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A brief history of France’s former languages, and how they helped to shape our French in Canada (#217)

Not long ago I came across two well-made YouTube videos.  One offers samples of France’s 28 different accents.  The other offers samples of 45 languages which are native to France — from the three major French language groups.

In a nutshell, French(as we know it today) is a relatively young language.  It was based in part on languages / dialects which existed in regions in and around Paris for centuries.  Modern French came about when it took elements from the languages / dialects of the Paris area, as well as a number of other nearby and closely related dialects.  In broad terms, they became mixed together in a big language stew, and voilà! — Modern French was born, primarily in the 1600s & 1700s.   (This is an oversimplified summary of what happened – but that’s basically it in a nutshell).

When I use the word “dialect” or “language”, my choice of words is a question of semantics.  Here I’ll use the word “language” (instead of “dialects”) because speakers of many of the dialects referred to in this post would not have necessarily been able understand one another (which is a characteristic of what constitutes separate languages).

Prior to the birth of Modern French (in the 1600s & 1700s), all the languages which existed in the Northern half of France were descended from a “super-group” of languages called the Languages of Oïl (les langues d’oïl).  These 20+ languages existed for roughly 1,500 years, well into the 1700s — at which point modern French began to supersede and replace them.

ld.1

Even though the Languages of Oïl were related, if you were to travel across Northern France in the year 600, 1000, 1500 or even 1700, you would have possibly traveled through 20 different language zones.  Likely you would not have been able to understand the locals as you crossed from one language zone to another (at that time in history, French was not the common every-day language of France).   However, when French began to supersede these other languages, French spread beyond Paris to the outlying regions, and the government began to forcefully suppress (basically wipe-out through forced assimilation) all the regional languages.

A very similar phenomenon existed in the Southern half of France.  Whereas the related languages of the North fell under the umbrella of the Languages of Oïl, in Southern France, there was a different group of many related languages called the Occitan Languages.

A region of Eastern France also had a separate grouping of languages called the Franco-Provençal (or Arpitan) Languages. 

Unlike the Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages did not contribute as much to the formation of Modern French (if you listen to recordings of the Occitan & Franco-Provincial languages, they sound very different from French – with sounds and pronunciations much closer to Italian, Latin, Catalan and Spanish — whereas the Oïl Languages have sounds and pronunciations much more related to Modern French).

Also, just like the other Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages were forcefully repressed by the government, starting in the 1700s, and replaced by Modern French.

Although all these languages of France were wiped out over the course of 300+ years, the inhabitants of each language region retained many different accents which can be associated with the original languages.  Thus, as you travel throughout France today, you will hear many different French accents, sometimes very different from one another.

What I find extremely interesting is that there are still some individuals in France who still speak the former regional languages.  Depending on the language, their numbers can be quite small.  Native speakers are often senior citizens, and some languages may have almost no speakers left (with the only remnants existing only in old audio recordings made 40 to 90 years ago).

How this fits into Canada’s style of French:

In the 1600s and 1700s, the original settlers to Ontario and Québec brought with them the languages of the Paris region (at least how it was spoken in Paris at that time – which is different from how it is spoken in Paris today).  The Parisian language was the main language spoken in New France (the French colonies of North America), but there were significant numbers of other Languages from France such as Norman, Saintogeais, and Gallo.  Settlers also came from other areas in the Northwest and North-central parts of France.   Paris’ language became the standard norm in Québec and Ontario in the 1600s and 1700s, but it carried heavy language influences from other regions of Northwestern and North-central France as people mixed and added their own linguistic nuances to the overall pot.  It was this mixing of Northern France medieval languages which gives us our way of speaking French in Canada today.

Consequently, there are two major forms of French in Canada today (each with many varieties of accents and colloquialisms).

