Differences between French and French Canadian

Differences between French and French Canadian

by Lingoda Team

Updated November 9, 2022

French is one of the official languages or the official language in 29 countries. Around 77 to 110 million people have French as their mother tongue and roughly 190 million people speak it as a second language. The estimations on the development of French in the near future vary slightly. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie has published a prognosis that says that by 2050 roughly 700 million people will speak French either as their mother tongue or as a second language. The Canadian province of Quebec has the highest number of citizens who state French as their first language after France. With such a high concentration of French speakers in Quebec, the province plays an important part within la Francophonie – the community of French-speaking countries, organisations, governments and ensembles of people that use French on a daily basis and/or as an administrative language. So, what are the differences between French and French Canadian?

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How French got to Canada

To be able to understand the differences between French and Canadian French (or Québécois French or simply Québécois), a quick historical overview of how French got to Canada and what happened after is necessary. It all started with King Francis I who commissioned a western expedition to find an alternative route to China. However, Jacques Cartier did not land in China in 1534, but on the Gaspé Peninsula in today’s province of Quebec. New France was founded and settlers started to come to Northern America. New France had its heyday in 1712 when the territory was over half of the size of present-day Canada and the United States.

Historical events

There are several historical events after this date that explain why there are differences between the French from the European continent and the French Canadian language. First, there was a surprise attack in 1754 that led to the so-called La guerre de la Conquête. Combined with the effects of the harshness of the winters compared to the winters in France, the population of New France was far smaller than the population of the 13 colonies in the US. Thus, New France was more vulnerable to attacks. Second, as France and Britain were involved in the Seven Years’ War resulting in the Treaty of Paris (1763), the Province of Quebec fell under British rule, which meant a cut in ties between this francophone province and the motherland of France.

What makes French from Quebec different

The written form

So, how is French Canadian different from French? Before we can focus on the differences, it is important to note that in their written form, these two varieties do not differ that much. Although there are some differences in vocabulary and semantics, people in Quebec use standard Parisian grammar. Therefore, it can be quite hard to tell whether a formal text was written by a person from France or a Québécois.

The spoken form

The main difference between the two varieties of French is in the spoken form. There are major differences in pronunciation, including the qualities of vowels and consonants. Quebec French has a richer vocalic inventory due to broader nasalization. Furthermore, the high vowels i, u and ou are pronounced laxing within a closed syllable. This results in the fact that words that are homophone in Metropolitan French, sound different in Québécois, like pâte and patte.

Other influences

Apart from the pronunciation, influences from English during the time of British rule and industrialization and influences from Native American languages can be seen. Furthermore, words that underwent development during the time when the ties to the French motherland were cut in Metropolitan French, did not undergo the same changes in the French in Canada.

List of typical differences between French and French Canadian

There are many examples of how the two varieties differ in their vocabulary and meaning. Here are just a few examples to give you an impression of the differences.

QuébecoisMetropolitan FrenchEnglishComment
achiganperche noireblack bass 
atocaairelleCranberryThis derives from the aboriginal word for the berry
carcajougloutonwolverineThis derives from the aboriginal word for wolverine
barrerverrouillerto lock 
traversierferry/bacferry (boat) 

There are also words that exist in the same form in both varieties of French but carry a different meaning. For example, dépanneur refers to a corner shop or a small grocery store in Québécois, whereas, this is a person who comes to your house to repair things, like a mechanic or electrician, in Metropolitan French.

In some respects, Quebec French did not evolve as much from the French spoken over 300 years ago in the North West of France. The verb magasiner is still used for going shopping in Quebec. In Metropolitan France the construction faire du shopping is used instead.

Quebec French also has a broad range of slang words and idioms that are specific to Quebec and the Quebec culture. Baise-moué l’ail which literally means kiss my garlic is just one example. The most plausible explanation is that ail substitutes the English word for a body part located between your belly and your legs on the rear side. Unfortunately, we can only guess why it is the garlic that is to be kissed in this instance, maybe it is the similar sound of the word, maybe the shape, maybe something else.

Learn French with Lingoda

Learning a language with the help of native speakers is always the best way of doing so. At Lingoda, we believe that only native speakers can show you every aspect imaginable of a language. Therefore, all of our teachers teach their respective mother tongue. Being exposed to the French spoken by a French, Canadian or any other francophone person will prepare you for exploring the differences between the multiple varieties of French.

Why not try for yourself and book a trial class with Lingoda and soon you can roam the streets of Montréal looking for garlic!

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