Home » Uncategorized » “Our 32 accents” Series: The Three big accents – post 4 of 7 (#89)

“Our 32 accents” Series: The Three big accents – post 4 of 7 (#89)

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We still have a number of accents to cover in upcoming posts.   But first I’d like to take a moment and re-highlight the importance of three accents we have already covered in “Our 32 accents” Series: Post 2 – (Montréal accents) and “Our 32 accents” Series: Post 1 – Canadian French accents overview (Standard French):

  • The Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawrence Valley Accent,
  • Montréal East-End and Laval Old Town Accent, and
  • Standard Québécois.  

If you have not read the previous posts on Montréal accents, or standard Québec accents, I recommend you go back and do so before reading onward (it puts much in context for the text below).

In terms of numbers, these three are the French accents with the greatest number of speakers in Canada.  All three accents are spoken in the Metropolitan Montréal region, with Standard Québécois overlapping with the other two throughout regions in and around Montréal.   It’s worth re-looking at them, not only from a demographics and population point of view, but from the point of view of their importance and prominence in numbers and in overall Francophone, Québec, and Canadian societies.

The map below is an estimate of the number of speakers of these three accent groups.   The shading also indicates the approximate areas where most of these speakers are found.  I say “approximate” because you can sometimes hear trace accents reminiscent of the Greater Montréal & Upper St-Lawrence accent in areas close to Gatineau (the Ottawa area on the Québec side of the Ottawa river), in the Laurentians, and areas further South than St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.    It’s important to note that the Greater Montréal – Upper St. Lawrence accent can also be heard overlapping in the smaller area which traditionally speaks in the Montréal East-End accent .  Thus be aware that these borders are only approximations, owing to the fact that it is difficult to find hard data.

As for the the population estimates, they were made by correlating Stats-Can and Stats-QC census data to accent observations on the ground.  Example:  if I’ve experienced approximately 80 out of 100 people speaking with X accent in Y area, then I would label Y area as having 80 people speaking X accent (as a proportion of the census Francophone population living in that area), and the 20 remaining people would be grouped into the “standard Québécois” population statistics.   Thus, the numbers I give for Standard Québécois accent is the population of these accent speakers spread throughout all regions on the map below.

The map and numbers may not be perfect, but it’s likely about the closest we have to real numbers based on what is available at the moment (at least until a linguistics researcher can carry out a full scientific project on this matter).  Click map below to enlarge.


The Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawrence Valley Accent:

  • Comprises approximately 3,500,000 speakers (the most spoken French accent in Canada). Here are two YouTube videos with fairly good examples, spoken by three personalities who come from all corners of this region (all with the same accent):
  • Jean-René Dufort was the topic of an earlier blog post. He’s from St-Jérôme, Northeast of Mirabel (see map).  You can hear his Greater Montréal accent here:

  • Éric Salvail, was also the topic of an earlier post.  He is from Sorel-Tracy, in the Northeast end of the Greater Montréal accent zone (see map).   Here is a video of Salvail interviewing Georges St-Pierre (also the topic of an earlier post), who is from St-Isidore, just outside Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in the Southern end of the accent zone (see map).  You can see the Salvail – St-Pierre interview video here, and hear their accents.  Salvail’s accent is more neutral than St-Pierre’s.  Whereas St-Pierre’s accent is instantly recognizable as being from this region, you’d have to listen more carefully to pin down Salvail’s accent.  But it’s there nonetheless (you can catch it on how he pronounces a good deal of his “a” vowels, and on a number of his “ei” vowel combinations).  Both men are from the same Greater Montréal – Upper St. Lawrence accent zone, and it Salvail’s more nuanced would be more apparent if you were to hear his speach if it were compared to someone from Québec City, for example.  You can view the video here (you’ll notice St-Pierre’s accent right away through many different parts of his speach , but see if you can pick up Salvail’s when you listen to his “a” and “ei” vowels, and compare them to St-Pierre’s “a” and “ei” vowels – you’ll then notice they’re from the same accent zone) :

Standard Québécois:

  • Comprises approximately 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 natural speakers (the second most spoken French accent in Canada) — those who have “for the most part” lost the strongest traits of local accents (refer to the first post in this accent series for more information).  Standard Québécois is not only newscast French, but there is also a shift which sees more and more people across Québec speaking with in this accent at work and home.  Examples:
    1. Bazzo.tv is a weekly television talk show on the network “V”.   The show’s host, Marie-France Bazzo, speaks with more-or-less a neutral Standard Québécois accent, as do many of her guest.  You can view the latest episodes online here:  http://zonevideo.telequebec.tv/media/18586/emission-370/bazzo-tv.
    2. The socio-cultural radio talk show, Medium Large, on RC Radio première generally features guests from different walks of life, sometimes with different accents. But its host, Catherine Perrin speaks in a Standard Québécois accent.    The link is here: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/medium_large/2014-2015/.  To play the episodes, you’ll have to scroll down until you see “AUDIO FIL”, with an arrow beside it.
    3. Le téléjournal on Radio-Canada is another examples — nightly newscasts are all in a Standard Québécois accent:  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/telejournal/2014-2015/ 

Montréal East-End and Laval Old Town Accent :

