Quebec French phonology
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Quebec French has more phonemes than French of France as it retains phonemic distinctions between /a/ and /ɑ/, /ɛ/ and /ɛː/, /ø/ and /ə/, /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ whereas the latter of each pair has disappeared in French of France, though the /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ distinction is upheld in Meridional French.
Quebec French replaces tense vowels (/i, y, u/) with their lax ([ɪ, ʏ, ʊ]) equivalents when the vowels are both short (e.g. except before /ʁ/, /ʒ/, /z/ and /v/, but the vowel /y/ is pronounced [ʏː] before /ʁ/) and only in closed syllables. This means that the masculine and feminine adjectives petit and petite ([pøti] and [pøtit] in France) are [pœ̈t͡si] and [pœ̈t͡sɪt] in Quebec. The same goes with /y/ → [ʏ] and /u/ → [ʊ]. In some areas, notably Beauce, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and (to a lesser extent) Quebec City and the surrounding region, even long tense vowels may be laxed.
This laxing of the high vowels /i/, /u/ and /y/, in the specified context is compulsory in stressed syllables, e.g. lutte [lʏt], but it is optional in unstressed syllables, e.g., vulgaire can be [vylɡaɛ̯ʁ] or [vʏlɡaɛ̯ʁ]. The lax allophone of a high vowel may also appear in open syllables by assimilation to a lax vowel in a following syllable, e.g., musique can be either [myzɪk] or [mʏzɪk]. The lax vowel may even be retained in derived words where the original stressed lax vowel has disappeared, e.g. musical can be [myzikal] or [mʏzikal]. Also, the lax allophone may arise optionally in open syllables through dissimilation as in toupie [tupi] or [tʊpi], especially in reduplicative forms such as pipi [pipi] or [pɪpi]. These phenomena are conditioned lexically and regionally. For example, for the word difficile, the standard pronunciation [d͡zifisɪl] is found throughout Quebec, but the alternative pronunciations [d͡zifɪsɪl], [d͡zɪfɪsɪl] and [d͡zɪfsɪl] are also used.
One distinct pronunciation in Quebec French is the vowel a, /a/ and /ɑ/ are pronounced differently. The general realization in final open syllables is [ɑ] or [ɔ] (Canada [kanadɑ] or [kanadɔ]), [ɔ] is nowadays strongly marked as nonstandard, there are some exceptions, the words la, ma, ta, sa, fa, papa and caca are always pronounced with the sound [a], as in French of France. In internal open syllables, some Quebecers pronounce the vowel /ɑ/ as [ɒː] or [ɔː] (gâteau [ɡɒːto] or [ɡɔːto]), this is also increasingly considered to be nonstandard. Most Quebecers pronounce the vowel /ɑ/ as [ɑʊ̯] in final closed syllables (pâte [pɑʊ̯t]).
The vowel /ə/ is pronounced [œ̈] in Quebec French.
Metropolitan French's [wa] (represented by <oi>) can be only pronounced [wa] or [wɑ(ː)] in standard Quebec French, but it can also be realized in some additional different ways ([we, wɛ, waɛ̯, waɪ̯, wei̯, wɔ, wɒː, wɑɔ̯]) in Joual, including [ɛ] found (exclusively) in droit, froid, flexions of noyer and croire, and soit. These pronunciations are remnants from one of the founding French dialects.
Another informal archaic trait from 17th century Parisian popular French is the tendency to open [ɛ] into [æ] in a final open syllable. On the other hand, in grammatical word endings, as well as in the indicative forms of verb être (es and est), the [ɛ] is tensed into [e]. This is also common in France, but the failure to tense the [ɛ] in Quebec is usually perceived as quite formal.
As well, the phoneme /a/ can be also pronounced [æ], as it is generally pronounced further front and more closed than the Parisian /a/. Quebec French /a/ approaches [æ] even more when it is located in a closed syllable or an unstressed open syllable.