  1. One grouping covers Québec, Ontario, the Prairie Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and British Columbia.  This is also the dominant style in the media (owing to the fact that Montréal is the epicentre of Canada’s Francophone media).  It is based on a much broader mix of old languages and accents which came from France.
  2. Conversely, in Canada’s Easternmost provinces we find Acadia (the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador).  The original French settlers to Acadia in 1605 (and those who continued to come up until the 1700s) came from narrower, more localized regions of France.  In France, they came from regions a bit further South than the settlers who went to Québec and Ontario.  But the Acadian settlers were still from the Northern Half of France and the still spoke languages of Oïl.   Because the settlers spoke different Oïl languages than those who went to Québec and Ontario, Acadia ended up speaking a different style of French — a unique style which is still spoken as the main type of French in our Atlantic provinces today (called Acadian French).

The YouTube recordings:

Someone went to a good deal of work in creating the following YouTube videos, and making them publicly available for our viewing and listening.  They found and put together a collage of sound recordings of 28 accents throughout France, and 45 of the languages of France.

  • France’s 28 accents from all regions of France: 

In this first video, see if you can hear aspects of accents in Northern and Northeast France which share some traits with Canadian French accents.   There are some shared traits – and it is quite intriguing to listen to.

Pay particular attention to the Charentes (Saintonge)”, “Nord-Picardie (Thiérache)”, “Orléanais (Blésois)”, andPoitou (Deux-Sèvres)”, accents.   Sound familiar???  —  I especially find the Charentes (Saintonge) accent to be quite interesting – but all of them are very interesting (I’m thinking out loud here… When I listen to the above accents, I certainly can hear accents which share definite traits with those of Québec’s North-Coast,  Gaspésie, Northern Ontario and older Canadian Prairie-French accents).  Now mix all the above accents together (plus a few more), and guess what overall accent you’re likely to begin to get!  (Wink, wink!!).  And that, my friends, is precisely what happened 300 – 400 years ago here in Canada.

  • France’s 45 languages:

As a speaker of Canadian French, what I find fascinating about the video below is that I (quite surprisingly) find some of the languages relatively easy to understand.   Three of the languages which stick out as relatively easy to understand are PercheronMainiot, and Poitevin (despite that I had never heard them prior to listening to this video).  Even though I can understand them, I am not sure that people in other regions in France would understand them quite as easily.   This is because they seem to share many more traits with our colloquial French in Canada than with standard International French (or even colloquial European French).

Something I find quite shocking (but equally fascinating) is that I can hear vocabulary and expressions in these languages which we regularly say in Canadian French but which are not said in France French and have died out in France.   The following are some prime examples of words / phrases I heard in the languages I pointed out.  They are things we say everyday in Canadian French (many many times every day).  I, like most people in Canada, took it for granted that these were uniquely Canadian words — but apparently they’re not, and we now know their true source! (from some of the old Languages of Oïl).

  • où-ce que t’as..?” or où ce qu’y est…?”
    • instead of “où est-ce que tu as…?” or “où est-ce qu’il est… ?”,
    • which means “Where did you…?” or “Where is…?” in Canada
  • à c’t’heure
    • instead of “maintenant”
    • which means “right now” in Canada,
  • fait-qu’là
    • instead of “alors”
    • which means “so in Canada,
  • M’a faire, aller, etc….”
    • instead of Je vais faire, aller… etc.”
    • which means I’m going to do, go… etc.” in Canada,
  • ben’qu-là
    • instead of “bon!”
    • which means “well…”, or “so then” in Canada, etc.

And then there were the accents and tones… such as the old French Montréal-Windsor-St.Louis corridor aveolar “Rs”, and Acadian vowel flattenings.

Truly fascinating stuff — like a 400 year old time-machine, but with a mirror with our face in it!

I suppose it indicates that the degrees of separation from the original French dialects which came to Canada in the 1600’s & 1700’s, and the style of colloquial French we speak today across Canada and Québec may not have diverged as much as one would think.

Other languages which I surprisingly do not have major difficulties understanding are aspects of Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais (which appears to share many traits in common with Acadian French in Canada), and Gallo.  

It was actually quite eerie listening to these languages for the first time.  There was an instant sense of “familiarity” with them, despite having never heard them before.

Go figure!  😉

Where all this fits on a language tree:

As with any language, I suppose you could say any given language has “sibling” languages and “cousin” languages.

