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Canadian French vs. International French - How differences can affect your audience

Updated: Mar 28

French language writing is very similar across countries


Studies show that more people than ever in a variety of nations around the world are speaking and writing French in the twenty-first century. Although Canadian French has similarities to international French used in broadcasting media, it has its own distinctive uses in literature, administration, and other fields. Broadcasting initiatives like TV5 Monde television channel demonstrate the willingness to exchange French cultural differences in news and television series from public broadcasting members from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Quebec and Principality of Monaco. It also serves as a learning hub and linguistic tracking system to spread the French language globally.

 

As the 15th most popular language, French is being spoken by 280 million people either as mother tongue or as a second language and used as an official language in 29 countries. The global Francophonie currently comprises of 70 countries (56 member states and governments) representing 200 million people who speak French. French is the ninth (9th) most spoken language in the world.

 

To ensure coherence of French language usage, the Alliance française was created in the 19th Century. It ensures proper dissemination of French initiatives and French language teaching throughout its member countries, some of which are multilingual and have various cultures. The UNESCO Convention was founded to ensure respectful exchange of those cultures.

 

Canadian French vs. French: Seven Important Differences You Need to Know

Spoken Canadian French has its own set of expressions and regionalisms that differ in each Canadian province, and in French-spoken countries in Europe and other continents. This article will examine those differences between Canadian French and international French used in France.

 

1. Canadian French is inherited from France of the 16th Century

French colonial history in North America dates back to the 15th century, in the heyday of European exploration and fishing expeditions. At its height in the 17th century, New France controlled a vast area that covered more than 8 million square kilometres and included the Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick, the Great Lakes region (which included the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan), down to the Gulf of Mexico (which included the U.S. Mid-Western states), the continental U.S. Eastern states up to Florida.

 


French spoken in New France was that of the aristocracy, that of the court and salons, which would be preserved by the French colonists, whereas it would gradually be abandoned in France during the French Revolution.


The Seven Year’s War (1756–1763) in North America, Europe, and India exacerbated warfare and weakened France’s financial and military support as Great Britain was annexing New France for land. For French colonists, the British army’s Conquest of New France on September 18, 1759, during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City marked a sea of change.

 

Despite receiving little assistance from France, they were able to preserve their culture and inherited language for hundreds of years. King Louis XV of France signed the Treaty of Paris in 1763, giving up his New France Empire to Britain and Spain due to a lack of resources to defend New France. This act served as the impetus for the American Revolution War (1775–1783), which helped the Americas defeat Britain and gain independence.

 

The preservation of older usages in New France may be partly attributable to weakened ties with France. Canadian French education, language and religion were maintained by the Governor and Clergy administration. Regional expressions combined with characteristics of the French spoken in the 16th and 17th centuries, the use of regional French dialects, word pronunciation, innovations, and borrowings from Indigenous and English languages in the form of anglicizations all contributed to the development of the French language.

 

Throughout the centuries, Canadian French has been evolving with its own set of traits and expressions that have steered away from its origins in France. Immigrants who came to New France from France in the 16th and 17th centuries were from Normandy, Perche, Poitou and Charentes. In time, traces of the dialects of these regions can still be found in Canadian French, as in the following terms and expressions:

  • au bout du compte (QC) instead of somme toute (FR) to mean all things considered;

  • barrer (QC) instead of verrouiller (FR) for the action of locking a door – this term was kept in as a verbal Canadian French expression, although the proper term is still being used in formal communication;

  • bleuet (QC) instead of myrtille (FR) for blueberry and canneberge (QC) for cranberry which were nonexistent in France at that century.


2. Canadian French Uses Anglicisms whereas other countries use English words

The battle against Fort Royal in Acadia (the Canadian Atlantic provinces owned by New France), which resulted in Acadia’s surrender to Britain in 1713 with theTreaty of Utrecht, and the deportation of French colonists to British-occupied New Orleans, was one of numerous conflicts between the French and British settlements to maintain independence.

 

After the British Conquest over New France, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was passed to assimilate the French colonists. French colonists began to incorporate anglicizations into their own tongue since they had to learn to speak with English colonists in an area that was under occupation. However, due to France’s unique laws (the Civil Code) and religion (Catholicism) while under British administration, the Proclamation ultimately failed. With the Quebec Act of 1774, which safeguarded religious freedom and restored French property rights, the British Parliament finally abolished it.

 

Although influenced by the English language, Canadian French was kept alive and developed into a distinct dialect. Since then, Canadian French has developed a distinctive vocabulary, idioms, colloquialisms (slang), references to various cultures, and expressions that may be foreign to speakers of French in France and other countries of the world.

 

Even if the correct phrase is used in the media and in formal verbal and written communication, several anglicizations are still frequently used in spoken conversation. Terms and phrases like:

  • application instead of demande d’emploi to mean work application;

  • avoir des papillons dans l’estomac instead of avoir l’estomac noué or avoir le trac to mean to have butterflies in the stomach;

  • checker instead of vérifier to mean to check.

 

It has been noted that French in Canada makes an effort to use French correct words whereas in some other countries such as in France, English words are used. For example:

  • parking is used in France instead of stationnement Canada;

  • week-end is used in Frane instead of fin de semaine in Canada;

  • baskets is used in France instead of espadrilles in Canada;

  • email is used in France instead of courriel in Canada.

However, there are some words that are inevitably used in English by many French countries such as marketing, design, leadership. The Office québécois de la langue française makes enormous efforts to instill the use of correct French words in the common language.