The nasal vowels are very different: /ɛ̃/ → [ẽɪ̯̃], /ɑ̃/ → [ã] ~ [æ̃], /ɔ̃/ → [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃], and /œ̃/ is generally pronounced [ɚ̃] or [ʌ̃ɹ]. Also, nasal vowels under stress in a final closed syllable are long and may be diphthongized in informal speech.
Long and nasalized vowels are generally diphthongized when stressed, except the [aː] vowel. The phoneme /ɛː/ is also diphthongized to [ɛɪ̯] in unstressed syllables. For instance, the word neige ('snow') is pronounced [nɛːʒ] in French of France, but [naɪ̯ʒ] ~ [næɪ̯ʒ] in Quebec French. Other cases include:
- [ɛː] → [aɪ̯] ~ [æɪ̯]; [aɛ̯] ~ [æɛ̯] before /ʁ/; [ɛɪ̯] (unstressed), as in fête [faɪ̯t] ~ [fæɪ̯t], Eng. "party"; père [paɛ̯ʁ] ~ [pæɛ̯ʁ], Eng. "father"; fêter [fɛɪ̯te], Eng. "celebrate";
- [øː] → [øʏ̯], as in neutre [nøʏ̯tʁ̥], Eng. "neutral";
- [oː] → [oʊ̯], as in cause [koʊ̯z], Eng. "cause";
- [ɑː] → [ɑʊ̯]; [ɑɔ̯] (before /ʁ/), as in pâte [pɑʊ̯t], Eng. "paste"; bar [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "bar";
- [ɔː] → [ɑɔ̯] (only diphthongized before /ʁ/), as in bord [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "side";
- [œː] → [aœ̯] ~ [ɶœ̯], as in cœur [kaœ̯ʁ] ~ [kɶœ̯ʁ], Eng. "heart";
- [iː] → [ɪi̯], as in livre [lɪi̯vʁ], Eng. "book/pound";
- [uː] → [ʊu̯], as in four [fʊu̯ʁ], Eng. "oven";
- [yː] → [ʏy̯], as in cure [kʏy̯ʁ], Eng. "treatment";
- [ãː] → [ãʊ̯̃], as in banque [bãʊ̯̃k], Eng. "bank";
- [ẽː] → [ẽɪ̯̃] ~ [ãɪ̯̃], as in quinze [kẽɪ̯̃z] ~ [kãɪ̯̃z], Eng. "fifteen";
- [õː] → [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃], as in son [sɒ̃ʊ̯̃], Eng. "sound";
The diphthongs [ɑɔ̯], [ɑʊ̯], [aɛ̯], [aɪ̯], [aœ̯], [ãʊ̯̃] and [ãɪ̯̃] are considered nonstandard and avoided in formal contexts, although some Québécois teachers use them, but the diphthongs [æɪ̯], [æɛ̯], [ɶœ̯], [oʊ̯], [øʏ̯], [ɪi̯], [ʊu̯], [ʏy̯], [ẽɪ̯̃] and [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃] are not considered nonstandard and not avoided in formal contexts, and usually go unnoticed by most speakers. The vowel [ɑː] is not diphthongized by some speakers. [ãː] is rarely diphthongized.
Metonymies provide interesting evidence of a phonological feminine. For instance, although most adults would probably say that autobus is masculine if they were given reflection time, specific bus routes defined by their number are always feminine. Bus No. 10 is known as l'autobus 10, or more often la 10. Using le 10 in this context, although normal in France, would be strikingly odd in Quebec (especially Montreal), except in some regions, particularly the Outaouais, where it is the standard. (An alternative explanation for this, however, is that bus routes in Montreal are called "lines", and therefore "la 10" is short for "la ligne 10", and not "l'autobus 10", since it is the route being referred to, and not an individual bus.)
