Home » Uncategorized » “Our 32 accents” Series: QUÉBEC x 8 – Post 3 of 7 (#88)

“Our 32 accents” Series: QUÉBEC x 8 – Post 3 of 7 (#88)

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We will continue to take a closer look at our accents in this and subsequent posts..

The following numbered accents correspond to the numbered accent zones on the map in the series’ first post.


accents français french legend


4. Rouyn-Noranda:

For the purposes of the main accent map, the Rouyn-Noranda region may also include the adjacent Abitibi-Témiscamingue area of Québec (slightly to the South).  This is one of the areas of Québec where a local accent is very weak.  It exists, but it can be very difficult to hear sometimes.   A friend of mine had a girlfriend from Rouyn, and he swore her and her family’s accent was instantly noticeable, but I had a difficult time picking it out (comparable to the degree of subtlety between my Northern Alberta English accent versus my father’s Southern Saskatchewan English accent).  With that being said, the Rouyn-Noranda accent will likely be one which continues to standardize with the rest of Québec and which may not exist in one or two more generations.  It’s generally the older generations who speak with it, and younger generations seem to not be picking it up.

(Update regarding this last statement:  I just met a girl in Mississauga from Rouyn-Noranda – and boy was her accent STRONG!  Instantly noticeable!  Even I had to ask her where the heck she was from with an accent like that.  

I asked her why I never heard such a strong accent any time I have travelled to Val-d’Or or Témiscaming in the same region she’s from.  She answered it is because that those are “urban” folks in the towns I visited!

Hahaha! – Témiscamingue only has 3000 people and is in the middle of nowhere [I even once wrote a post about Témiscamingue, Québec – click HERE]… and yet she considers them “city-slickers!”  hahahaha!).

I’ll see if I can find a recording of it and I’ll post it when I find one (although I have to say that it had some similar traits to Northern Ontario’s French accent along Highway 11, and at first I thought she perhaps was Franco-Ontarienne).

Official flag of Québec.

Official flag of Québec.

5. Greater Montréal & Upper St.Laurence Valley (Vallée de l’haut St-Laurent):

This accent encompasses both sides of the St-Lawrence River, from, and including the Montréal region, almost all the way to Trois-Rivières, and from Montréal, up to the entrance of the Laurentian Mountains along the Ottawa River. Although it’s not as pronounced and heavy an accent as Montréal Island’s East end, it shares many characteristics with Montréal’s East-End accent.  It could even be said to be a “toned-down” version of Montréal’s East-End accent.   It’s heavy on long, open vowels, a declination on words, versus standard Québécois’ inclination. “Ai” in words become “Eye” (the same sound as the Scottish “Yes” – remember Scotty from Star-trek?).   Thus chaise (chair) is pronounced “Sheyes” (“eye” prounounced like the English word “eye”).   This is one of the most recognizable, most heard, and most spoken regional accents in Québec (it can be easy to identify someone from this region by their accent, and this is the non-standard regional accent you will most often encounter when listening to people speak on the street).  In the  NEXT POST, I’ll offer you sample videos with this accent.

6. Eastern Montréal Island and Laval Villages :

This accent is the “old” Montréal city accent.  I say “old”, because it is undergoing rapid change (it is becoming more and more like the Greater Montréal accent mentioned above).  But it is still very much alive, and young people still will speak with this accent.   Technically it’s not limited to the East-End of Montréal, but that’s where you’ll hear it the most often.  You’ll also hear it in the Northern parts of Montréal, sometimes in areas close to downtown Montréal, and also in the “old” towns which existed on Laval island before they were amalgamated to make the city of Laval (Ste-Rose, Fabreville, etc.).

One very distinct characteristic (but also one of the fastest disappearing ones) is a hard rolling of the “R”.  This “R” roll is similar to the Spanish “trill” (rolling of the Spanish “R”).   But in Montréal, the sound is done at the back of the mouth (in the throat, almost like a gargling), rather than at the front of the mouth with the tongue on teeth (like in Spanish).  If fact, if your were prounounce the “R” roll like Spanish when speaking French, it wouldn’t sound right at all – it would actually sound like you’re speaking French with an Italian accent or something.

The other traits, such as long, deep vowels (especially “â”, “on”), heavy nasalization of “en” and “in” “-ant, -ent, -int”, and the “ai” to “eye” tendencies are accentuated on the Islands to a much heavier degree than the Greater Montréal & Upper St-Laurence Valley accent.  Because of these characteristics, it’s often easy to tell if someone grew up on Montréal Island, or if they grew up 20 kms away off the islands.  In this sense, it’s one of only a handful of highly localized French accents in all of Canada which can be recognized within a few kilometres of another.  In the NEXT POST, I’ll offer sample videos of this accent.

