What’s the Difference Between French and Canadian French?
French Canadian originates from Quebec. Located in the East of Canada, it is the second largest division within the country. Canadian French is the primary language with English being the second language for most families living there. Other varieties of Canadian, or Quebec, French are spoken in francophone communities located in Ontario, Western Canada, Labrador and also in New England, a region of the United States.
To the untrained ear, most people would probably hear Metropolitan French (European French) and Quebec French (Canadian French) and not really be able to tell the difference beyond a change in accent. While it’s true that both variations of the language are rooted in modern Classical French, there are some very distinct differences between the two.
How did Canadians come to speak French in the first place?
In the 15th century, King Francis (François I) commissioned an expedition to find an alternative route to China. The leader of the expedition, Jacques Cartier, originally landed in the Gaspé Peninsula (located to the east of what is now Quebec) and claimed it as the new France for the King.
French settlers began to colonise the area. This colonisation continued right up until the 17th and 18th century, and expanded until they took up what is now known as the North American continent. This included the settlers bringing their own subtle variations of French, that merged together and developed in their new land.
When British rule took over in the late 18th century, the French Canadian colonies were isolated, especially those in Quebec. Also isolated, was their dialect and variation of French. While European French continued to develop and be influenced by the rest of their European neighbours, Canadian French was heavily influenced by its English speaking neighbours. Many linguists believe this is where and why the variations between the two languages began and came to exist.
What are some of the differences?
Although there are some influences in European French from its European neighbours, those influences are subtle and it takes a real linguist to be able to pick them out. Not so much the case with Canadian French, which took on strong influences from the British and neighbouring, up-and-coming United States. Informal spoken Canadian French has a greater adoption and blend of English words mixed in with the French words.
Both written European and Canadian French are actually pretty similar, it’s more when they’re spoken, especially informal Canadian French, that you will be able to pick out the differences:
This is where the differences are most noticeable between the two variations of spoken French. Most people find that the nasal sounding vowels are even more nasal in Canadian French than European French. Canadian French has also maintained the Classical French habit where some vowels are very elongated in pronunciation, which has pretty much been dropped in European French.
While the differences are obvious in pronunciation where vowels are concerned, there are very few differences between the pronunciation of consonants in the two variations. That said, they are still pretty noticeable. One of the most typical pronunciations in European French is the rolled, or trilled ‘R’. However, in Canadian French most people simply pronounce ‘R’ with a uvular sound.
As mentioned before, Canadian French differs heavily due to the influence of English on its vocabulary. But interestingly, the borrowed words in Canadian French are not only English, there are also some borrowed words from the aboriginal languages that the early settlers came into contact with. There are also a number of words in Canadian French that relate solely to Canadian French culture, and therefore do not exist in European French.
- Informal Conversation
The accents between the two will differ greatly, as does the accents in different parts of France itself, but when it comes to informal conversations, European French would struggle more. As mentioned before, while the written French in both cases is pretty similar, conversationally there are some big differences. This is due to some of the examples given above, but also because there are a variety of phrases, slang, and idioms that are unique to both variations that the other wouldn’t be able to pick up. Canadian French uses the second person pronoun ‘tu’ more regularly, which is viewed as impolite in European French.
Both variations of French are eloquent and rooted deep within each country’s development, history and culture. It’s always interesting to learn more about the roots when you are learning a language. Next time you’re in France or Canada, see if you can listen out for some of the distinctions between the two French variations for yourself! Might you have any thoughts on the differences? Share them in the comments section below!