Quebec French (French: français québécois [fʁɑ̃sɛ kebekwa]; also known as Québécois French or Québécois) is the predominant variety of French spoken in Canada, in its formal and informal registers. It is the dominant language of the province of Quebec, used in everyday communication, in education, the media, and government.
Canadian French is a common umbrella term to describe all varieties of French used in Canada, including Quebec French. Formerly it was used to refer solely to Quebec French and the closely related dialects spoken in Ontario and Western Canada, in contrast with Acadian French, which is spoken in some areas of eastern Quebec (Gaspé Peninsula), New Brunswick, and in other parts of Atlantic Canada.
The term "joual" is commonly used to refer to Quebec French (when considered a basilect) associated with the working class, characterized by certain features often perceived as incorrect or bad. Its equivalent in Acadian French is called Chiac.
The origins of Quebec French lie in the 17th- and 18th-century regional varieties (dialects) of early modern French, also known as Classical French, and of other langues d'oïl (especially Poitevin dialect, Saintongeais dialect and Norman) that French colonists brought to New France. Quebec French either evolved from this language base and was shaped by the following influences (arranged according to historical period) or was imported from Paris and other urban centres of France as a koiné, or common language shared by the people speaking it.
Unlike the language of France in the 17th and 18th centuries, French in New France was fairly well unified. It also began to borrow words and gather importations (see loan word), especially place names such as Québec, Canada and Hochelaga, and words to describe the flora and fauna such as atoca (cranberry) and achigan (largemouth bass), from First Nations languages.
The importance of the rivers and ocean as the main routes of transportation also left its imprint on Quebec French. Whereas European varieties of French use the verbs monter and descendre for “to get in” and “to get out” of a vehicle (litt. "to mount" and "to dismount", as one does with a horse or a carriage), the Québécois variety in its informal register tends to use embarquer and débarquer, a result of Quebec's navigational heritage.
With the onset of British rule in 1760, Quebec French became isolated from European French. This led to a retention of older pronunciations, such as moé for moi ( ) and expressions that later died out in France. In 1774, the Quebec Act guaranteed French settlers as British subjects rights to French law, the Roman Catholic faith and the French language to appease them at a moment when the English-speaking colonies to the south were on the verge of revolting in the American Revolution.
After Canadian Confederation in 1867, Quebec started to become industrialized and thus experienced increased contact between French and English speakers. Quebec business, especially with the rest of Canada and with the United States, was conducted in English. Also, communications to and within the Canadian federal government were conducted almost exclusively in English. This period included a sharp rise in the number of immigrants from the United Kingdom who spoke a variety of languages including English, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic. This was particularly noticeable in Montreal, which resembled a majority anglophone city in terms of its commercial life, but was predominantly francophone. As a result, Quebec French began to borrow from both Canadian and American English to fill accidental gaps in the lexical fields of government, law, manufacturing, business and trade. A great number of French Canadians went to the US to seek employment. When they returned, they brought with them new words taken from their experiences in the New England textile mills and the northern lumber camps.
During World War I, a majority of Quebec's population lived in urban areas for the first time. From the time of the war to the death of Maurice Duplessis in 1959, the province experienced massive modernization. It is during this period that French-language radio and television broadcasting, albeit with a façade of European pronunciation, began in Canada. While Quebec French borrowed many English-language brand names during this time, Quebec's first modern terminological efforts bore a French lexicon for (ice) hockey, one of the national sports of Canada. Following World War II, Quebec began to receive large waves of non-French- and non-English-speaking immigrants (allophones) who would acquire French or English, but most commonly the latter.
From the Quiet Revolution to the passing of the Charter of the French Language, the French language in Quebec saw a period of validation in its varieties associated with the working class while the percentage of literate and university-educated francophones grew. Laws concerning the status of French were passed both on the federal and provincial levels. The Office québécois de la langue française was established to play an essential role of support in language planning. In Ontario, the first French-language public secondary schools were built in the 1960s, but not without confrontations. West Nipissing, Penetanguishene and Windsor each had their own school crisis.
Although Quebec French constitutes a coherent and standard system, it has no objective norm since the very organization mandated to establish it, the Office québécois de la langue française, believes that objectively standardizing Quebec French would lead to reduced mutual intelligibility with other French communities around the world, linguistically isolating Quebeckers and possibly causing the extinction of the French language in the Americas.
