Québec French.

We’ve discussed the French of Québec before, but mostly in the context of its colorful swearing (tabarnak!); here are a couple of links about the language as a whole:

How to speak French like a Quebecker is an amusing introduction to the topic by the author of Le québécois en 10 leçons, with sample sentences and explanations:

J’peux-tu t’aider, mon gars?

This -tu may sound like the pronoun “you” but it’s actually a question particle, similar to the Mandarin ma, the Esperanto ĉu or the Japanese ka, except that it follows a subject-verb group. Note that mec is never used in Québec: we only use gars. […]

Pis, t’aimes-tu mon char? Si t’as frette, dis-moé-lé, gêne-toé pas!

In this sentence, pis is the equivalent of so, or alors. It can also replace et. In Québec, auto is much more common than voiture, and informally, people say char. Frette means froid. As you can see, the order of words in the imperative form is different (dis-moi-le instead of dis-le-moi), moi and toi are often pronounced moé and toé, and the object pronoun -le can be pronounced -lé. Since Québécois doesn’t use ne, the pronoun doesn’t move before the verb in gêne-toé pas.

And OffQc | Québécois French Guide (For lovers of French + diehard fans of all things québécois!) has been inactive since 2017, but there are 1,200 entries for your learning pleasure. Thanks, Ryan!


  1. David Marjanović says

    Québécois doesn’t use ne

    It’s practically limited to the written language in France, Switzerland & Belgium, too.

  2. Frank Gibbons says

    Living in New England, and having shared office space with two Québécoises for a while, I’ve always been frustrated with not being able to understand a single word, despite having A2 competence in regular French. (Don’t believe it could be that different? There’s a séries available on Netflix in the US right now, called ‘Can you hear me? (Tu m’entends?). Check it out and get back to me 😉 ) So I bought that book a few months ago, and I have to say, it really made a difference! Even a few things go a long way (using “pis” for “et”, adding “là” to everything, and the pronunciation). I’m not fluent of course, but can understand much more. In part, it’s an exposure problem: as a kid growing up in rural Ireland, it took me a long time of listening before I could understand a word of rock and roll! Recommend it!

  3. As someone living in Québec and speaking the language as a foreigner, I think that what is spoken by the characters of “Têtes à claques” series is fairly adequate as a representation of the French with local colour as you are likely to hear it in modern Montréal. Standardized French education under Loi 101 seems to have done a blow to local exoticism. Not to be confused with the near-extinct Joual and the numerous local French variants (not sure they are proper dialects).

  4. There is an amusing video called Je parle québécois en France pendant 24h where Denyzee, a French Youtuber who lives in Québec, tries speaking in Québec French in Nice, France to see how much the locals understand. I can’t judge how well she nails the accent, but now I have a better understanding of the expressions she uses like “c’est-tu gratis”, “une map, pis toute”, “j’peux-tu traverser”, “mais y’a d’la neige icitte”, “m’a vous suivre”, “sua neige”, and “y’en a qu’y’on pas frette au poil”.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Oh, pis is puis… *lightbulb moment*

    mais y’a d’la neige

    That part is unremarkable in European French.

  6. Oh, pis is puis… *lightbulb moment*

    I can’t believe I didn’t catch that.

    That part is unremarkable in European French.

    True, but the pronunciation of neige is quite different with the vowel approaching [aɪ̯] instead of the European [ɛː], where many speakers have lost a phonemic /ɛː/ and only lengthen it in neige due to the following [ʒ].

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    I noticed in the video she uses “soulier” when speaking québecois. I had the impression that in France this word is deprecated. There is a long historical summary by a linguist at
    “La valeur désignative des deux termes est similaire aujourd’hui mais « soulier » est d’un usage plus suranné ou rural. « Chaussure » est le terme neutre le plus courant.”

  8. David Marjanović says

    the pronunciation of neige is quite different

    Oh. I can’t watch the video currently.