  • Comprises approximately 600,000 speakers. As you can see from the map, it tends to be highly localized (but can be heard in other areas around Montréal as people move to the suburbs).  People who have this accent have generally grown up on the Montréal Islands.  If you spend any time in Montréal, you will undoubtedly run across this accent, but you may encounter the other Greater Montréal – Upper St. Lawrence Valley accent more and more often as it gains prominence as suburbia grows and accent evolutions continue.  Here are a couple of examples which show how much stronger the Montréal East-End and Laval Old Town accent can be (and these examples are even tame by some measures).  For those who are not fluent in French or regularly exposed to Québécois French, the Montréal East-end and Laval Old Town accent will invariably be more difficult to understand than the lighter Greater Montréal – Upper St. Lawrence Valley accent:
    • Yvon Deschamps is one of Québec’s most famous comedians. He relies in part on his Montréal East-End accent to carry his acts.   He was born in St-Henry (Southwest of downtown) and grew up in Montréal.   A clip with his accent can be viewed here:

  • Here is another clip of the Montréal East-End Accent.  Throughout 2014/2015, Patrick Huard (a famous actor) has been doing advertisements for Intact Insurance based on a plot based on his former TVA television show Taxi 0-22 from the early 2000’s.   The accent in the advertisements and the original television series is a strong Montréal East-End Accent.

Here is the advertisement with the strong Montréal East-End Accent:

Here is a clip from the original television series with the strong Montréal East-End Accent:

  • The late Gilles Latulippe (who recently passed away) was also one of Québec’s most famous comedians. Also from Montréal, his accent was very heavy Montréal East-End.   One of his clips is here:

  • The movie Mommy (the subject of an earlier post) was filmed in a very strong, working-class Montréal East-End accent.  The accent of its two main characters (mother & son) was so strong in fact, that I know of at least one Francophone person (born, raised and who lived his entire life in Québec City) who said that at times he actually had difficulty understanding certain lines being said in the film when he watched it in a movie theatre in Québec City.  A fairly comprehensive video trailer of the movie (with small clips of the Montréal East-End – Laval Old Town accent) can be viewed here:

Montréal's official flag - most closely associated with the Montréal-East-End accent.

Montréal’s official flag – most closely associated with the Montréal-East-End accent.

I am re-mentioning these three accents in this post for a couple of additional reasons:

  1. As I said earlier, to give you context as to the significance of the accents being discussed, thus helping you to identify these three accents, and
  2. If you are learning or improving your French, you may thus want to ensure you can understand accents which will most often be heard (ie: the accents with the largest population groups, or those which you interact with the most).  Regardless where you live in Canada, because the above three accents are heard so often in the media and daily life, it’s important to be able to navigate them.   They also are regularly heard in overall Canadian business, government, and education (note: the fourth most spoken French accent is the Québec City accent, with 500,000 speakers – but because it is very close to Standard Québécois, I haven’t listed it as a “must-know” accent, since knowing Standard Québécois is sufficient to fully comprehend a Québec City accent).

Therefore, when people ask me what accents they should concentrate on, when honing their listening skills, I always recommend :

  • Standard Québecois (which is comparable and interchangeable with International French, and the foundation of French learning), and
  • the Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawrence Valley Accent which has between three and four million speakers.  (don’t worry so much about the Montréal East End – Laval Old Towns accent — in many ways it is being supplanted by the Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawrence Valley Accent, and is heard more on the ground, on the street, than in media.  BUT, if you work in Montréal itself, or if your daily face-to-face dealings are with people who reside on Montréal Island, then you might want to reconsider also training your ear to the Montréal East-End accent – otherwise the Greater Montréal accent should be more than sufficient).

Québec City Accent:

  • Because the Québec City accent is so close and similar to a Standard Québec city accent, I’m not listing it as a separate recommendation, in terms as accent to specifically acquaint yourself with.   For most untrained ears (ie: French as a second language learners), they probably wouldn’t be able to hear the difference between Standard and Québec City.   If you learn Standard Québécois, then you’ll have absolutely no problems with the Québec City accent.

If you concentrate on these two accents (Standard Québécois accent, and the Greater Montréal accent), you basically will be able understand most other accents with relative ease.   If you concentrate only on a Standard Québécois accent, that is also more than OK.  But if you only have an ear for Standard Québécois, you may encounter a degree of difficulty in understanding someone who speaks with a different accent (which, as you can see, comprises a very large percentage of the overall population).   This is because all other accents have similar twists and turns when it comes to how they deviate from Standard Québécois.  Thus, if you develop an ear for one of the non-standard accents (especially the Greater Montréal accent which has the most speakers), it makes it so much easier to navigate your way through other accents when you come across them.

You may be thinking “Good grief!  Now I have to learn two different ways of speaking French!”  Actually, no, that’s not what I’m saying.  On the contrary, learning to speak, read or write international and standard French is sufficient.  Learning to understand spoken standard French is also sufficient.  But taking that simple additional step to develop an ear for a Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawrence accent (without having to learn how to speak it) will open a whole other world for you, and a huge swatch of your own country.  Consider it a bonus rather than an obligation.   The wonderful thing about learning to understand this accent is that there are easy-access resources which allow you to listen to it anywhere, anytime (pan-Canadian television, movies, live radio, streaming radio and streaming video).    It’s never been easier to pick up an ear for this accent, so why not take advantage of such a great opportunity?

Tomorrow we’ll continue looking at other accents as we move into new regions of the country.





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