What Is the Difference Between Parisian French and Canadian French?
Si vous parlez à un homme dans une langue qu'il comprend, vous parlez à sa tête. Si vous lui parlez dans sa propre langue, vous parlez à son coeur.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world with over 270 million speakers worldwide both native and secondary.
While the majority of native speakers hail from France or regions in Canada, in particular Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario, there are actually 29 countries that have French as their official language.
As French made its way around the globe, changes started to take place as each region and country made the language their own. Nowadays, aside from France, Canada is the country with the most French speakers. Approximately 20% of Canadians’ native tongue is French.
Surprisingly, this North American, English-speaking country has areas that have been hugely influenced by the language and culture. But how much has changed since the first French settlers came to the eastern coast? And what are some of the greatest differences between Parisian French and Canadian French? Let’s find out more below.
The Origins of French
The origins of more or less any language are rarely simple. And French is no exception. Originally, the area now occupied by France and Belgium spoke a, now long forgotten, language known as Gaulish. Then, just over two thousand years ago when the Roman Empire started conquering much of Europe, Gaulish came under attack by Latin.
Over the following years, Latin became more prominent, and Gaulish died off, all bar around 150 words which were kept.
The Evolution of French
However, in a turn of events, France decided to transform Latin and make it “a language of the people”, rather than a language that was seen as stuffy or pretentious. And voilà, old French was born. An incredible mix between Gualish, Latin, and external influences.
However, like with most languages, the evolution of this language wasn’t finished yet. Slowly, old French became middle French, and eventually, middle French settled into the modern French that we see today. While French is one of the five Romance languages owing to its Latin roots, it is certainly the most divergent thanks to its rapid and purposeful changes.
How Did French Make Its Way to Canada in the First Place?
While we know you haven’t come here for a history lesson, it’s interesting and important to know how the French language ended up in Canada in the first place.
Before the British came along in the late 18th century, a French explorer called Jacques Cartier managed to make his way across the Atlantic in 1534.
Unfortunately, despite the fact the land was already occupied by the First Nations, France officially laid claim to the land and sent their own settlers over to colonize as many of the areas as possible.
At this point, France had a fair amount of wealth and political strength which made their occupation relatively easy. During the next roughly 230 years, the French population grew as did the land they claimed. The areas they claimed included Quebec, Acadia, Nova Scotia, among others as well as parts of America.
During their time, they focused on building, setting up new towns, and trying to bring as much of their own culture as possible. However, in 1763, they were to be no more as the British defeated the French armies and took over rule in Canada.
Why Did French Only Become the First Language in Several Canadian Regions?
At the time of the French rule, there simply weren’t enough people to spread out over such a vast country as Canada. Especially such a large country that also has an unforgiving landscape in many places. This meant that French settlers stayed in small groups close to each with their spread being slow. Because they couldn’t go across the whole country, they couldn’t spread the language either, and thus, French was confined to only a few areas of the country.
Why Is French Still Used Today?
Once the British took over, it would be fair to assume that English became the used language and French would die out. However, it never did. And even now, nearly 250 years later, the French language has not only stayed in the original areas but has grown in use. Why is this?
Well, when the British took over, the French were allowed to stay. And given the fact that Canada established its first Official Languages Act in 1969 to outline the equal status of English and French at the federal level, there was no need for the French to learn English.
As the population of the country grew and the British settlers became more and more prominent, the French isolated themselves somewhat to be able to continue living with their own native language. This meant that great communities were formed that are culturally incredibly different from English-speaking parts of Canada even though they are right next to each other.
Today, keeping and teaching French is understandably important for all French Canadians. Due to this, there are laws in place which protect the language and ensure it is taught as a second language in many parts of the country. Therefore rapidly increasing the number of speakers each year.
The Most Important Differences Between Parisian French and Canadian French
So, how many differences are between these two versions of the same language? Well, if you were to focus on vocabulary or slang, accent or intonation, you could list thousands of differences. And then a few thousand more. However, generally speaking, there are 7 important differences between them. Let’s look at what they are in more detail.
1. The Anglican Influence
It will come as no surprise the Canadian French contains a lot of Anglicisms. Or more simply put, phrases and words have been taken from the English language and incorporated into another without change.
Given the fact that 80% of Canada speaks English as a first language and the countries close proximity to America, these sneaky little Anglicisms were always going to happen.
While it is generally agreed that a native Parisian French speaker could understand, for the most part, what a Canadian French speaker was saying, they may have some trouble comprehending English expressions or idioms that have been directly translated into French.
2. The Aboriginal Influence
Similar to the above, there is an influence on Canadian French from the First Nation languages. Again, this is unsurprising given that Canada was home to aboriginals and First Nations tribes before the area was colonized.
Some examples of this influence or word borrowing can be seen in vocabularies such as fish or cranberry. In Canadian French, you would use ‘atoca’, and ‘achigan’ respectively. Whereas in France, you would say ‘canneberge’, and ‘poisson’.
3. Archaic Tones
The French ruled parts of Canada for around 200 years before the British took over. Even though the French were overruled, some people chose to continue with French as their area’s main language.
However, this isolation meant that the language didn’t develop completely into the modern French we know today. Instead, many archaic expressions, phrases, and vocab used back in the 16th century ended up being passed on and remain today.
4. Slang Words
It’s thought that every language in the world contains slang words. This kind of development is a natural part of language and expression so it stands to reason that all languages old and new have their own little dictionary on slang. Canadian French, like every other language or dialect, has their own slang, too. Completely different from the slang you would hear in Parisian French.
Just in the same way that you would hear different slang words in every Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. They may have a main language in common but each country and culture forms its own special lingo.
Pronunciation of words, particular letters, and different intonation are a few of the biggest differences between the two languages. If a Canadian French speaker were to speak French in France, the native speakers would instantly recognize the differences. And the same in reverse.
This difference might not be obvious to someone who doesn’t speak the language but those who do may even be able to pinpoint exactly where the other person is from.
This is just like when native English speakers can tell the difference very quickly between Americans, Australians, or English folk. Non-native speakers might think all three sound the same but in reality, they are vastly different.
Grammar forms the main structure of any language, therefore, any changes are very noticeable. Canadian French has changed their grammar here and there over time to be slightly, but again, noticeably different from Parisian French.
For example, in France, they say the preposition ‘on the’ as ‘sur la’. Whereas in Quebec, for example, you’ll hear ‘s’a’ instead. Similarly, you’ll hear ‘dans les’ (on the) in France but dins in Canada.
Additionally, the formal is used far more frequently in France. In Canada, it’s common for people to use the formal when dealing in business but when talking to elders or strangers it’s more normal to use the informal. Unlike in Parisian French where the formal is still very much a part of day-to-day life.
7. Technical and Legal Terminology
You may go many years without ever encountering this difference. Especially since dealing with legal matters or very specific and niche vocabulary is not a regular occurrence for most people.
However, when it does come up, it can be a nightmare. Imagine being a French Canadian living in Paris or Montpellier and you find yourself dealing with a legal issue? Perhaps even a visa or customs issue and yet, the terminology is so different that you don’t know what to do. Or vice versa.
Living in another country and already knowing the language is undoubtedly a massive advantage. But what do you do if a serious situation comes up and you genuinely don’t understand what is being said or what is being written? Unfortunately, while differences in languages add so much more diversity and beauty to the world, it’s not always the most convenient.
So, if you find yourself in this type of situation, something similar, or are worried about it possibly happening in the future, what can you do?
Well, aside from learning specific terminology relating to your problem, the best option is to simply seek out the help of a professional language translation company. This way, you can be certain that your problem is going to be solved fast and without any extra stress or hassle.
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