A cousin language would be when one older language gives rise to a few parallel new languages.   In a broad sense, Latin gave birth to many different language groupings.  Some examples would be the Italo-Dalmatian grouping (which includes Corsican, Italian, Sicilian, etc), the Eastern Grouping (which includes Romanian, Aromanian, etc.), the Langue d’Oïl grouping (which includes French, Norman, Walloon, etc.).

In general, these “groupings” could be said to be positioned like “cousins” with respect to one another on a family tree.   In language terms, sometimes you can understand your cousins, but sometimes you cannot.   Some of French’s cousins would include Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I can understand (especially read) a good deal of these three language cousins.  Conversely, English’s closest cousin is the language of West Frisian which is spoken in the Northern Netherlands.   English speakers cannot understand or read West Frisian (or any other cousin of English) owing to too much separation in terms of time and geography.   So it’s hit and miss when it comes to understanding cousin languages.

Then there are the sibling languages.  Each of the “cousin groupings” gives birth to a number of other languages (“sibling” languages) through closely related circumstances of geography and history.   In the Oïl Language grouping, we find the languages in the above video (for example, Percheron, MainiotPoitevin, Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais and Gallo).  As a Canadian French speaker, the above-mentioned sibling languages are not difficult for me to understand, despite that I had never heard them before (whereas other “sibling” languages in the Oïl Language grouping are difficult for me to understand).   Conversely, English has two sibling languages… one has gone extinct (Yola), and the other is Scots.  Sometimes Scots can be a bit difficult to understand if you are not used to hearing it (see the video below), but if you were to read it aloud, chances are you would understand 80% of it if your native language is English.

Click below to open the language tree to see where French and English sit with respect to their language “cousins” and “siblings”.    The languages discussed above are in “Blue” on the tree.

Indo-European Tree - blue - jpg

We already heard samples of some of French’s language siblings.  But as an English speaker, if you’re curious about English’s only remaining sibling, Scots, here are some examples:

This is a sample text of Scots from Wikipedia:  Quebec (Québec in the French leid) is a province o Canadae. It is the mucklest province gaun bi aurie o Canadae. Quebec haes a population o 7,651,531 fowk. The offeecial leid o Quebec is French, an aboot 90% o the indwallers o Quebec speaks it (aside French, baith Inglis an Inuktuit are spoken). The caipital ceety o Quebec is Quebec Ceety (Ville de Québec in French), an the mucklest ceety is Montreal (Montréal). Maist o the fowk in Quebec are French Canadians (or Québecois), but Erse-Quebecers, Scots-Quebecers, Inglis-Quebecers, Italian-Quebecers an Jewish-Quebecers bide there an aw.

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to have a go at translating it.  Let’s see how I do (I’ll put my guesses in parenthesis):  Quebec (Québec in the French language) is a province in Canada.  It is the largest (?) province (something something) of Canada.  Quebec has a population of 7,651,531 people (or folk).  The official language of Quebec is French, and about 90% of the inhabitants (dwellers) of Quebec speak it.  Apart from French, (something) English and Inuktitut are spoken.  The capital city of Quebec is Quebec City – Ville de Québec in French.  And the largest city is Montreal.  Most of the population (folk) in Quebec are French Canadians – or Québécois, but (something) Quebeckers, Scottish-Quebeckers, English-Quebeckers, and Jewish-Quebeckers also live (abide) there (but I assume they’re not saying they live there “in awe”… so I don’t know what the last word is).

How did I do?  It looks like I could understand 90%.   If you want to read the full Wikipedia article, you can find it here;  http://sco.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec

But… Let’s ramp this up a notch, and see how well your listening skills are.  I’ve seen the following video, and although I would likely not have many problems “reading” what is being said – I cannot say the same regarding my listening skills.  I have only ever had minimal exposure to listening to Scots, so believe me when I say that 80% of what is being simply flies over my head.   Have a listen and see how you do (if you are an Anglophone Canadian, I’m sure you will do NO better than me in understanding what is being said):

FURTHER READING

If you want to read more on all these topics, you can check out the following Wikipedia articles:


RELATED BLOG POSTS:

OUR 32 ACCENTS (7 POSTS)

OTHER RELATED LANGUAGE POSTS (2 POSTS)

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The end of SNL Québec? (#216)

Télé-Québec (Québec’s public television broadcaster, but perhaps only in fourth of fifth place in terms of ratings among non-specialty channels) is currently undergoing a round of budget cuts.