There are many differences in informal grammar: for instance, some words have a different gender from in standard French (une job rather than un job). This is partially systematic. For example, just as the difference in pronunciation between chien [ʃjẽɪ̯̃] (masc.) and chienne [ʃjɛn] (fem.) is the presence or absence of a final consonant, likewise ambiguous words ending in a consonant (such as job (/dʒɔb/)) are often assigned to the feminine. Also, vowel-initial words that in standard grammar are masculine, are sometimes patterned as feminine; since preceding masculine adjectives are homophonous to feminine adjectives (un bel avion; bel /bɛl/ = belle fem.), the word is patterned as feminine (une belle avion). Another explanation would be that many other words ending in -ion are feminine (nation, élection, mission, etc) and that the grammatical gender of avion is made to conform to this pattern, but the number of "-ion" words that are masculine ("lion, pion, camion, lampion," etc.) weakens this explanation.
Around twelve different rhotics are used in Quebec, depending on region, age and education among other things. The uvular trill [ʀ] has lately been emerging as a provincial standard, whereas the alveolar trill [r] was used before in and around Montreal. In modern Quebec French, the voiced fricative [ʁ] is more common. As a matter of comparison, the voiced velar fricative [ɣ] or voiceless uvular fricative [χ] is more generally used in France.
In colloquial speech, the glottal fricatives [h]/[ɦ] are found as allophones of /ʃ/ and /ʒ/, respectively. They can also be pronounced as [ʃʰ] and [ʒʰ] if the original fricatives aren't entirely relaxed. This is particularly found in the Beauce region, to the point where the pronunciation is frequently stereotyped, but can be found throughout Quebec, as well as other French-speaking areas in Canada.
Dental stops are very often affricated before high front vowels and semivowels: in other words, /ty/, /ti/, /tɥ/, /tj/, /dy/, /di/, /dɥ/, /dj/ are then pronounced [t͡sy], [t͡si], [t͡sɥ], [t͡sj], [d͡zy], [d͡zi], [d͡zɥ], [d͡zj] (e.g. except in Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Côte-Nord) . Depending on the speaker, the fricative may be more or less strong or sometimes even assimilate the stop in informal speech. For example, constitution could have any of the following pronunciations: /kɔ̃stitysjɔ̃/ → [kɒ̃ʊ̯̃st͡sit͡sysjɒ̃ʊ̯̃] → [kɒ̃ʊ̯̃ssisysjɒ̃ʊ̯̃].
- lit /li/ → [lɪt].
There is also the special case of "debout" [dœ̈bʊt] and "ici" [isɪt] (sometimes actually written icitte). On the other hand, the t in but and août are not pronounced in Quebec, but they are pronounced in France (decreasingly for but). These often reflect centuries-old variation or constitute archaisms.
Many of the features of Quebec French are mistakenly attributed to English influence; however, the historical evidence shows that most of them either descend from earlier forms from specific dialects and are forms that have since changed in France, or internal developments (changes that have occurred in Canada alone but not necessarily in all parts).
It has been postulated that the frequency of consonant reduction in Quebec French is due to a tendency to pronounce vowels with more "strength" than consonants, a pattern reversing that of European French.
Consonant clusters finishing a word are reduced, often losing altogether the last or two last consonants, in both formal and informal Quebec French. It seems that the liquids /ʁ/ and /l/ are especially likely to get dropped, as in table, /tabl/ → [tab], or astre, /astʁ/ → [ast] → [as].
The phone /l/ in article determiners and even more in personal pronouns in most dialects does not exist in the mental representation of these words. As a matter of fact, pronouncing il and elle as [ɪl] and [ɛl] is seen as very formal and by some pedantic. Elle is further modified into [aː] in informal speech, a sound change similar to that of [ɛ] into [a] before /ʁ/.
