjou/Maine/Touraine, Brittany, Normandy, Brie, Paris, Orléanais).

The early settlers of Acadia came from various regions in Europe (mostly from France). According to records for 1707, well over half of the settlers came from provinces located in western France, south of the Loire River (primarily from Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge but also Guyenne and the Basque Country). The remainder of the settlers came from a variety of provinces located north of the Loire (Anjou/Maine/Touraine, Brittany, Normandy, Brie, Paris, Orléanais).

New France 

The name Gallia Nova (New France) was given to the region by the brother of Giovanni da Verrazano who explored the coasts of North America from present day Carolinas to Nova Scotia in 1524. Ten years later, French navigator and explorer, Jacques Cartier, sailed the North Atlantic Coast and arrived at the  Gulf of St. Lawrence claiming the region for King Francis I of France. In the years that followed, Cartier continued his journey North to as far as where Montreal stands now and, along with Jean-François de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval., attempted to found a colony near what is now Quebec . The colony did not succeed, but  it started  the French fur trade with the Native Americans (First Nations) of the gulf and the river regions began.

Leading an expedition that left France in 1608, French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec, selecting a commanding site that controlled the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River estuary,  and consolidated the French colonies in the New World.  In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu,  chief minister of France, founded the Company of New France. Popularly known as the Company of the Hundred Associates (Compagnie des Cent-Associés), it was granted the colony of New France. Cardinal Richelieu was interested in controlling fur-trading monopolies. The Company was to have complete monopoly of the fur trade for 15 year, starting in 1629. In return, the Company was to attract 200 to 300 settlers per year.L ike Acadia, New France became the center of territorial struggles between France and England. In 1629 Quebec itself surrendered to the English. In 1632, it was restored by the Treaty of Saint-Germain. However, the Company never recovered, even though it controlled New France until 1663. Colonization was slow and the fur trade was highest on the list of everyone’s priorities except the missionaries.

War finally ended in 1763, when the Treaty of Paris gave all New France east of the Mississippi, outside the environs of New Orleans, was ceded to Great Britain. France was left with the small island of St. Pierre and Miquelon near Newfoundland, and the French fishing rights in Newfoundland. The more than 60,000 French Canadians living in what now became the province of Quebec, became British subjects.

Quebec French or Québécois

Most of the settlers who came to Canada during the 17th and 18th century probably spoke French, but at that time in Europe French had not replaced the dialects of Gallo Romance. In fact, these were still flourishing. Therefore, it is likely that, in addition to French,  many of the colonists spoke the dialects of the regions that exported many of the settlers to New France, such as Normandy/Perche, Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge.

Québécois, differs from standard French in pronunciation and vocabulary. The following are some examples:

  • Quebecers tend to affricate1 dental stops – such as the consonants t and d before high front vowels and semivowels, like u and i, so the second person pronoun tu, represented by the phoneme /ty/ in French, becomes /tsy/ in Québécois. Example: tu es parti is pronounced tsu es partsi.
  • The masculine and feminine adjectives petit and petite, pronounced /p@ti/ and /p@tit/ in standard French, are pronounced /p@tsi/ and /p@tsIt/ in Québécois.
  •  Long vowels and vowels pronounced with a nasal sound in standard French, are dipthongized in Québécois so, for example, père (father), /pE:r/ in France, becomes /pEjr/ in Québécois, and banque (bank), /ba~k/ in standard French, is pronounced /ba~w~k/ in Québécois.
  • The pronoun il sounds like y. Examples: Il est malade sounds like Y’est malade; Il y a pas le temps like Y’a pas le temps. Similarly, the feminine pronoun elle is contracted, so it sounds like a. Examples: elle a sounds like aa; elle a pas le temps sounds like aa pas le temps and elle a mal au dos like aa mal au dos.
  •  Chu is the contraction of Je suis, so Chu fatigué means Je suis fatigué and Chu en retard means Je suis en retard.
  •  Some words are pronounced with a t sound that is not heard in standard French, for example: Il fait froid is pronounced Il fait frette; mon lit becomes mon litte and ici sounds like icitte.
  • Oi is pronounced like oé, as in the old days, so moi sounds like moé and Québécois like Québécoés.
  • Tu is frequently added to questions, as in Il en veut-tu? Tu m’écoutes-tu? Je l’ai-tu?
  • Québécois often end their statements with T’sais (a contractionof tu sais – You know?).
  • Older speakers often roll the r instead of pronouncing it as a fricative, as in standard French.

English influence on Québécois: Franglais used in Quebec, examples are words like: slaquer, bummer, checker and phrases such as:.

  •  avoir un good time
  • être cheap
  • être opène
  • faire son show

On the other hand, some of the Anglicisms that are frequent in standard French, have remained purely French in Québécois. For instance, in Quebec on se parque dans un stationnement, while in France or Belgium on se gare dans un parking.

Examples of standard French Anglicisms that do not exist in Québécois:

Standard French Québécois English translation
week-end fin de semaine weekend
e-mail* courriel e-mail
Mèl* courriel e-mail

(*NB: France is promoting the use of courriel instead of e-mail.)