This governmental institution has nonetheless published many dictionaries and terminological guidelines since the 1960s, effectively allowing many Canadianisms (canadianismes de bon aloi) or more often Quebecisms (French words local to Canada or Quebec) that describe specifically North American realities. It also creates new, morphologically well-formed words to describe technological evolutions to which the Académie française, the equivalent body governing French language in France, is extremely slow to react.
The resulting effect (based on many historical factors) is a negative perception of Quebec French traits by some of the Québécois themselves, coupled with a desire to "improve" their language by conforming it to the Metropolitan French norm. This explains why most of the differences between Quebec French and Metropolitan French documented are marked as "informal" or "colloquial". Various artists and citizens create work that grapples with this reality, such as the television shows Toupie et binou and Les Appendices.
As mentioned above, Quebec French is not standardized and is therefore equated with standard French. One of the reasons for this is to keep it in line with and mutually intelligible with Metropolitan French. There is a continuum of full intelligibility throughout Quebec and European French. If a comparison can be made, the differences between both varieties are comparable to those between standard American and standard British English even if differences in phonology and prosody for the latter are higher, though American forms will be widely understood due to larger exposure of American English in English-speaking countries, notably as a result of the widespread diffusion of US films and series. Quebec French was shown to be at least 93% intelligible with standard European French.
Some travelling Québécois choose to register or modify their accent in order to be more easily understood. Most are able to communicate readily with European francophones nonetheless. European pronunciation is usually not difficult for Canadians to understand; only differences in vocabulary present any problems. Nevertheless, the Québécois accent is mostly closer to that of Poitou or of Normandy and also some parts of Wallonia.
In general, European French speakers have no problems understanding Quebec newscasts or other moderately formal Québécois speech. However, they may have some difficulty understanding informal speech, such as the dialogue in a sitcom. This is due more to slang, idioms, vocabulary and use of exclusive cultural references than to accent or pronunciation. However, when speaking to a European French speaker, a more rural French speaker from Quebec is capable of shifting to a slightly more formal, "international" type of speech by avoiding idioms or slang, much like a person from the southern U.S. would do when speaking with a speaker of British English.
Quebec's culture has only recently gained exposure in Europe, especially since the Quiet Revolution (Révolution tranquille). The difference in dialects and culture is large enough that Quebec speakers overwhelmingly prefer their own "home grown" television dramas or sitcoms to shows from Europe or the United States. Conversely certain singers from Quebec have become very famous even in France, notably Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Céline Dion and Garou. A number of TV series from Quebec such as Têtes à Claques and L'Été indien are also known in France. The number of such TV shows from France shown on Quebec television is about the same as the number of British TV shows on American television, even though French news channels France 24 as well as francophone channel based in France TV5 Québec Canada are broadcast in Quebec. Nevertheless, Metropolitan French series such as The Adventures of Tintin and Les Gens de Mogador are broadcast and known in Quebec. In certain cases, on French TV, subtitles can be added when barbarisms, rural speech and slang are used, not unlike cases in the US whereby a number of British programmes can be shown with subtitles (notably from Scotland).
Québécois French was once stigmatized, including among some Québécois themselves as well as among speakers of France métropolitaine and amongst other French speakers in the Francophonie. Considered to be a low-class dialect, a sign of a lack of education, or a corruption due to its use of anglicisms and words/structures from Ancien Régime French, and sometimes simply due to its differences from standardardized Metropolitan French.
Until 1968, usage of Québécois/Joual was not encouraged in mainstream media and not often used in plays in the theatre. In that year the huge success of Michel Tremblay's play Les Belles-sœurs proved to be a turning point. Today, many speakers feel freer to choose a register when speaking, and Canadian media features individuals and characters who speak in a way that reflects Québécois culture and the different registers of the language.
In the informal registers of Quebec French, regional variation lies in pronunciation and lexis (vocabulary). The regions most commonly associated with such variation are Montreal (esp. the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough), the Beauce region, the Gaspé Peninsula, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, and Quebec City. However, besides such impressionistic data, basilectal Quebec French dialects can be scientifically divided into two main categories and five subcategories as follows.
The "old dialects"/pronunciations of ancien régime French are spoken on the territory of what constituted the colony at the time of the British conquest of 1759. The Laurentian colony of New France was then divided into two districts; the Montreal District and the Quebec District.
