Quebec French phonology
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The phonology of Quebec French is more complex than that of French of France. Quebec French has maintained phonemic distinctions between /a/ and /ɑ/, /ɛ/ and /ɛː/, /ø/ and /ə/, /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/. The latter of each pair has disappeared in Parisian French, and only the last distinction has been maintained in Meridional French.
Tense vowels (/i, y, u/) are realized as their lax ([ɪ, ʏ, ʊ]) equivalents when the vowels are both short (not before /ʁ/, /ʒ/, /z/ and /v/, but the vowel /y/ is pronounced [ʏː] before /ʁ/) and only in closed syllables. Therefore, the masculine and feminine adjectives petit 'small' and petite ([p(ø)ti] and [p(ø)tit] in France) are [p(œ̈)t͡si] and [p(œ̈)t͡sɪt] in Quebec. In some areas, notably Beauce, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, and (to a lesser extent) Quebec City and the surrounding area, even long tense vowels may be laxed.
The laxing of the high vowels (/i/, /u/, and /y/) in the specified context always occurs in stressed syllables, (lutte [lʏt] 'struggle'), but it sometimes does not occur in unstressed syllables: vulgaire 'vulgar' 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: musique 'music' can be either [myzɪk] or [mʏzɪk]. The lax vowel may be retained in derived words even if the original stressed lax vowel has disappeared: musical can be [myzikal] or [mʏzikal]. Also, the lax allophone may sometimes occur in open syllables by dissimilation, as in toupie 'spinning top' [tupi] or [tʊpi], especially in reduplicative forms such as pipi 'pee-pee' [pipi] or [pɪpi]. Such phenomena are conditioned lexically and regionally. For example, for the word difficile 'difficult', the standard pronunciation [d͡zifisɪl] is found throughout Quebec, but the alternative pronunciations [d͡zifɪsɪl], [d͡zɪfɪsɪl] and [d͡zɪfsɪl] are also used.
The phonemes /a/ and /ɑ/ are distinct. /a/ is not diphthongized, but some speakers pronounce it [æ] if it is in a closed syllable or an unstressed open syllable, as in French of France. The pronunciation in final open syllables is always phonemically /ɑ/, but it is phonetically [ɑ] or [ɔ] (Canada [kanadɑ] or [kanadɔ]), the latter being informal. There are some exceptions; the words la, ma, ta, sa, fa, papa and caca are always pronounced with the phoneme /a/. In internal open syllables, the vowel /ɑ/ is sometimes pronounced [ɒː] or [ɔː] (gâteau 'cake' [ɡɒːto] or [ɡɔːto]), which is considered to be informal. The vowel /ɑ/ is sometimes pronounced as [ɑʊ̯] in final closed syllables (pâte 'paste' [pɑʊ̯t] (listen)), but it is diphthongized as [ɑɔ̯] before /ʁ/ (tard 'late' [tɑɔ̯ʁ̥] (listen)). Otherwise, there are many words which are pronounced with the long /ɑ/, even if there is no circumflex: sable, espace, psychiatre, miracle, mardi and as (noun), etc. There is a word which is pronounced with the short /a/, even if there is a circumflex, it is an exception: câlin. Some words are pronounced differently at different regions, for example, the words lacet, nage and crabe are exceptions, they are pronounced with the short /a/ in Eastern Quebec, but with the long /ɑ/ in Western Quebec.