Last September, they launched Saturday Night Live Québec (SNL Québec).  The novice comedians of the new series became instant stars and household names across Québec and Francophone Canada.   They have since forged a high-profile media presence for themselves on talk shows, at comedy festivals, and in television and media in general.  In a nutshell, SNL Québec allowed us to view the making of new TV stars (and boy, have they been high-profile the last few months).

However, the nature of Télé-Québec’s cutbacks have finally hit home, and they had to cancel SNL Québec.   Last night’s airing could very well have been the LAST episode ever made.

For the moment, you can still view prior SNL episodes on Télé-Québec’s website, here:  http://snlquebec.telequebec.tv/emissions

I’ve seen it mentioned in the media a few times that Télé-Québec is trying to sell the program to a different network- but only time will tell if they succeed.

Regardless of whether or not another network buys the show, the following TV stars have been born and are taking new roles across all media platforms:

  • Phil Roy
  • Virginie Fortin
  • Mathieu Quesnel
  • Léane Labrèche-Dor
  • Pier-Luc Funk
  • Katherine Levac 

The show may have come to an abrupt end, but I have a feeling these six individuals will continue to be highly visible for many years to come.

Real-life documentary: Le Garage, “Bienvenue chez Normand” (#215)

This documentary, “Le Garage”, caught my eye the moment I first saw a short 20 second clip, and now I’m hooked!

I’ll provide you with trailers, and an official link for online viewing a little further below.

This is one of the most “real” documentaries I think I have ever seen.  I have never seen a documentary quite like this one before; one which has surprisingly left me with a feeling of having a strange bond with the people featured in it, despite never having met them.

At the very bottom, I’ll provide you with links to official sites where you can watch the full hour-long documentary, officially approved for internet viewing.

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The Trailer:  Here’s how the film maker, Michel Demers, describes his film (translation) : “It is along the banks of the North Coast where we find The Garage.  Between forest and sea, adults, children, and grand-parents all gather in the garage to tell their stories and to gossip.  In an atmosphere in which everyone has each other’s back, you can sample the moose meat, trout, and mussels that everyone has pitched in to bring home together.  Norman and his sons are mechanics, and are under the ever-so-watchful eyes of those who drop in and who watch from the side-lines”.

C’est à Longue-Rive sur La Côte-Nord que nous retrouvons LE GARAGE. Entre mer et forêt, adultes, enfants et grands-parents s’y rencontrent pour raconter histoires et menteries. Dans une atmosphère de solidarité et d’entraide, on déguste orignal, truites et moules que l’on a capturé ensemble. Normand et ses fils y font de la mécanique sous les yeux des gens qui “veillent” dans le côté salon.

——————————-

THE STORY LINE:

The film maker’s brother, Norm, lives in a very small village, Longue-Rive, in the relatively remote region known as Québec’s North Shore.    Norm is a mechanic in the village, and works out of his garage set up on his property.   In small towns and villages across Canada, particularly those which are quite remote, neighbours have grown up together and/or know each other very well.   In such places, people often do not lock their doors at night, and villages take on a family atmosphere of sorts (you can walk into your neighbour’s homes without knocking, everyone knows where everyone’s chilren are at all times, and adults spend a lot of time with each other.

Map1

Map2

In Longue-Rive, there is no bar or cafe.  But the blue-collar nature of the small town makes it so everyone has a garage where they work (either professionally or as a hobby), and everyday life revolves around the garage (much like everyday life may have revolved around kitchens 50, 70 or 100 years ago).

I’ve personally driven through Long-Rive a while back, as well as many other communities like it along the North Shore, and all across Canada.  In villages like these, it tends to be more cultural the norm, rather than the exception, to see homes with detached garages, in which residents work or whittle away their time (even in my own family, we I have a number of relatives whose lives semi-revolve around their garage).