Also known as the "capital dialect" (Fr. de la Vieille-Capitale or de la Capitale-Nationale), it used to be considered as the most standard variety of Quebec French and was generally spoken in the central Quebec and throughout St. Lawrence valley by the elite, especially the members of the Catholic clergy. Otherwise, some words are not pronounced in the same way as the Eastern dialect: arrête [aʁɛt], baleine [balɛn] (), photo [fɔto], lacet [lasɛ], guitare [ɡitaːʁ] ~ [ɡitɑːʁ] ~ [ɡitɑɔ̯ʁ], although, the word arrête is pronounced with a short [ɛ], but the majority of words with "ê" is pronounced with [ɛɪ̯] or [aɪ̯].
Valley speak (Fr. Valois, de la vallée) is the second-most predominant form of Quebec French, after the Quebec City dialect. It is spoken all over the southern part of St. Lawrence valley, including Montreal and Trois-Rivières, as well as the Western area going from Gatineau to as far as Rouyn-Noranda. Basic distinctions include the pronunciation of unstressed ai, as opposed to stressed è of the Metropolitan French. For example, the word fraise ('strawberry') would be most likely pronounced as [fʁei̯z] or [fʁaɪ̯z] instead of [fʁɛːz] (French accent), some old speakers would even pronounce [fʁaːz]. For the word neige ('snow'), they pronounce it [nei̯ʒ] or [naɪ̯ʒ]. The Western-Central dialects can be further divided into Central and Western.
Relatively archaic forms of Quebec French are spoken on the territory corresponding to the historic Government of Three Rivers (Gouvernement de Trois-Rivières), notably Magoua dialect and Chaouin. It corresponded approximately to what is known today as the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions (known locally under the historical name of Bois-Francs); the Mauricie was Atikamekw territory while the Bois-Francs was Abenaki. Here the early Frenchmen were mostly coureurs des bois who intermarried freely with the First Nations before the first arrival of the filles du roi in 1663.
The first coureurs des bois squatters settled in the area in 1615 and their speech differentiated itself in contact with the aboriginal population: Magoua in contact with the Atikamekw language, Chaouin in contact with the Abenaki language (Wittmann 1995).
The Western dialect includes Montreal and surroundings and is sometimes considered an offspring of the Central dialect. The /ʁ/ phoneme was traditionally alveolar, but has been almost completely replaced by the modern uvular [ʁ], except amongst the older speakers. The territory was probably already "Indian-free" when the first coureurs des bois from Trois-Rivières came there in the years preceding the establishment of the settlement in 1642. This dialect extended originally into the Detroit–Windsor area (Brandon 1898). Otherwise, some words are not pronounced in the same way as the Eastern dialect: arrête [aʁɛɪ̯t] ~ [aʁaɪ̯t], baleine [balɛ̃ɪ̯̃n] () ~ [balaɪ̯n], photo [foːto], lacet [lɑːsɛ], guitare [ɡitɑːʁ] ~ [ɡitɑɔ̯ʁ].
Basically, these are dialects of Quebec French with a phonological Adstrat [fr] from Acadian French, spoken in the St. Lawrence delta and Baie des Chaleurs area. The morphology though is thoroughly Quebec French and not related to Acadian French: absence of AF 1st person plural clitic je instead of QF on, no AF plural endings in -on on 1st and 3rd person verbs, no simple pasts in -i-, etc. Geddes (1908) is an early example for the description of the morphology of a maritime dialect. These dialects originated from migrations from the St. Lawrence valley into the area, from 1697 onwards well into the early 19th century, with contributions of refugees from Acadia in the 18th century, both before and after the British conquest of 1759.
The dialect Geddes described may be referred to as Brayon French, spoken by Brayons in the Bonaventure and Beauce-Appalaches regions of Quebec, the Madawaska region of New Brunswick and small pockets in the American state of Maine.
The so-called "new" dialects arose from colonization after 1760 which went on well into the late 19th century.
Primarily spoken in Sherbrooke and Magog, the dialect consists of French strongly distilled by the presence of New England dialects, such as Boston accent and Vermont speak. As a result, besides alveolar r, the endings of many words which are pronounced in other varieties of French are not pronounced at all or are pronounced differently, for example, saying connaissant ([kɔnɛsã]) instead of connaissance ([kɔnɛsãːs]). Other variations include strong pronunciation of -ant and -ent word ending which sound almost as acute as -in, for example blanc sounding like [blæ̃].