In colloquial speech, the combination of the preposition sur + definite article is often abbreviated: sur + le = su'l; sur + la = su'a or sa; sur + les = ses. Sometimes dans + un and dans + les is abbreviated to just dun and dins. In the informal French of France, sur + le also becomes su'l, such as L'dimanche, i'est su'l pont dès 8 heures du mat ('On Sundays, he's hard at work from 8am'). No other contractions are used.
Some initial consonants are also reduced: [jœl] gueule (France, [ɡœl]), especially in the construction ta gueule [ta jœl] "shut up".
Vowel harmonization and consonant assimilation
The high front vowels in Quebec French show a net tendency to be unvoiced or even disappear, as in municipalité, /mynisipalite/ → [myni̥si̥pali̥te], [mynspalte].
Much more generalized is the nasalization of some long vowels placed after (or occasionally before) a nasal consonant: même [mɛːm] → [mɛ̃ɪ̯̃m], jeûne [ʒøːn] → [ʒø̃ỹ̯n], jaune [ʒoːn] → [ʒõʊ̯̃n] etc.
Similarly, consonants in clusters are often assimilated, usually with the consonant closer to the stress (that is, to the end of the word) transmitting its phonation (or its nasalization): demande [dmãːd] → [nmãːd], chaque jour [ʃak ʒʊu̯ʁ] → [ʃak̬ ʒʊu̯ʁ]. Progressive assimilation, although limited to [ʃ] and [s] before [v] and [m], also exists: cheval [ʃval] → [ʃv̥al], semaine [smɛn] → [sm̥ɛn].
The drop of the /ə/, which is as usual in Quebec as it is in France (although it does not happen in the same places), creates consonant clusters, hence making a ground for assimilation to happen. For instance, the 1st person singular pronoun "je" may be devoiced before a verb with a voiceless consonant initial. This is most notable in verbs normally beginning with an [s], as the well-known example je suis 'I am' that is often realized as "chu" ([ʃy]), and je sais 'I know', realized as "ché" ([ʃe]). Since the drop of /ə/ is not exclusive to Quebec, this phenomenon is also seen in other dialects.
One extreme instance of assimilation in Quebec French is vocalic fusion, associated with informal speech, rapid elocution, and consonant drops. Vocalic fusion can be total – as in prepositional determiners sur la [sʏʁla] → [sya] → [saː] or dans la [dãla] → [dãa] → [dæ̃ː] – or it can be partial, as in il lui a dit, [ɪllɥiɑd͡zi] → [ɪllɥiɔd͡zi] → [iɥiɔd͡zi] → [ijɔd͡zi]. Partial fusion can happen also in slow elocution.
Linking (liaison) is a phenomenon found in spoken French where an otherwise mute final consonant is moved to the beginning of a following word beginning with a vowel.
The rules for linking are complex in both French of France and Quebec French. The general belief among linguists[who?] is that Quebecers link less frequently than their European counterparts (this is a feature also common in regional varieties of French in France). Linking is mandatory only if the first word is monosyllabic or is petit (normally monosyllabic anyway) or méchant and is usually avoided in all other cases.
From Les insolences du Frère Untel (1960), by Jean-Paul Desbiens, p. 27.
Un fruit typique de cette incompétence et de cette irresponsabilité, c'est le cours secondaire public. Tout a été improvisé, de ce côté : les programmes, les manuels, les professeurs. L'opinion réclamait un cours secondaire public. On lui a vendu l'étiquette, mais l'étiquette était collée sur une bouteille vide. Le mal vient non pas de la mauvaise foi, mais du manque de lucidité et du porte-à-faux. Le mal vient de ce qu'on a voulu jouer sur deux tableaux, sans jamais s'avouer qu'on jouait : d'une part, sauver le cours secondaire privé, considéré en pratique comme la réserve nationale des vocations sacerdotales ; d'autre part, satisfaire l'opinion publique. Le Département s'est occupé efficacement du plan institutionnel (les collèges classiques privés) ; il a escamoté le plan académique (le cours secondaire public). La solution virile, ici, exigeait que l'on distinguât (voyez-moi cet imparfait du subjonctif, comme il a grand air. Salut, imparfait du subjonctif) une fois pour toutes pour ces deux plans.