Other expressions are completely French, but derived from English. Example:

Stadard French Québécois English
Congère Banc de neige Snowbank

Examples of old-fashioned Québécois expressions:

English  QuébécoisS Standard French
to wait espérer attendre
backyard cour jardin
courthouse palais de justice tribunal

Some Québécois idiomatic expressions do not exist in standard French. Examples:

Québécois idiom English 
mets-en I’ll say
s’en venir arrive, come here
fait que so

The use of sacrer (as in sacre bleu! être en sacre (to be mad), etc.) is also inherent to Québécois. The familiar pronoun tu is used more frequently in Québécois than in standard French.

The following is a list of English words and how they translate into standard French and Québécois:

In English… En France… Au Québec…
small shop un petit magasin un dépanneur
agreed c’est d’accord tiguidou
at this time à cette heure asteure
bank une banque une caisse populaire
beer une bière une broue
bicycle une bicyclette un bécyque
blueberry une myrtille un bluet
breakfast le petit déjeuner le déjeuner
cap une casquette une calotte
car une automobile un char
cat un chat un minou
cranberry une airelle une canneberge
dinner le dîner le souper
dog un chien un pitou
dollar un dollar une piastre
film, movie un film une vue
flashlight une lampe-torche une lampe de poche
lunch le déjeuner le dîner
money de l’argent des bidoux / du foin
not at all pas du tout pantoute
not too bad c’est pas terrible c’est pas varjeux
now maintenant présentement
rains il pleut il mouille
refrigerator un réfrigérateur un frigidaire
stop le stop l’arrêt
thing une chose une patente
to caress, stroke caresser minoucher
to cry pleurer brailler
to disturb someone déranger quelqu’un achaler / gosser
to do the shopping faire ses emplettes faire ses commissions ou son épicerie
to drive a car conduire un véhicule chauffer
to get in (a car) monter (dans une voiture) embarquer (dans un char)
to get out (of a car) descendre (d’une voiture) débarquer (d’un char)
to go shopping se promener dans les magasins magasiner
to look off color, under the weather avoir mauvaise mine faire dur
to look tired avoir l’air fatigué avoir les yeux dans la graisse de binnes
toys des jouets des bébelles
weekend le week-end la fin de semaine
you are nice tu es gentil tu es fin
you’re welcome de rien bienvenu

Acadian French:

Acadian was the language spoken by the French pioneers who settled Nova Scotia in the 17th Century. Expelled by the British in 1755, the Acadians scattered among the thirteen English colonies, from Massachusetts to Georgia and to Europe. Acadian French is the ancestor of Cajun, a French dialect of Louisiana.

The Acadians were allowed to return to Nova Scotia in 1764. However, they were not allowed to form large settlements and many of their former farms and villages had been occupied by British settlers, so they were forced to relocate in the less fertile areas along the coast. Today more than 40,000 Acadians may be found in various areas of Nova Scotia, such as the counties of Digby,  Guysborough, Yarmouth,  Richmond and Iverness,  in Isle Madame (the largest island in an archipelago situated off the southwest coast of Cape Breton Island) and in the urban regions of Halifax-Dartmouth and Sydney.

Acadian French is a descendant of the French dialects of Anjou and Poitou, and retains some of the features that were eliminated from standard French during the standardization efforts of the 19th century, including an alveolar r, and the pronunciation of the final syllable in the third person plural verb form. Many French speakers find Acadian French archaic – reminiscent of the language of .Molière and Rabelais – and difficult to understand.

The following is a list of Acadian expressions with their standard French translation and direct translation (and interpretation) in English:

Acadian French expression In standard French Literal English translation and interpretation 
C’est poin la marre a boire. C’est pas la mer a boire. It’s not like drinking the sea. (It is not a big deal.).
C’ti la qui veut toute parre toute. Celui qui désire tout, perds tou. He who wants everything, loses everything.
Chuési prend pire Choisi prend pire. What is chosen is the worst. (Be careful what you wish for.)
C’est l’ezo qui s’leve tôt qu’attrape la lége. C’est l’oiseau qui se lève tôt qu’attrape la lège It is the bird that rises early that catches the light. (The early bird gets the worm.)
C’est seulement en forgeant que l’on devient forgeron C’est rinque en forginw qu’on edvin forgerinw. It is only by doing that we learn. (Learn by doing.)
C’est la plume qui fait l’ezo. C’est la plume qui fait l’oiseau. Feathers make the bird. (Clothes make the man/woman.)
Gratter des coques a marée haute. Arracher des coques a marée haute. Digging clams at high tide. (A difficult task.)
Te far prende avec les chulottes abâs. Te faire prendre au dépourvu. Getting caught with your pants down.
Baille’i dla botte. Donne lui de la botte. Give him boot. (Give it all you’ve got.)
Gas à la place. (Gas in place.) L’accélérateur au fond. (The accelerator at the bottom.) Pedal to the metal.
Ça fra ça que ça fra. Ça fera ce que ça fera. (Whatever will be will be.)
Par la cheue d’sa chmise. Par la queue de sa chemise By the shirt tail. (By the seat of the pants.)
 La brume su l’échine. La brume dur le dos (pressé). Fog hardens the back. (In a rush.)
Chins des beurtelles. Tiens tes bretelles. Hold on to your straps.
Chins tes chulottes. Tiens des pantalons. Keep your pants on
Hâle tes cans. (Tan your edges.) Allons! Hâte! Come on! Hurry!
Ça sounne la ‘tin can’. Ça sonne comme une boîte en fer blanc. That sounds like a tin can.
Ej nous r’warrinw. On se reverra. We’ll see each other again. (We’ll meet again.)
C’est wôuellment cheute-affarre. C’est vraiment quelque chose. It is really something.
Grand djeu de djeu! Grand Dieu de Dieu! Great God of God. (Good Lord.)
Saquerjé. Sacré Dieu! Good Lord!
C’est in point-d’esprit. (It is in point-of spirit. ) Il est quelqu’un à l’esprit lent.(He is someone with a slow spirit.) (He is a bit slow.)
H’en ai une tapée. J’en ai beaucoup. I have many.
À la sainte et bounne heure. À la Sainte et Bonne Heure. With Holy and Good Hour. (All in good time.)
Y mouille à boire deboute.  Il pleut à boire debout. It is raining enough to drink standing up.
Y grouille coumme dla m’lasse dans janvier Il bouge lentement comme de la molasse en janvier. He moves as slow as molasses in January.
Le temps m’dure. Que le temps me dure. That time may last me. (I can’t wait.)
Dar-dye! Mon Dieu! Oh my!
C’est du temps dl’arche. C’est du temps de l’arche. From the time of the Arc. (From Biblical times.)
Djâble le sait. Le Diable le sait The Devil knows.
Cheuil compâssion Quelle compassion What compassion. (What a case!)
Véter pendu. Je veux être pendu. I want to be hanged. (I’ll be darned.)
I’ a pouonne inventé le boutinw à quatre trous. Il n’a pas inventé le bouton à quatre trous. He did not invent the button with four holes. (He is not the sharpest pencil in the box.)
I’ en n’a pas les cars. (He does not have a bus.) Il en n’a pas beaucoup. He does not have much.
C’est pas les cars.  (It is not the bu.) Ce n’est rien de merveilleux. It is nothing marvelous. (It is nothing special.)
C’est pas dla ragouillasse. Ce n’est pas de la ragouillasse. (ragouillasse : préparation culinaire grossière (de ragoût suffixé péjorativement en -asse) : on trouve d’habitude ragougnasse.) This is not low class stuff.
C’est râre coumme des dents d’poule. C’est rare comme des dents de poule. Rare as teeth on a chicken.
Quoi ça mange l’hivar ça? Que es ce que cela ça mange l’hiver? What is it that eats Winter? (What is this all about?)
Trop d’far au feu.  Trop de fer au feu. Too many irons in the fire.
Pour bin farre. Pour bien le faire To be sure.
Aussi vite que cracher atarre. Aussi vite que cracher par terre. As quick as spitting on the ground.
‘Oir si! Voir si! (Better believe it!)
La babine su vingt-neuf. La lèvre d’en bas sur vingt-neuf. The lip at the bottom of twenty-nine. (Long in the tooth or has a long face)
Quand c’qui lâ dequois à la téte, il lâ poin aux pieds. Quand il a quelque chose dans la tête, il ne l’a pas aux pieds. When he has something in his head, he does not have it with the feet. (When his mind is made up, there is no changing it.)
Être ‘poin su son assiette. Pas sur son assiette. Not on his plate (Not in a good mood.)
Pauvre coumme in rat d’église. Pauvre comme un rat d’église. Poor as a church rat. (Poor as a church mouse.)
Pour l’amour de Djeu. Pour l’amour de Dieu. For the love of God.
Véter damné. Je veux être damné. (I’ll be darned.)
Que l’bon Djeu te bénisse et que l’Djâble te cobisse. Que le bon Dieu te bénisse, et que le Diable t’estropie. May the Good Lord bless you and the Devil cripple you.

Although there are considerable differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, Canadian French (Québécois) and standard French are mutually understandable. This is partly because most of the French citizens who immigrated to Canada over time  came from areas outside of Paris and, during the French Revolution, their dialect would become the national language of France. Quebecois French is also partly based on the Royal French spoken by the King’s Daughters (les filles du roi), women of marrying age who were sent to the colony of New France in the mid-seventeenth century, under the royal auspices of the Court of King Louis XIV, to correct the imbalance that existed between the sexes. Some of these women were Parisian orphans; others were recruited from the areas of La Rochelle and Rouen.

Therefore, if your target audience is the French-speaking public of Canada, we recommend translating your message into Canadian French (Québécois). However, if your audience is the French-speaking public in general and your budget is limited, then standard French is a better choice. InterSol will assist you in the selection of the appropriate language version for the your intended the target audience, taking into account budgetary considerations.