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In a comment on last week’s instalment, Mr Pregunto asked me what was my opinion “on the value of the local dialects of French, here in Quebec”. Well, here goes.
From a purely utilitarian point of view, I actually find it quite advantageous to speak a dialect that is further from the “standard” than most European ones. That meant I learnt another variety at school, and hear it in movies, tv shows, etc. The result of which is that I can understand many French dialects (although by no means all), whereas most French speakers from outside Quebec would understand me if I didn’t tone down mine.
This also serves to illustrate something foundamental that has to be understood: one has to use the appropriate “sublanguage” to the situation. If I publish a paper, I’ll use a more “standard” or “international” form of French than if I write a blog, a poem or a children story.
We often hear how French in Quebec is contaminated, to a high degree, by English. In a way, it is true: the “day-to-day” language, the language of the streets does contain many anglicisms, be they lexical or syntactic. So much so that there also are false ones: phrases that are believed to be copied from English but are actually native, like tomber en amour (”to fall in love”) which some (prescriptive) grammarians claim should be tomber amoureux (doesn’t really translate), or la fille que je sors avec (”the girl I’m going out with”) — ending a sentence with what is thought to be a preposition is not kosher in French either (although the word is actually an adverb).
But a recent study confirmed that, in the more “official” or “standardized” language (the one used, for instance, by media and politicians), France has a much higher number of anglicisms. What we call a stationnement they call a parking, what we call a traversier is a ferry, our magasinage is their shopping, our commenditaires are sponsors, and so on. Quebec French is much more productive, in that we often try to create a new word (or recycled an obsolete one) instead of borrowing the foreign word. Also, we have a host of words left from the colony days. Words that disappeared in Europe but stayed alive here (a result of the British conquest which cut us off from France).
The same goes for our accents. They are remnants of the XVIIth c. Paris accent (a majority of women came from the Isle-de-France area, whereas most men came from the regions: you pick up your accent from your mother — the mother tongue — but you learn a lot of vocabulary from your dad — the words of the trade). As the accent is probably one of the biggest impediment to being understood, it easy to see how Quebecers can be seen as speaking bad French: our accents are further from then norm than most others.
Some claim that our accents are slack, lowbrow. The fact is that Quebec French actually uses more phonemes than in France (2 or 3 vowels); it is therefore arguably richer. Many “purists” dislike, for instance, the Montréal “a”, see it as a “wrong phoneme”. Why should that be? It’s a bona fide phoneme in many languages (e.g. Hungarian).