  9. Re: “souliers” : makes me remember Félix Leclerc and his “Moi, mes souliers ont beaucoup voyagé…” By the way I suspect comparing Leclerc with Têtes à Claques might be the way to appreciate the democratising effect of modern education on the French of educated speakers in Québec.

    Another quaint French word that is in everyday use is “chandail”.

  10. There is a great song called “barre ça là”, by Pépé et sa guitare, but I can’t figure out what that expression means. Is it a Québécois thing?

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    All i can find is this:
    Barrer : Outre ses significations usuelles, le verbe barrer signifie au Québec : fermer à clef, verrouiller. Le terme puiserait son origine d’une époque où l’on fermait les portes à l’aide de barres transversales.
    source: http://www.dictionnaire-quebecois.com/definitions-b.html
    In the song the phrase is used in the refrain after a criticism of the friend’s drinking, his choice of girlfriend etc. and an assurance that he still wants to remain friends.

  12. @maxim:

    a few years ago in montréal, i got to listen in (and understand very little with my marginally functional european french) while two friends (around 30 years old) cycled through a half-dozen or so north american frenches. the geographical range went (at least) from western québec to new brunswick; i don’t think they used any plains or métis versions… i can’t speak to dialect/variety/etc (is a dialect a variety with a phrasebook? [sorry uncle max]), but i could hear the difference when they shifted despite not understanding most of what was said…

  13. The problem is that the author contrasts “Quebec” and Standard French, without ever indicating what is peculiar to Quebec versus what is found elsewhere, if not indeed everywhere, in spoken French: lack of “ne”, as David M. quite correctly pointed out upthread, is found in most if not all varieties of spoken French. The “Quebec” word order DIS-MOI-LE (for standard DIS-LE-MOI) is also quite common in spoken French in many parts of Europe. “Souliers” is still the daily word for shoes in parts of the French-speaking world far removed from North America (Some hatters might be interested in the comment thread here: https://mauricianismes.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/li-cho/)

    The interrogative particle “tu”, on the other hand, definitely qualifies as a Quebec-specific feature, which for a long time coexisted with a (non-Quebec specific!) particle “ti”.

  14. per incuriam says

    Oh, pis is puis… *lightbulb moment*

    In France this eye-dialect dates back at least to Molière.

  15. Étienne, is this a similar argument to that made regarding Haitian and other French creoles, that their supposed characteristic creole features also occur in continental dialects, and hence that the term “creole” is unjustified?

    And indeed, do Québec dialects (± other North American dialects) really have enough features to distinguish them clearly from continental dialects?

  16. This is not about Québec, but Labrador, and not about French, but Inuttitut:

    Inuttitut, the southwesternmost Inuit dialect, spoken in Labrador, has a set of numerals from two up borrowed from German: tuvai ‘2’, tarai ‘3’, viaga ‘4’, vinivi ‘5’, sâksit ‘6’, sepat ‘7’, âttat ‘8’, naina ‘9’, senat ‘10’, ailvat ‘11’, suvailva ‘12’ (besides native numerals up to tallimat ‘5’)

    Those would have come from the Moravians, who operated a mission in Labrador.

  17. Y: In answer to your first question: No, the claim that Quebec French (and all forms of non-creole overseas French other than Acadian) is transplanted Parisian French pure and simple is sound and solid and based on an examination of the actual linguistic data. Claims that Haitian and French creoles share features with non-creole types of French and that it is therefore illegitimate to speak of “creole” or “creolization” are based on strictly no argumentation involving data of a linguistic nature and can safely be dismissed (indeed ignored).

    In answer to your second: from a diachronic point of view there indeed are no grounds for separating Quebec French and other varieties. Synchronically, however, European French is growing ever-more uniform, with Quebec French being comparatively untouched by this process (Immigrants from the French-speaking world are quite amazed by how indifferent to France most people in Quebec are).. As a result, features which Quebec shares with non-standard forms of French in Europe are well on their way to being lost in the latter varieties, and it follows that the distinctiveness of Quebec French is in many ways becoming more pronounced with the passage of time.