The phonemes /ɛ/ and /ɛː/ are distinct. In open syllables, /ɛː/ is diphthongized to [ɛɪ̯] (pêcher is pronounced [pɛɪ̯ʃe]), but it is pronounced [ɛː] before /ʁ/ (mairie is pronounced [mɛːʁi]), it is pronounced [ɛː] before /v/ (trêve 'truce' [tʁ̥ɛːv]), and in closed syllables, it is diphthongized to [ɛɪ̯], [ei̯], [æɪ̯] or [aɪ̯] (tête 'head' [tɛɪ̯t], [tei̯t], [tæɪ̯t] (listen) or [taɪ̯t] (listen)); on Radio-Canada, speakers pronounce both [ɛɪ̯] in open syllables and closed syllables. Otherwise, there are many words which are pronounced with the long /ɛː/, even if there is no circumflex: aide, presse, cesse, caisse, graisse, sirène, scène and palmarès, etc. There are a few exceptions, which are pronounced with the short /ɛ/ phoneme, even if there is a circumflex, they are exceptions: êtes, bêche, extrême, suprême, pimbêche and prête (adjective), etc. Some words are pronounced differently at different regions, for example, the words arrête, haleine and baleine are exceptions, they are pronounced with the short /ɛ/ in Eastern Quebec, but with the long /ɛː/ in Western Quebec.
The phonemes of /i/ and /iː/ are not distinct in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French, the spelling <î> was the /iː/ phoneme: il and île are both pronounced with a short /i/ in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French. In modern Quebec French, the /iː/ phoneme is only used in loanwords: cheap.
The phonemes of /y/ and /yː/ are not distinct in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French, the spelling <û> was the /yː/ phoneme: flûte are both pronounced with a short /y/ in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French.
The phonemes of /u/ and /uː/ are not distinct in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French, the spelling <oû> was the /uː/ phoneme: croûte are both pronounced with a short /u/ in modern French of France and in modern Quebec French. In Quebec French, the phoneme /uː/ is only used in loanwords: cool.
The phoneme /ɔ/ is pronounced [ɒː] or [ɑɔ̯] (fort 'strong' [fɒːʁ] or [fɑɔ̯ʁ]) before /ʁ/.
The ⟨oi⟩ spelling is phonemically /wa/ and /wɑ/ (toi 'you' /twa/, but trois 'three' /tʁwɑ/), but when it is before /ʁ/ and /z/ in closed syllables, it is phonemically /wɑ/: soir and framboise, etc. In joual, /wa/ can be pronounced [we] or [wɛ], but [ɛ] found exceptionally in droit and froid, in flexions of noyer and croire, as well as in soit. Those pronunciations are remnants from one of the founding French dialects. /wɑ/ is pronounced as [wɑ] in formal speech but becomes [wɔ] in informal speech. The ⟨oî⟩ spelling is phonemically /wɑ/. It is phonetically [wɑː] in formal speech, but it can also be pronounced in some additional different ways ([waɪ̯, wɛɪ̯, wei̯, wɛː, wɔː, wɒː]) in joual (boîte 'box' [bwaɪ̯t] (listen)). Otherwise, there are many words which are pronounced with the long /wɑ/, even if there is no circumflex: coiffe, croissant, soirée and poivre, etc.
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]. That is also common in France, but failure to tense the [ɛ] in Quebec is usually perceived as quite formal. However, Quebecers usually pronounce [ɛ] when they are reading.
Apart from /ɔ̃/, the nasal vowels are very different from Modern Parisian French, but they are similar to traditional Parisian French and Meridional French, [ã] is pronounced exactly as in Meridional French: /ɛ̃/ → [ẽɪ̯̃] ~ [ãɪ̯̃], /ɑ̃/ → [ã] ~ [æ̃] (tempête 'storm' [tã.pæɪ̯t] (listen)), quand 'when' [kæ̃] (listen)), /ɔ̃/ → [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃] (glaçon 'icicle' [ɡlæsɒ̃ʊ̯̃] (listen)), and /œ̃/ is pronounced [œ̃ʏ̯̃] ~ [ɚ̃] ~ [ʌ̃ɹ]. [æ̃] occurs only in open syllables. /ɛ̃/ and /ɔ̃/ are always diphthongized.