The dialect spoken by inhabitants of such regions as Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Côte-Nord is characterized by long, stretched vowels in the middle of words, usually è before /ʁ/, /z/ or /ʒ/: père [pei̯ʁ], dièse [d͡zjei̯z], collège [kɔlei̯ʒ]. Other examples include an eating of the letter r at the end of the words, for example, cuisinière ('female chef') [kɥizinjæːʁ] (standard), some speakers pronounce it [kɥizinjei̯], which contrasts with cuisinier ('male chef') (pronounced as [kɥizinje]). See Lavoie et al. (1985), in particular.
Rimouski is the cultural centre of this dialect area. The city was founded in 1696 but colonization only started in the late 18th century.
The consonants /t/ and /d/ are not affricated in all circumstances, even before /i/, /y/, /j/ and /ɥ/, so that they are pronounced [t] and [d]. Long vowels ([ɑː], [ɛː], [œː], [ɔː], [oː] and [øː]) are diphthongized in most areas: tempête ('storm') [tãpæɪ̯tʰ] (). Some other features are shared in the same way in most areas: crabe [kʁɑːb] ~ [kʁɑʊ̯b], émotion [emoːsjɒ̃ʊ̯̃], motion [moːsjɒ̃ʊ̯̃], nager [naʒe] aussi [ɔsi]. Old speakers pronounce the "oi" spelling as [wɛ], but before [ʁ], they pronounce [wɛː], [weː], [wei̯] or [waɛ̯]: [twɛ] (), [vwɛːʁ] (), they pronounce "oî" as [wɛː] or [waɪ̯]: [bwaɪ̯tʰ] (), they pronounce "-er" and "-ère" as [eːʁ] or [ei̯ʁ]: hiver ('winter') [iveɪ̯ʁ̥] (), père ('father') [pei̯ʁ].
Formal Quebec French uses essentially the same orthography and grammar as Standard French, with few exceptions, and exhibits moderate lexical differences. Differences in grammar and lexicon become more marked as language becomes more informal.
While phonetic differences also decrease with greater formality, Quebec and European accents are readily distinguishable in all registers. Over time, European French has exerted a strong influence on Quebec French. The phonological features traditionally distinguishing informal Quebec French and formal European French have gradually acquired varying sociolinguistic status, so that certain traits of Quebec French are perceived neutrally or positively by Quebecers, while others are perceived negatively.
Sociolinguistic studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s showed that Quebecers generally rated speakers of European French heard in recordings higher than speakers of Quebec French in many positive traits, including expected intelligence, education, ambition, friendliness and physical strength. The researchers were surprised by the greater friendliness rating for Europeans, since one of the primary reasons usually advanced to explain the retention of low-status language varieties is social solidarity with members of one's linguistic group. François Labelle cites the efforts at that time by the Office québécois de la langue française "to impose a French as standard as possible" as one of the reasons for the negative view Quebecers had of their language variety.
Since the 1970s, the official position on Québécois language has shifted dramatically. An oft-cited turning point was the 1977 declaration of the Association québécoise des professeurs de français defining thus the language to be taught in classrooms: "Standard Quebec French [le français standard d'ici, literally, "the Standard French of here"] is the socially favoured variety of French which the majority of Francophone Québécois tend to use in situations of formal communication." Ostiguy and Tousignant doubt whether Quebecers today would still have the same negative attitudes towards their own variety of French that they did in the 1970s. They argue that negative social attitudes have focused instead on a subset of the characteristics of Quebec French relative to European French, and particularly some traits of informal Quebec French. Some characteristics of European French are even judged negatively when imitated by Quebecers.
Quebec French has some typographical differences from European French. For example, in Quebec French, unlike European French, a full non-breaking space is not used before the semicolon, exclamation mark, or question mark. Instead, a thin space (which according to Le Ramat de la typographie normally measures a quarter of an em: 12 ) is used; this thin space can be omitted in word-processing situations where the thin space is assumed to be unavailable, or when careful typography is not required.: 191 
A notable difference in grammar which received considerable attention in France during the 1990s is the feminine form of many professions, which traditionally did not have a feminine form. In Quebec, one writes nearly universally une chercheuse or une chercheure "a researcher", whereas in France, un chercheur and, more recently, un chercheur and une chercheuse are used. Feminine forms in eure as in ingénieure are still strongly criticized in France by institutions like the Académie française, but are commonly used in Canada and Switzerland.