    For example, the Quebec interrogative particle “tu” is an innovation, which for a time coexisted with an interrogative particle “ti” which used to be widespread in non-standard European French, as I mentioned above. Now, whereas “tu” is alive and kicking in Quebec French, “ti” is nearly extinct in both Europe and Quebec. As a result, whereas a century ago spoken French on both sides of the Atlantic had an interrogative particle “ti” (with a variant “tu” in Quebec), and thus did not differ much from one another, today the interrogative particle is non-existent in Europe, with Quebec on the other hand having generalized “tu”: as a result there now exists a much more pronounced difference between Quebec and European French than there did a century or so ago.

    Finally, on the German-origin numerals in Inuttitut. Here is a question which I hope some hatter can answer: the /tt/ of the form “Inuttitut” comes from earlier /kt/. Looking at the numeral “âttat”, from German “acht”, I wonder: was the numeral borrowed at a time when /kt/ was still a possible cluster in the language, and thus was originally borrowed as */a:ktat/, which then became /a:ttat/ via the same sound change which turned earlier /inuktitut/ into /inuttitut/? Or was it borrowed after the sound change had taken place, with /xt/ being adapted as /tt/?

  18. David Marjanović says

    transplanted Parisian French pure and simple

    The trick is that Quebec French is (mostly) descended from 18th-century upper-class Parisian French, while most of European French is descended from 18th-century middle-class Parisian French.

    European French is growing ever-more uniform

    I just spent 2 weeks with 3 native speakers from Switzerland. They sound exactly like Parisians except for not speaking quite as extremely fast (but the contractions are all the same) and using septante, huitante, nonante.

    with /xt/ being adapted as /tt/?

    Or indeed [ax] was adapted as /a:/, and the fortis [t] was adapted as /t:/.

    (Unlike English, German uses unreleased plosives very sparingly.)

  19. David: That would be supported by kâttopalak < Kartoffel ‘potato’ (WP). <â> is /aː/.

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    @david, etienne
    What i fail to understand is why the native inuit number words were replaced. Was the pental notation a problem for the missionaries? Did the missionaries have such prestige among the inuit that these stopped using their own words and adopted the new ones?

  21. PlasticPaddy says

    It is messy, there are doublets (or native word only) except for six, seven and nine.
    Ten.            — Tallimaujutut.
    Ten; loan word from German. — Senat.

    Two            — Magguk.

    Three (of them). — Pingasut.

    Four; loan word from German (vier) — Viaga.

    Four objects.    — Sitamat.

    Five.            — Tallimat.

    Five; loan word from German (vier)[sic] — Vinivi.

    Eight.          — Âttat;

                       — Sitamaujuttut.

    so 8 = two 4s and 10= two 5’s

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Numbers seem to be pretty borrowable once you get outside Indo-European, Semitic and Austronesian. It makes sense if you think of them being associated with trade. Moreover, some number systems are a lot simpler structurally than others, which seems likely to recommend them to speakers of languages with more complex arrangements. There’s quite a lot of cognitive work involved in parsing all but the lowest numbers some of the more rococo systems, I would imagine: brainpower better expended on haggling.

  23. There’s quite a lot of cognitive work involved in parsing all but the lowest numbers some of the more rococo systems,

    Yes I always have to stop and check myself when mentioning in French dates towards the end of last century. Perhaps I’ll pretend to be Swiss.

    Do I recall correctly Vietnamese borrowed all its numbers from Mandarin, despite having a perfectly workable system?

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    The Chinese numbers (which are admirably straightforward, at least if you discount all the numeral classifier stuff) have been borrowed by (at least) the Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese and Thai, though only in the case of Thai to the point of complete replacement of the indigenous system.

    Sino-Vietnamese antedates Mandarin as such; it’s mostly based on Middle Chinese.

    I believe that there are some who think that the Sinitic numbers were even borrowed into the Tibeto-Burman wing of Sino-Tibetan. Those ancient Chinese were evidently the local arithmetic champions.