Long and nasalized vowels (except [aː]) are generally diphthongized in closed syllables, but [ɛː], [ɔː], and [œː] are not diphthongized if they are before /v/ (with some exceptions: fève "bean", Lefebvre, orfèvre "goldsmith" and rêve "dream"):
- [ɛː] → [ɛɪ̯] ~ [ei̯] ~ [æɪ̯] ~ [aɪ̯], but [æɛ̯] ~ [aɛ̯] ~ [aɪ̯] before /ʁ/, as in fête [faɪ̯t] ~ [fæɪ̯t], Eng. "party"; père [pæɛ̯ʁ] ~ [paɛ̯ʁ] ~ [paɪ̯ʁ], Eng. "father"; fêter [fɛɪ̯te], Eng. "celebrate";
- [øː] → [øʏ̯], as in neutre [nøʏ̯tʁ̥], Eng. "neutral"
- [oː] → [oʊ̯], as in cause [koʊ̯z], Eng. "cause"
- [ɑː] → [ɑʊ̯], but [ɑɔ̯] (before /ʁ/), as in pâte [pɑʊ̯t], Eng. "paste" bar [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "bar"
- [ɔː] → [ɑɔ̯] (only before /ʁ/), as in bord [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "side"
- [œː] → [ɑœ̯] ~ [ɶœ̯] (only before /ʁ/), 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"
- [œ̃ː] → [œ̃ʏ̯̃], as in un [œ̃ʏ̯̃], Eng. "one"
- [wɑː] → [waɪ̯] ~ [wɛɪ̯] ~ [wei̯], as in boîte [bwaɪ̯t] ~ [bwei̯t], Eng. "box"
Diphthongs [ɑɔ̯], [ɑʊ̯], [aɛ̯], [aɪ̯], [ɑœ̯], [ãʊ̯̃], [ãɪ̯̃] and [waɪ̯] are the most exaggerated, so they are considered informal, but even some teachers use them. [ɑʊ̯] and [ãʊ̯̃] are rarely used in formal contexts. [wɑː] and [ãː] are never diphthongized, except in joual. Diphthongs [ɛɪ̯], [oʊ̯], [øʏ̯], [ɪi̯], [ʊu̯], [ʏy̯], [ẽɪ̯̃] and [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃] are considered formal and usually go unnoticed by most speakers. [ɑː] and [ɔː] are not diphthongized by some speakers.
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Metonymies provide interesting evidence of a phonological feminine. For instance, although most adults would probably say that autobus is masculine if they were given time to think, 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 such a context, although it is normal in France, would be strikingly odd in Quebec (especially Montreal) except in some regions, particularly the Outaouais, where it is usual. (An alternative explanation, however, is that bus routes in Montreal are called "lines" and so la 10 is short for la ligne 10, not l'autobus 10 since it is the route that is being referred to, not an individual bus.)
There are many grammatical differences in informal speech. For instance, some words have a different gender from in standard French (une job, rather than un job). That is partially systematic; just as the difference in pronunciation between chien [ʃjẽɪ̯̃] (masc.) and chienne [ʃjɛn] (fem.) is the presence or absence of a final consonant, ambiguous words ending in a consonant (such as job (/dʒɔb/)) are often considered to be feminine.
Also, vowel-initial words that in standard grammar are masculine are sometimes considered to be feminine, as preceding masculine adjectives are homophonous to feminine adjectives (un bel avion; bel /bɛl/ = belle fem.): the word is considered to be 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, particularly concrete nouns like avion (lion, pion, camion, lampion, etc.), as opposed to abstract -tion nouns, weakens that explanation.
|Rhotic||/R/ (apical or dorsal, see below)|
Around 12 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, and the alveolar trill [r] was used in informal speech in Montreal. In modern Quebec French, the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] (but it becomes voiceless before voiceless consonants and after voiceless consonants [tʀ̥aɛ̯.zə̆] (listen)) is more common.
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 [ʒʱ] if the original fricatives are not entirely relaxed. That is particularly found in the Beauce region to the point where the pronunciation is frequently stereotyped, but it can be found throughout Quebec as well as other French-speaking areas in Canada.