 

3. Canadian French Incorporates More Indigenous Words

As New France territory was founded, local Native Americans accompanied French explorers as they travelled to the west and south. In order to secure themselves from occupation while New France and the British colonies engaged in ongoing conflicts, they formed alliances with the local First Nations. Because they lacked skills in translation, they learnt their native tongues and incorporated words from them into the French language that are still in use today:

  • masquinogé (species of pike fish);

  • ouananiche (freshwater salmon fish);

  • wigwam (cone-shaped tent made with deer skin and tree branches).

 

Grammatical Differences

Throughout the centuries, universal French grammar has always been taught in schools in Canada. However, some of the usages have been dropped from Canadian French and Quebec French speakers in sentence structures and verb tenses. For example, Canadian French:

  • rarely uses the past perfect verb tense (je suivis le cours d’anglais) and the use of compound past or imperfect past verb tense (j’ai suivi le cours d’anglais ou j’avais suivi le cours d’anglais);

  • sporadically uses the polite form of you (vous) unless addressed in formal communication with authorities such as judges, politicians, doctors, etc.; even today, normal verbal communication uses tu instead of vous in business (e.g., when a lawyer is speaking to its client, tu his/her lawyer);

  • rarely uses québéquismes (term innovated by the Quebec French language) in school to reenforce universal French learning.

 

4. Differences in Vocabulary and Colloquialisms (Variants Used in French Language)

As Canadian French evolved in vocabulary, authorities soon had to document the disparities from universal French language. Scholars would produce various dictionaries of local expressions used such as québéquismes which are terms still used in Quebec and other parts of Canada that are not used or understood in France. Here are a few examples of québéquismes:

  • the use of s’écarter instead of s’éloigner (to go away) or s’écarter instead of s’égarer (to mean to get lost);

  • the use of à cause que (because that) to mean because, mais que (but that) to mean “when” or as soon as;

  • the use of the preposition à (at) to situate actions or events in time, so that, for example, instead of saying ce soir, ce matin, tous les jours (this evening, this morning, every day), people say à soir, à matin, à tous les jours.

 

5. Differences in Pronunciation

French verbal expressions used daily in various regions of Canada are pronounced differently and may sound foreign to International French. Although French Canadians are educated with the universal French language, they can understand the French equivalent of France, but not the other way around for French citizens of France and other countries in the world. There are still differences today between French pronunciations in Quebec and in France as in the following:

  • the use of the sound /ɛ/ (eh) in the adjectives droit (right, straight) and froid (cold) and in subjunctive forms of the verb être (to be), such as sois, so that they are pronounced drette, frette, and seille, respectively;

  • the rolling of the “r” (the spoken r from the tip of the tongue) as in spoken Latin American Spanish used from the old French influenced by the Clergy from the 16th century up to the 20th century; it is still used internationally;

  • the guttural “r” (the spoken r from the back of the throat) used in the 20th century, to follow international French common use;

  • the "t" and "d" in Quebec are pronounced with an "s"/"z" sound before the "u" and "i" as in "tsu” instead of “tu” as in “tsu m’apporteras de la nourriture” (you will bring me food), and “dzu” instead of “du” as in “dzu pain” (some bread).

 

More about the differences between Canadian French and European French: Le Français Québécois

 

6. Different Industry-Specific Terminology and Language Regulations

To standardize certain vocabulary and writing practices for use in technical manuals, instructional/learning materials, and other forms of communication, French bodies of authority have been established.

 

In Quebec, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) is the authority for establishing French terms and proper use of technical and non-technical terms for various industries that may differ from Europe. Among others, the OQLF has developed Le Grand dictionnaire terminologique (GDT) which contains the recommended use of terms in specific context.

 

In the rest of Canada, the Translation Bureau of Canada establishes Canadian French vocabulary and writing conventions used by various industries. For example, Nos langues / Our Languages -- Resources of the Language Portal of Canada and Le guide du rédacteur contain a gold mine of information.

 

In France, France Terme was created to standardize the use of technical and non-technical terminology. The European Union Terminology database is available for use of all terminology in all industries in all other European nations where French is spoken thanks to the Interactive Terminology for Europe (IATE).

 

It is not unusual to find a specific set of writing rules, usage of phrases, and idioms for each organization given the variety of possible French terms for one term in English within context. To aid in better understanding and prevent misunderstandings between the French communities, many organisations in Canada distribute their own French glossaries of terms and expressions to their communities and stakeholders in business, government, healthcare, information technology, medical sciences, etc.

 

As globalization opens its borders to the world, Canadian French is now a flourishing language with new French expressions being adopted regularly.

 

7. How can ignoring these differences lead to misinterpretation or a bad impression?

When travelling to countries where French is spoken, doing a bit of research before going can be of help. More importantly, if a business wants to convey the exact message to another from a French country, it is best to have the translation verified by professional bilingual editors from that country who have long-standing experience in the cultural expressions and professional vocabulary used by the target audience. Ignoring the subtleties of the message can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.


Editech Documentation offers linguistic localization services to set apart Canadian French from International French. With more than 20 years of experience and a pool of Canadian certified translators and editors, Editech Documentation offers linguistic localization services to set apart Canadian French from International French.

 

Our objective is to help scientific and technical businesses and organizations to reach French markets and stakeholders, by translating technical and scientific content/material from English to French (and vice versa) with the assistance of qualified and certified native French translators, in the following disciplines: Bio-Medical Engineering, Defense and Security, various Engineering Disciplines, Environment and Renewable Energy, Health Care and Pharmaceuticals, and Information Technology (IT).

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