Culturally, it is very Canadian to see this phenomenon in remote, rural settings, in all provinces.   It’s something I have never really thought of before, but I think it’s an aspect of our rural culture.    It’s a part of our culture which the film maker, Michel Demers, has captured beautifully.

In the absence of a bar or café in town, Norm’s garage doubles as the local hang-out for family and friends.  People drop by in their free time, pull up a chair (or a “living room recliner”) and meet for a beer, to chat, to eat, organize group activities and just pass away the time.  And it’s not only the village men who have turned Norm’s garage into their local “hang-out”.  Women and children also gather to gossip, joke, and play.

Because everyone shares the same lifestyle (a love of the outdoors, catching up on community news, bonding as a community, hunting, trapping, fishing, clam digging, ski-dooing, etc.), there are more than enough topics for everyone to talk and laugh about.  There is rarely a dull moment.  People bond, and the entire village becomes one big family.

WHAT I TOOK AWAY FROM WATCHING THIS DOCUMENTARY:

What I love about the film is its simple and genuine nature, its innocence, and how life is uncomplicated for those we see on the screen.  If one member of the community falls on hard times, there will be a whole network of others around to help pick him/her up by their bootstraps and step in until that individual is back on their feet.

Although I now living in our largest city (with Toronto at the heart of the “Golden Horseshoe” which counts over 10 million people), and even though I have lived in a few cities overseas which have ranged from 8 million, to 17 million, to 25 million people people, a film like this still resonates so strongly with me because I see so many echoes of my own early childhood in it;  be it clam-digging close to home with my family, ski-dooing with my dad and his buddies, spending time with my dad as he did odd things around his own garage, or simply growing up in a small, isolated community in which neighbours spent the bulk of their time together.  I talked about many of these things in a couple of earlier posts:

It find it quite interesting that so many aspects of life on the North Coast of Québec (where the St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic) are almost identical to many aspects of life on the North Coast of British Columbia (where the Skeena meets the Pacific), and a good number of other places.  Fascinating stuff!

INTERNATIONAL SCREENINGS:

Apart from the various Canadian cities in which this documentary has or will be screened (both inside and outside of Québec), it is also set to be screened or has been screened in cities as far away as Moscow, Marseilles, Brussels, Chicago and Mexico.

A NOTE ON THE STYLE OF FRENCH USED :

The French accents and expressions spoken are those commonly heard in Québec’s North Coast region.   This style of French has more in common with French spoken in Québec’s Gaspé region, the Atlantic Province’s Acadian regions, and the older generations of Prairie French speakers than it does Western Québec (which includes Montréal) or Ontario.   (You can click the above links for more information on these various accent styles).

However, if your French is at an upper advanced level, and if you’re used to hearing a couple of different Canadian French accents to a fluent level, you should not have much difficulty understanding what is being said.   Just be aware that even if your French is perfectly fluent, or even if French is your first language (such as for those from Montréal or Québec City), but if you are not used to hearing a North Coast accent, the super-strong accents of a couple of Normand’s buddies may throw you off here and there (there were a couple of times when I had to rewind to catch the words in a couple of different phrases).

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SOME ADDITIONAL OUT-TAKES:

Here are some clips of people in the documentary talking about their lives and their”Garage” culture:

Here are some clips of reactions from local residents in Long-Rive when they first viewed a showing of “Bienvenue chez Normand”.

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The documentary’s official website: http://www.micheldemers.com/?cat=67

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HOW TO VIEW THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY ONLINE, FOR APPROVED VIEWING:

The documentary will be available on Radio-Canada’s “Tou.tv” website for free viewing until approximately September 2015.

The direct link is as follows:    http://ici.tou.tv/les-grands-reportages/S2015E189

Subtitles (in French) are available in the video if you need them (click the subtitle button at the the bottom of the screen).

Happy viewing !!

Ding et Dong (#196)

Did you happen to guess the answer and cultural context for the last post?

If you missed the last post, click here to see the hilarious advertisement with half of “Dong”:

DD

The answer to the last post is “Ding et Dong”.

Perhaps you recall I mentioned in the post on Elvis Gratton that Québec had a couple of close equivalents to Anglophone culture’s Cheech & Chong, with Elvis Gratton being one of them (the on-screen component), and Ding et Dong being the other (the stage comedy component).