  25. Ok, I can’t find the recent thread that talked about Denmark, Jutland, etc.

    The Economist has a recent article on the Schleswig-Holstein border region entitled How a contested region became a model for multilingual coexistence
    Schools are at the heart of the success on the German-Danish border

    Differing names for a historical event can be an ominous sign of competing, zero-sum national memories. Not so in the case of what Germans refer to as “the plebiscite of 1920”. That round of votes, which cost Germany the territory of north Schleswig, led to what Danes call the “reunification” of their country, the centenary of which they recently celebrated. It also began a process that has turned a bloody European frontier into one of the world’s most successfully integrated and multilingual border regions.

    Territory controlled by Denmark once extended deep into what is now the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. But successive defeats, especially to Prussia in 1864, saw the border pushed up the Jutland peninsula. After the first world war much of Germany (and Austria-Hungary) was hacked out to create new states or to reward winners, which left many new minorities stranded in the “wrong” country. Denmark had sat out the war, but managed to get the victors to support a plebiscite in Schleswig.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t read the article because I don’t subscribe.

  26. Number words in Thai being of Sinitic origin is a characteristic shared by many of the Kra–Dai languages including not just fellow Tai languages like Lao, Shan, and Zhuang but some from other branches like Kam and Ong Be. So it must long predate the Tai migrations into mainland Southeast Asia and must be from when proto-Tai speakers were in close contact with Sinitic speakers. However, some Kra–Dai languages like Gelao, Buyang, and Hlai have number words of presumably native origin.

    Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese are different because their speakers wrote in literary Chinese and borrowed huge amounts of Sinoxenic vocabulary, including Sinitic number words as an additional layer on top of the native ones. In Thai, some number words derived from Pali or Sanskrit are used through a similar borrowing process, but they are nowhere as complete or prevalent as the Sinoxenic number words used in Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese.

  27. Lars Mathiesen says

    @Bathrobe: Ducal succession in Schleswig-Holstein. I’m not sure if the respective minorities are as happy as all that any more, there were lots of NEVAH FORGET speeches made 100 years ago that don’t make funding for schools aso. materialize the way they used to. But yea, nobody beats up each other.

    And the big party was cancelled because you know what.

  28. That was the only change to the German border after WWI that the Nazis didn’t undo when they got the chance, even though they occupied Denmark during WW II.

  29. Lars Mathiesen says

    The Nazis wanted Denmark to be a model protectorate, and possibly thought that North Schleswig as part of nominally independent Aryan Denmark was a good goal for after the war; as it was, resistance increased so that Denmark became enemy territory in 1942 and the elected ministers stood down in 1943 (leaving the bureaucracy in place for the duration) but by then I guess there were larger issues on the agenda.

  30. David Marjanović says

    Lots of issues were postponed until nach dem Endsieg “after the Final Victory™”.

  31. John Cowan says

    Indeed, the nominal independence of Denmark made it possible for Henrik Kauffmann, the Danish ambassador to the U.S., to sign an April 1941 treaty in the name of the King authorizing the U.S. to create military bases for the defense of Greenland, since both powers were neutral. His staff (and Greenlanders in situ) supported him, though some thought it was ultra vires. Kauffman, however, argued that until he heard otherwise from Copenhagen he still had plenipotentiary powers.

    The moral of Denmark (and Poland) is that it’s better to have some nice high mountains in your country (montani semper liberi), but even so, non-violent resistance and sabotage have a very good track record against military occupation. And, as always, all praise to the Danes for sending not only Danish, but also stateless, Jews to safety in Sweden, many of them at Danish expense.

  32. Lars Mathiesen says

    There is a Danish feature film just out about Kaufmann, Vores mand i Amerika — I think some new records had been found, and maybe he wasn’t as independent of the Danish Foreign Ministry as they wanted the Germans to believe. But it’s hearsay — I can only find a podcast and those are hard to skim.

    Actually this is based on a 2013 book by Bo Lidegaard who wrote his Ph.D dissertation on Kaufmann. But 812 pages…

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