Dental stops are usually 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] (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].
In Joual, some instances of final mute t may be pronounced:
- lit /li/ → [lɪt].
There is also the special case of "debout" [dœ̈bʊt] 'standing up' and "ici" [isɪt] 'here' (sometimes actually written icitte). On the other hand, the t in but 'goal' and août 'August' are not pronounced in Quebec, but they are pronounced in France (decreasingly for but). They 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] 'star'.
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 8 am'). No other contractions are used.
Some initial consonants are also reduced: [jœ̈l] gueule (France, [ɡœ̈l]), especially in the construction ta gueule [ta jœ̈l] "shut up". Many Québécois even write gueule as yeule.
Vowel harmonization and consonant assimilation
The high front vowels in Quebec French show a net tendency to be unvoiced or even lost, as in municipalité /mynisipalite/ → [myni̥si̥pali̥te], [mynspalte].
Much more common is the nasalization of some long vowels placed after (or occasionally before) a nasal consonant: même [mɛːm] → [mɛ̃ɪ̯̃m] ~ [mãɪ̯̃m], jeûne [ʒøːn] → [ʒø̃ỹ̯n], jaune [ʒoːn] → [ʒõʊ̯̃n] (listen), etc.
Similarly, consonants in clusters are often assimilated, usually with the consonant closer to the stress (the end of the word), which transmits its phonation (or its nasalization): demande [dmãːd] → [nmãːd], chaque jour [ʃak ʒʊu̯ʁ] → [ʃak̬ ʒʊu̯ʁ]. Progressive assimilation also occurs but only for [ʃ] and [s] before [v] and [m]: cheval [ʃval] → [ʃv̥al].
The dropping of /ə/, which is as frequent in Quebec as it is in France (but occurs in different places), creates consonant clusters, which causes assimilation. For instance, the first-person singular pronoun "je" may be devoiced before a verb with a voiceless consonant initial. That occurs most notably with verbs that normally begin with [s], as the well-known example je suis 'I am' is often realized as "chu" ([ʃy]) and je sais 'I know' as "ché" ([ʃe]) or even ([ʃːe]). However, the elision of /ə/ is not exclusive to Quebec, and the phenomenon is also seen in other dialects.
One extreme instance of assimilation in Quebec French is vocalic fusion, which is associated with informal speech and fast speech and consonant elisions. Vocalic fusion can be either total (as in prepositional determiners sur la [sʏʁla] → [sya] → [saː], dans la [dãla] → [dãa] → [dæ̃ː], and dans les [dãle] → [dẽɪ̯̃]) or partial (as in il lui a dit, [ɪllɥiɑd͡zi] → [ɪllɥiɔd͡zi] → [iɥiɔd͡zi] → [ijɔd͡zi] or [iːjɔd͡zi]). Partial fusion can occur also in slow speech.
Liaison is a phenomenon in spoken French in which an otherwise-silent final consonant is pronounced at the beginning of a following word beginning with a vowel. The rules for liaison are complex in both European French and Quebec French.