[œ̃ fχɥi t͡sipɪk̚ dœ sɛt‿ẽɪ̃kõʊ̃pɛtãːs e dœ sɛt͡siʁɛspõʊ̃sabilite, se lkʊ͡uʁ̞ sœɡõʊ̃da͡ɛʁ̞ pyblɪk. tu t‿ɑ ete ẽɪ̃pχɔvize dœ skoːte - lɛ pχɔɡʁam, lɛ manɥɛl, lɛ pχɔfɛsɑœ̯ʁ̞. l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ ʁeklɑːmɛ ɜ̃ kʊ͡uʁ sœɡõʊ̃da͡ɛʁ̞ pyblɪk. õʊ̃ lɥi ʌ vãd͡zy let͡sikɛt̚, mɛ let͡sikɛ ͜ tetɛ kɔle sʏn butɛj vɪd. lœ mal vjẽɪ̃ nõʊ̃ pɔ dla mɔva͡ɛz fwa, mɛ d͡zy mãŋ dœ lysid͡zite e d͡zy pɔʁt‿a fo. lœ mal vjẽɪ̃ dœ sœ kõʊ̃ ͜ na vuly ʒwe sʏʁ̞ dø tablo, sã ʒamɛ s‿avwe k‿õʊ̃ ʒwɛ - d‿ʏn pɑɔ̯ʁ̞, soːve lœ kʊ͡uʁ̞ sœɡõʊ̃da͡ɛʁ̞ pχive, kõʊ̃sidɛʁe ã pχat͡sɪk̚ kɔm la ʁezɛʁv nasjɔnal dɛ vɔkasjõʊ̃ sasɛʁdɔtal - d‿oʊ̃tχœ pɑɔ̯ʁ̞, sat͡si̥sfa͡ɛʁ̞ l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ pyblɪk. lœ depaχtœmã sɛ ͜ tɔkype efikasmã d͡zy plã ẽɪ̃st͡sit͡sy̥sjɔnɛl - lɛ kɔlaɪ̯ʒ klasɪk pχive - ɪl‿a ɛskamɔte lœ plã akademɪk - lœ kʊ͡uʁ sœɡõʊ̃da͡ɛʁ̞ pyblɪk. la sʌlysjõʊ̃ viʁɪl, isi, ɛɡziʒɛ kœ lõʊ̃ d͡zɪstẽɪ̃ɡɑ - vwaje mwa sɛ ͜ tẽɪ̃paχfɛ d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf, kɔm ɪl ɑ ɡʁã ͜ ta͡ɛʁ̞. saly, ẽɪ̃paʁfɛ d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf - ʏn fwa pʊχ tʊt pʊχ sɛ døː plã.]
- "Antériorisation de /a/". Principales caractéristiques phonétiques du français québécois. CIRAL. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- Oral articulation of nasal vowel in French
- Mielke, Jeff (2011). "An articulatory study of rhotic vowels in Canadian French." Proceedings of the Canadian Acoustical Association, Quebec.
- "Affaiblissement de /ʒ/ et de /ʃ/". Principales caractéristiques phonétiques du français québécois. CIRAL. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:59–61)
- Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:58–59)
- Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:139–145)
- Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:125–130)
- Desbiens, Jean-Paul. "Les insolences du Frère Untel".
- Dumas, Denis (1987), Nos Façons de Parler: les Prononciations en Français Québécois, Sillery, Quebec: Presses de l'Université du Québec, ISBN 2-7605-0445-X
- Ostiguy, Luc; Tousignant, Claude (2008), Les prononciations du français québécois, Montréal: Guérin universitaire
- Walker, Douglas (1984), The Pronunciation of Canadian French, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, ISBN 0-7766-4500-5