7.  Mauricie – Haute Mauricie :

Half way between Québec City and Montréal, to the North of the St. Lawrence river, this used to be a district called les Bois-Francs when governed by France.  Much like the Michif language in Western Canada, a somewhat separate language also evolved here, called Magoua.   It came about through log-drivers marrying aboriginal women.   This lead to various new regional words (many which survive to this day amongst the oldest generations), and somewhat of a unique accent.   Like the Rouyn-Noranda region (mentioned in the previous post), youth are speaking with a more standardized Québécois accent rather than the accent of their parents or grandparents.  That said, my own business once had relations with a company North of Shawinigan.  The owner of that business was younger than me, and he had a very distinct regional accent (marrying short vowels of the Québec region to the North with rising vowels of the Montréal region to the south, and the rolled “R’s” of the region’s older generation) – so I guess it goes to show that some youth still have the accent, albeit toned down.   If you want to hear an example of this accent, you don’t have to look any further than Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.  He speaks with the Mauricie – Haute Mauricie accent (he was born, raised and worked in the region, which was his home riding).  If you forgot his accent, here’s a an interview with Chrétien.

Another example of the regional accent (although toned down somewhat compared to Chrétien is commedian Marcel Béliveau, from La Tuque, which you can view here:

8.  Eastern Townships (l’Estrie or les Cantons de l’est (Comtés de l’est)):

Apart from the Outaouais region and some further outlying regions, this region is one which has had some of the most intermingling of Anglophones and Francophones over the last 200 or so years (Montréal’s Anglo & Franco communities, for the most part, didn’t begin to intermingle until around 40 to 50 years ago).  This region was heavily populated by Irish immigrants a century ago, who successfully integrated into Francophone society, as well as many immigrants from the United States.  Therefore, it goes without saying that each other’s languages has had a mutual influence on accents in this region (as well as vocabulary).    The region used to roll it’s R’s like Montréal (older people sometimes still do), and word endings are cut short.  Example: the word “ourlet” is a very region-specific term in the Eastern Townships for a “banc de neige”, or “snowbank”.  When it’s pronounced in standard Québécois or international French, it should be pronounced “oour-lait”, but the ending is cut short, so it’s pronounced our-lé, with the “é” being only half pronounced).  Another example might be “phare de voiture” (headlights), but in the Eastern Townships, it would be cut short and become “pha de voitu”.    They also have a tendencie to accentuate a nasalization of “vowel+n” combinations.  The accent is on decline, but here is a promo video made by a local, young restaurant owner in Sherbrooke, who speaks with the region’s accent:

9.  Québec City – Charlevoix:

This is one of the accents that everyone usually talks about – simply because of the rivalry between Québec City and Montréal (one which can get as heated as the Edmonton versus Calgary rivalry).  Let me start off by saying that this is the most populous accent grouping which is closest to Standard Québecois.  The differences are not big, and it comes down to just a few differences mentioned below (but which are not nearly as heavy as in other accents).

The flag of Québec City, most closely associated with the Québec City regional accent.

The flag of Québec City, most closely associated with the Québec City regional accent.

Generally, people like to explain the Québec City accent by stating what it is not… specifically how it is different from a Montréal accent.  So, if that explanation isn’t broken, then why fix a good thing.  It works for me, so let’s jump on the band-wagon and explain this accent in terms of how it differs from Montréal’s.

There are six main features of this accent:   (1) vowels and vowel combinations are shorter in sound, pitch, and tone.  The classic word which is most often used as an example is “Poteau” (a post, like a street light post or power pole along a road).  In Montréal, it would be pronounced with a long “ō”, and with the “eau” also being pronounced as a long “ō” (“p ō t ō”, rhyming with “photo”, but even wider, longer and deeper “ō’s”).  However, in Québec City, it would be a short “o” (as in “off”), and the “eau” would be shorter, such as the “o” like the o in “torch”.  (2) Intonations are different.  Using the same word, “Poteau”, when pronounced in Montréal, both syllables would decline, whereas in Québec city, the first syllable would stay neutral, and the second would decline (in France and in standard Québécois, the first syllable would rise, and the second would decline).  (3) The Montréal “ei”, “ê” or “ai” vowels do not make an “eye” sound in Québec city, but more often than not will make an “è” sound (like in the word “ten”.   Thus a “whale” (baleine) or “stop” (arrête) would be “bal-eye-ne” and “arr-eye-te” in Montréal, but “bal-è-ne” and “arr-è-te” in Québec City.  (4) The R’s in Québec City are rarely alveolar (rolling), but rather are a much crisper “R” than other regions.  (5)  Words ending in “-et” in greater Montréal will often be pronounced “-ette”, whereas in Québec City, they’ll often be prounced “eh” (lbut with an even shorter sound).   (6) English words, like “Google”, “rubber” (regional slang for boots and tires in French) etc, are pronounced with French accents in Québec City, rather than retaining their English sounds (which occurs in Montréal).

Coincidentally, yesterday was the official unveiling of Québec City’s new brand and logo:  Québec, L’Accent d’Amérique (“Québec, the accent of America”), playing on the fact that this was one of the first places a European accent was spoken in the Americas, with much of the original accent still alive after more than 400 years.    The video can be seen here.  In it, The narrator speaks with Québec City vowels.   See if you can pick them out.