|Un fruit typique de cette incompétence et de cette irresponsabilité,|
[œ̃ fχɥi t͡sipɪk̚ | dœ sɛt‿ẽɪ̃kõʊ̃pɛtãːs | e dœ sɛt͡siʁɛspõʊ̃sabilite | ]
|c'est le cours secondaire public.|
[se lkʊu̯ʁ̞ | sœ̈ɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
|Tout a été improvisé, de ce côté :|
[tu t‿ɑ ete | ẽɪ̃pχɔvɪze | dœ s koːte | ]
|les programmes, les manuels, les professeurs.|
[lɛ pχɔɡʁam | lɛ manɥɛl | lɛ pχɔfɛsɑœ̯ɹ ‖ ]
|L'opinion réclamait un cours secondaire public.|
[l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ | ʁeklɑːmɛ̈ ɚ̃ kʊu̯ʁ sœ̈ɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
|On lui a vendu l'étiquette,|
[õʊ̃ lɥi | ʌ vãd͡zy | let͡skɛt̚ | ]
|mais l'étiquette était collée sur une bouteille vide.|
[mɛ let͡skɛt‿ɛtɛ kɔle sʏn butɛj vɪd ‖ ]
|Le mal vient non pas de la mauvaise foi,|
[lœ̈ mal vjẽɪ̃ nõʊ̃ | pɔ dla mɔvaɛ̯z fwa | ]
|mais du manque de lucidité et du porte-à-faux.|
[mɛ d͡zy mãŋ | dœ̈ lysid͡zite | e d͡zy pɔʁt‿a fo ‖ ]
|Le mal vient de ce qu'on a voulu jouer sur deux tableaux,|
[lœ̈ mal vjẽɪ̃ | dœ̈ sœ̈ kõʊ̃ n‿ɑ vuly ʒwe | sʏʁ dø tablo | ]
|sans jamais s'avouer qu'on jouait :|
[sã ʒamɛ | s‿avwe k‿õʊ̃ ʒwɛ ‖ ]
|d'une part, sauver le cours secondaire privé,|
[d‿ʏn pɑ̯ɒʁ̞ | soːve lœ̈ kʊu̯ʁ̞ sœ̈ɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pχive]
|considéré en pratique comme la réserve nationale des vocations sacerdotales ;|
[kõʊ̃sidɛʁe | ã pχat͡sɪk̚ | kɔm la ʁezɛʁv nasjɔnal | dɛ vɔkasjõʊ̃ sasɛʁdɔtal]
|d'autre part, satisfaire l'opinion publique.|
[d‿oʊ̃tχœ̈ pɑ̯ɒʁ̞ | sat͡ss̩faɛ̯ʁ̞ | l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ pyblɪk ‖ ]
|Le Département s'est occupé efficacement du plan institutionnel|
[lœ̈ depaχtœmã | sɛ t‿ɔkype | ɛfikasmã | d͡zy plã ẽɪ̃st͡sit͡sy̥sjɔnɛl | ]
|(les collèges classiques privés) ;|
[lɛ kɔlaɪ̯ʒ klasɪk pχive | ]
|il a escamoté le plan académique (le cours secondaire public).|
[il‿a ɛskamɔte | lœ plã akademɪk | lœ̈ kʊu̯ʁ sœɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
|La solution virile, ici, exigeait que l'on distinguât|
[la sʌlysjõʊ̃ viʁɪl | isi | ɛɡziʒɛ | kœ̈ lõʊ̃ d͡zɪstẽɪ̃ɡɑ | ]
|(voyez-moi cet imparfait du subjonctif, comme il a grand air.|
[vwaje mwa | sɛ t‿ẽɪ̃paχfɛ | d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf | kɔm ɪl ɑ ɡʁã t‿aɛ̯ʁ̞ ‖ ]
|Salut, imparfait du subjonctif) une fois pour toutes pour ces deux plans.|
[saly | ẽɪ̃paχfɛ d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf | ʏn fwa pʊχ tʊt | pʊχ sɛ dø˞ː plã ‖ ]
- "Antériorisation de /a/". Principales caractéristiques phonétiques du français québécois. CIRAL. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- Oral articulation of nasal vowel in French Archived July 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- Mielke, Jeff (2011). "An articulatory study of rhotic vowels in Canadian French Archived January 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine." 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".
- Ostiguy, Luc; Tousignant, Claude (2008), Les prononciations du français québécois, Montréal: Guérin universitaire
- 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
- Reinke, Kristin (2005), La langue à la télévision québécoise: aspects sociophonétiques (PDF), Gouvernement du Québec, ISBN 2-550-45542-8
- Walker, Douglas (1984), The Pronunciation of Canadian French (PDF), Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, ISBN 0-7766-4500-5