Language differences between European French and Canadian French

Canadian French exhibits many differences from Continental or Metropolitan French, especially in less formal and spoken language.

Canadian French is used as a general term for the various dialects of French spoken in Canada. These include Quebec French or Québécois and also those used in other Francophone communities throughout the country, especially Ontario and New Brunswick. The so-called Quiet Revolution of the 1960s promoted a sense of Québec nationalism that saw French become the primary language of business and its preference over English for official use. Although speakers of Continental French will understand formal and written Canadian French (albeit with a different accent), the informal and spoken language exhibits more challenging differences.

Spelling

Most words are spelt the same in Canadian French, though there are occasional differences. In written documents, Continental French typically includes a space before some punctuation like the semicolon, exclamation or question marks. This is either left out entirely, or a thin space is used.

Grammar

There are many minor grammatical differences in the spoken language that will challenge someone familiar with Continental French. Prepositions may be shortened, with s’a and dins used instead of sur la and dans les, for example. Que is often used as a general-purpose relative pronoun, which can lead to confusion; in other instances, specifiers might be dropped entirely. On instead of nous is used frequently in spoken Canadian French, and they tend to be more relaxed about using tu instead of vous – though it is still possible to cause offence if you get it wrong!

Terminology

A large number of words are unique to Canadian French, or have different meanings or ranges of meaning to their European French counterparts. Many of these usages are informal – for example, magasiner, meaning ‘to shop’ in Canadian French; or char, meaning ‘car’ in Canadian French but ‘chariot’ in European French. Informal and spoken Canadian French contains a large number of English loan words; though formal usage tends to avoid these. There are numerous loan words from aboriginal languages encountered by early settlers, too – such as micouène, meaning a large wooden spoon. Other words may essentially be the same as in European French, but exhibit a difference in gender or number – such as autobus, which is feminine in Canadian French.

However, it is important to stress that formal usage tends to avoid English loan words. The imposition of British control over French-speaking Canadians in the 18th century casts a long shadow. Anglicisms are not well tolerated in written documents, and words common in the spoken language like parking, shopping should be translated into native alternatives. This can raise numerous complexities for businesses. For example, colour charts are routinely left untranslated; however, the sensitivities around preserving use of the French language mean that these and other documentation would need localising for the French Canadian market.

Pronunciation

Canadian French has a more nasal intonation, leading to a shift in vowel sounds. An sounds more like in. In terms of consonants, ‘r’ has a trilled pronunciation in Continental French. Some French Canadians follow this (particularly in Québec), whilst others pronounce a flatter, more uvular ‘r’ sound. The letters ‘d’ and ‘t’ are pronounced ‘ds’ and ‘ts’ when they occur before the letters ‘u’ and ‘i’, including in more formal speech – so Lundi sounds more like ‘Lun-dsi’.

So, what does this all mean?

When engaging with businesses and customers in Canada and France, you will need to focus your communication. Start by selecting translators and interpreters who speak and professionally translate into the language/dialect spoken by your target audience. This is especially important since there are widespread differences between both Continental and Canadian French, and between formal/informal and spoken/written language.

Fortunately, Comtec is here to help. We’re experts in all things languages and will be able to offer advice on how to proceed. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 to discuss your needs with us!

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