Here is another one:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxJBDMzi-IQ, a video of commedian François Morency (a very famous comedian from Québec City).  Although his accent might be a bit more netural, still try to listen carefully to his vowels – the opposite of the deep vowels you’d hear in Montréal.   Bits and pieces of the two videos carry all the above 6 characteristics which can be heard in a Québec City (and Charlevoix region) accent.   Charlevoix region, by the way, is the region immediately to the North of Québec city, along the St. Laurence — on of the prettiest regions in Québec.

Another note of significance about this accent… I would say that if any accent has had the greatest influence for setting the bar for Standard Québécois French, it would likely be the Québec City accent.  It’s closest to Standard Québecois, and the fact that it is the accent for most government administration (with Québec City being the provincial capital and the headquarters for all government ministries), its role in influencing the evolution of Standard Québécois cannot be underestimated.

10.  La Beauce:

You’ll recall in the opening post for this series that I mentioned almost all accents are mutually intelligible (ie: they can be understood by everyone), but there are some exceptions.   The accent from the Beauce, if spoken very heavily, can even trip up people from Montréal.  Words can be sometimes pronounced quite differently than other regions in Canada, and I (as well as many other people) sometimes have to listen very carefully to catch what’s being said – especially if people are talking fast.    They have a tendency to interchange “g” and “h” sounds, to also turn them into “ch” sounds (both soft and hard), and soft “y” sounds (like the “y” in the English word “yellow”).  “K” will sometimes change to a hard “g”.  Hard “G” will sometimes become a soft “G”, sometimes you’ll hear “ch” out of nowhere.   They also like to throw in an aspirated “h” (like an English “h”, such as “hello”) between certain consonants (one of the only few places in the world where this is done in French).  But it’s not done like an English aspirated “H”, since it’s mixed into difficult-to-pronounce parts of a word.    Examples:  “L’asphalt” becomes “l’asphHat”.  “Guêpe” becomes “yeûpe”.  “Gens” becomes “Hens”.   “Tout le kit” (the whole kit and caboodle) will become “Tout ya gittte” with a hard G,  “Baguettes” (chopsticks) will become “bajettes” with a soft “j”.   “Hibou” (owl) will become “chibou” (with a hard “ch”, rather than soft).

Peter MacLeod, a relatively well-known Francophone comedian from La Beauce, has a relatively “toned down” regional accent (ie: it’s still easy to understand him).  You can catch one of his accented comedy acts here.  In the clip, you can catch traces of some of the above types of accent trends in what he says.

Here’s a softer Beauce accent from a local regional radio personality:

This video has a few fairly good examples… listen to the man at 13:00, the lady at 16:30, the man at 18:45, the man at 26:25, the man at 29:00, the man at 35:30, the man at 38:12:

11.  Saguenay – Lac-St-Jean:

As far as “non-Montréal” attention-getting accents are concerned, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean is one of the “gang of three” (the other two attention-getters are Québec City, discussed above, and the Gaspé Peninsula (or Gaspésie) which will be talked about in the next post).

Interestingly, owing to its unique history, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean is the only

Interestingly, owing to its unique history, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean is the only “Region” in all of Québec with its own “official” flag. It can thus be associated with the region’s unique accent.

In Saguenay – Lac St-Jean, people tend to lengthen their vowels, and then eat the end of the words…  “Je fais le menage de maison” (I’m doing the housecleaning) becomes “Je fâââis l’menâââg d’mâiiiso”.  If the word has an “R” at the end, you might as well say good-bye to it before the word is even uttered:  “Je donne mes impôts au collecteur de taxe” (I’m giving my taxes to the tax collector) becomes “Je dôôônne mes iimpôôts au collecteu de taxe”. 

The well-known, and somewhat controversial Mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, appears in a promotional video of his city (Saguenay is the largest city in the region, created several years ago by fusing together the former cities of Jonquière and Saguenay).   The promo video with Tremblay’s accent can be viewed here:

Here is another sound tract from the Saguenay region, but this time much more informal.  So informal, in fact, that I felt the need to provide you with closed captions to be able to follow along (click the CC button at the bottom of the video screen).

This is one accent which is alive and well – thriving even.  It’s not going anywhere and will be one of the more notable aspects of Québec French for a “lôôôông tîîme t’côôm” 🙂 (my take of how they’d say “A long time to come” if their accent was transferable to English — it’s an accent I adore!).

Now that you’re becoming more familiar with various regional accents, see if you can begin to identify them when you’re in a crowd of people.  Some of the best places to hear a good mix of regional accents are tourist sites, as well as road-side rest stops (when I was driving back to Toronto from Ottawa on Tuesday, I grabbed a bite to eat at a 401 ON-Route stop south of Kingston… I figure I heard 4 different regional accents at that one stop alone).

The next few posts will continue our look at characteristics of regional accents of Canadian French… see you in a bit!





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