Ding et Dong were a very popular comedy duo from the 1980s.  But as you can see from the last post, people are still talking about Ding et Dong — to the point that we still see very regular pop-cultural references to them, such as in the advertisement which was the subject of the last post.

With time, Ding & Dong have become pillars in Québec’s cultural psyche.  In this sense, they mean much more to Québécois culture than mere comedians.

Ding et Dong was a stand-up comedy duo, played by Serge Thériault and Claude Meunier.   They came as an inseparable pair.

This inseparability was also the metaphor for the punchline of the jokes in the advertisement in the last post.  The advertisement in the last post was from the Testicular Cancer Society, warning men to be vigilant and have regular health checks, otherwise, you may lose half of the “pair”.  (In Anglophone North American culture, it could be as if the Breast Cancer Society made an advertisement stating “Thelma and ________” in order to entice women to seek regular check-ups).

As a pair, they (Thériault & Meunier, that is) spun off acts which later created some of the greatest successes in Québécois comedic and pop-culture history – most notably, the sitcom series La Petite Vie (the most successful sitcom in the history of Canadian and Québec television) and the “Les Boys” movies (again among the most successful movies in history of Canadian and Québec cinema).

I was quite young when Ding et Dong were in their hayday, but I still recall bits & pieces of their acts from when I was a child.  As I grew older, many of their punch lines became part of everyday vocabulary and jokes between friends.

Claude Meunier and Serge Thériault have reunied on the odd occasion over the years, and have brought Ding et Dong back to life for special one-off shows.  We may see some more of these rare stage-reunions in the coming years — and I guarantee you they will be the hottest tickets in all of Canada the moment any such show is announced!

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now — I have to drive right now from Toronto up to Témiscamingue on the Québec-Ontario border for some work-related business (that might make for interesting post in itself).   But I can already see some potential posts on the horizon relating to Les Boys, Claude Meunier, and Serge Thériault.

Have a great start to your week !

A bit of humour – See if you can figure this out (#195)

Here is a bit of humour for you.   I just saw these signs around the more Eastern areas of Montréal (the most Francophone areas of the city), however I have not seen them in more mixed areas of the city.  the likely reason is that the cultural significance of these signs would be easily recognized in the East End where people mostly grew up in French.  But they perhaps would not be so recognizable in areas of Montréal with larger anglophone or immigrant communities who have not necessarily grown up in French or perhaps have not lived in Québec for very long (this serves to highlight the demographics and cultural decisions which go into marketing, but which also contributes to the notion of the Two Solitudes).

The cultural reference behind the sign, and how it has been used in this context is hilarious!  I laughed out loud the moment I saw the first sign.  People around me must have thought I was a “few screws short” when they heard me laugh to myself.

Here is the sign.  See if you can understand the cultural subtext (if you have regularly been reading this blog, you may have clued into it).

Click the picture to expand it, because you’ll need to read the two larger words at the very bottom of the sign to understand the goal of the sign.

DD

Did you get it?

I’ll give you a hint:   Several days ago, in another post, I made a reference to the same pop-cultural sub-context contained in this sign.    Here is a second hint:  A few months ago, I presented you with a link to video advertisement from the same charitable organization.

Still stumped?  I’ll give you the answer in tomorrow’s post.

Here’s the next post with the answer (click here):  https://quebeccultureblog.com/2015/03/02/ding-et-dong-196/


And on unrelated language notes… Above I used a couple of slang expressions in English.

1.  If you’re wondering how someone might say “a few screws short” in Québec and Canadian French (the expression I used above), you can say a few things:

  • Il lui manque un bardeau
  • Il lui manque un bardeau dans le pignon
  • Il lui manque un bardeau sur sa couverture
  • (In Europe, people might say “Il a une araignée dans le plafond”)

2.  If you’re wondering how to say “stumped” in French (a word I used above), you can say a couple of things.

  • In international French, people say “Ça m’échappe” or “Ça me dépasse”.
  • But in very local French in Québec, you’ll also hear “Ça m’embête”.