There are other, sporadic spelling differences. For example, the Office québécois de la langue française recommends the spelling tofou for what is in France tofu "tofu". In grammar, the adjective inuit "Inuit" is invariable in France but, according to official recommendations in Quebec, has regular feminine and plural forms.
Grammatical differences between informal spoken Quebec French and the formal language abound. Some of these, such as omission of the negative particle ne, are also present in the informal language of speakers of standard European French, while other features, such as use of the interrogative particle -tu, are either peculiar to Quebec or Canadian French or restricted to nonstandard varieties of European French.
While the overwhelming majority of lexical items in Quebec French exist in other dialects of French, many words and expressions are unique to Quebec, much like some are specific to American and British varieties of English. The differences can be classified into the following five categories. The influences on Quebec French from English and Native American can be reflected in any of these five:
The following tables give examples of each of the first four categories, along with the Metropolitan French equivalent and an English gloss. Contextual differences, along with individual explanations, are then discussed.
Some Quebec French lexical items have the same general meaning in Metropolitan French but are used in different contexts. English translations are given in parentheses.
In addition, Quebec French has its own set of swear words, or sacres, distinct from other varieties of French.
One characteristic of major sociological importance distinguishing Quebec French from European French is the relatively greater number of borrowings from English, especially in the informal spoken language, but that notion is often exaggerated. Québécois have been found to show a stronger aversion to the use of anglicisms in formal contexts than do European francophones, largely because of what the influence of English on their language is held to reveal about the historically-superior position of anglophones in Canadian society. According to Cajolet-Laganière and Martel, out of 4,216 "criticized borrowings from English" in Quebec French that they were able to identify, some 93% have "extremely low frequency" and 60% are obsolete. Despite this, the prevalence of anglicisms in Quebec French has often been exaggerated.
It is worth noting that various anglicisms commonly used in European French informal language are mostly not used by Quebec French speakers. While words such as shopping, parking, escalator, ticket, email and week-end, are commonly spoken in European French, Quebec French tends to favor French equivalents, namely: magasinage, stationnement, escalier roulant, billet, courriel and fin de semaine, respectively. As such, the exaggeration of anglicism use in Quebec French could be attributed, in part, simply to the fact that the anglicisms used are different, and thus more noticeable by European French speakers.
French spoken with a number of anglicisms viewed as excessive may be disparagingly termed franglais/"Frenglish". According to Chantal Bouchard, "While the language spoken in Quebec did indeed gradually accumulate borrowings from English [between 1850 and 1960], it did not change to such an extent as to justify the extraordinarily negative discourse about it between 1940 and 1960. It is instead in the loss of social position suffered by a large proportion of Francophones since the end of the 19th century that one must seek the principal source of this degrading perception."
The following are areas in which the lexicon of Quebec French is found to be distinct from those of other varieties of French:
Some recent Quebec French lexical innovations have spread, at least partially, to other varieties of French:
These examples are intended not exhaustive but illustrate the complex influence that European French has had on Quebec French pronunciation and the range of sociolinguistic statuses that individual phonetic variables can possess.
Like any variety of French, Quebec French is generally characterized by increasingly wide gaps between the formal form and the informal form. Notable differences include the generalized use of on (informal for nous), the use of single negations as opposed to double negations: J'ai pas (informal) vs Je n'ai pas (formal) etc. There are increasing differences between the syntax used in spoken Quebec French and that of other regional dialects of French. However, the characteristic differences of Quebec French syntax are not considered standard despite their high-frequency in everyday, relaxed speech.
One far-reaching difference is the weakening of the syntactic role of the specifiers (both verbal and nominal), which results in many syntactic changes:
Other notable syntactic changes in Quebec French include the following:
However, these features are common to all the basilectal varieties of français populaire descended from the 17th century koiné of Paris.
In their syntax and morphology, Quebec French verbs differ very little from the verbs of other regional dialects of French, both formal and informal. The distinctive characteristics of Quebec French verbs are restricted mainly to: