Is Québécois a real language, or is it just as French as American is English?

My wife and I are relocating to Toronto – I’m originally a Canuck and she’s got family ties to France. We recently discussed whether Québécois (the French spoken in Quebec), was actually French, (despite what the snooty French would say about the matter) or whether it’s a whole other language. My argument was that it’s as French as American is English – that is, the same language fundamentally, but with the localized variations one would expect to evolve over time – while her assertion is that it’s all about the underlying structure of the language, which makes Québécois a unique language, but American just plain old English – can you settle this once and for all!

Le Bonhomme

Not that I am familiar with it, but I fail to understand why it would be considered being anything else than French.

If it were a different language, then DVDs of films from France sold in Québec would be subtitled or dubbed in Québécois. Of course, they are not.

I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the two languages are anything less than fully mutually intelligible. A native of Paris and a native of Montreal could understand each other easily, accent and occasional regionalism aside. There may well be some differences in grammar between the two dialects - but the high degree of verbal and written mutual intelligibility makes it hard to believe they aren’t the same langauge.

My Canadian contacts tell me that it’s French, but the differences between the language spoken in Quebec and France is wider than between the English spoken in the UK and US.

Agreed. I speak French fluently, but I have a hard time understanding French speakers from Quebec.

Anybody recognize the accent on the French girl from the “Windows 7 Was My Idea” commercial? I had a tough time with that accent too.

“Real” language?

From a linguistic perspective, there’s a very fuzzy line between “language” and “dialect.” A dialect is any linguistic system that has consistent vocabulary and grammar and is understood and used by a linguistic community. Two dialects may be said to be dialects of the same language if they are mutually intelligible. A dialect that is not mutually intelligible with any other dialects may be said to be a language on its own, but it’s still a dialect.

From a political perspective, anything a government designates as a “language” is a language.

Where does “real” come into this?

To my knowledge, it’s not classified as its own language, but a dialect. My understanding is that it is less mutually intelligible than US English and UK English, but more intelligible than Brazilian Portuguese and Portugal Portuguese (or German and Swiss German, for that matter). As another point of random data, when I used to watch French TV channels while living in Europe, Quebecois TV series were often subtitled in Standard French. It’s my impression that European French have a more difficult time understanding Canadian French than the other way around–it’s probably similar to the way a Liverpudlian would have no trouble understanding a Midwestern American accent, but the other way around would not hold true.

Actually, Quebec films shown in France sometimes are, especially when the accent is particularly strong, and it usually causes a great deal of annoyance on this side. The consensus opinion here seems to be that French people will claim not to understand Quebecers but it’s all an act. Anyway, when I was in France I had few problems.

At any rate, unlike cases such as Valencian, Croatian, Urdu, etc. where it’s the speakers of the variety in question who affirm their language is different, I’ve never heard of a Quebecer seriously assert that he or she spoke Québécois, not French. No matter how different a particular Quebec variety is from France French and regardless of how the speaker feels about that, they see themselves as speaking French.

Written Quebec French, of course, is far more similar to France French than the spoken is. In that case, the only differences are in vocabulary items, similar to British vs. Canadian vs. American English. For example, Quebec French has a greater tendency to feminize job titles than France French does, and francized forms for innovative words are uptaken more quickly in Quebec (often to be officialized in Franch some time later), such as courriel instead of e-mail, mail or mél.

I’ve seen some dialects of English subtitled for Americans. And then there was that scene in the movie Airplane!, where some “jive talk” was translated by someone who know both that language and English :slight_smile:

Oh, yes, this happens often enough. Sometimes to the point I scratch my head thinking “really, is this dialect that difficult to understand?” Reminds me of this skit.

What people speak in Quebec is French. I don’t think there’s any real question about that, and anyone who is claiming otherwise is probably doing so for political reasons.

I’m rusty as hell now, because I haven’t had a conversation in French in close to twenty years, but at one time I could speak pretty decent French. I never could write or read that well, because I learned French, not in school, but out of necessity, by having to speak to French-speaking people all the time. Yes, Canadian French sounds different, as does Belgian French, as does the French spoke in the south of France, but even to a non-native speaker like me, it was perfectly intelligible. The accents were different. I remember that some accents were easer for me to imitate and understand than the Parisan accent I had to deal with most of the time. Other regional accents were usually slower, much like an American southern accent as opposed to a New York accent, I guess.

I also knew a few French-Canadians while I was in France, and none of them had any trouble understanding or making themselves understood. They would tell me that Parisians would look down on their accent, but then Parisians look down on everything.

The bulk of the short movie anthology The Acid House (from the same nutcases who brought you Trainspotting) is subtitled in English, despite allegedly being in English.

As I understand, it’s probably like the difference bettween southern US speak or newfie speak and real english; if spoken carefully, Quebecois is the same as real French. Spoken quickly and with malice aforethought, it can be very different. If they mix Franglais, it gets worse. Acadian French from New Brunswick is supposed to be even more unintelligible.

My stepmother said the rural version sounded like medieval French; watching Mon Oncle Antoine, she said “the fellow just told the other guy ‘thou drunken fool’!”

I suppose a better comparison is between listening to two locals prattle quickly in whatever dialect vs. talking like the announcer on TV. Nobody has a problem understanding the BBC but when I watched Billy Elliot movie, for example, I had to turn on the subtitles even though my parents are from Yorkshire. Subtitled Quebec “slice of life” movies probably were the equivalent of us watching a movie in Yorkshire or Cockney. (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).

The former prime minister of Canada and well known brown-envelope-filled-with-cash collector Brian Mulroney used to use local dialect to ingratiate himself with Quebec voters. I only took high school French, but his accent grated even on me. For example, the final vowel is often silent in real French, but in Quebec dialect he would often pronounce the final ‘s’ with a hiss; i.e. Metis pronounced ‘meh-tiss’ rather than ‘may-tee’. I guess he came acrss as a regular Joe, while his opponents sounded like the French equivalent of high-falutin’ Oxford types speaking Parisian French.

A linguist friend who’s Acadian is working on evaluating Chiac (a particular Acadian variety with very peculiar rules of pronunciation and syntax, especially regarding the admixture of English verbs) from the perspective of a separate language.

Real English, real French? :dubious: Southern American English is real English, and Quebec French is real French. They’re not even socially stigmatized dialects (which even if they were, wouldn’t make them “not real”.)

Depends to whom, I suppose. I understand it fine.

Quebec French does preserve speech patterns that were common in Western France in the 17th and 18th centuries, when French colonists moved to what is now Quebec. That’s not exactly medieval, but these patterns are considered archaic in France today.

Mulroney grew up fully bilingual in Baie-Comeau. His accent in French and in English is his natural accent.

Who doesn’t pronounce the ‘s’ in métis? :confused:

You’ll have to tell me who his opponents were, but I guess the answer to your guess is “you’re wrong”. Especially if you’re talking about Jean Chrétien. :stuck_out_tongue:

“may-tee” is the standard pronunciation in English Canada.

Yes. And no government has ever tried to assert that the language spoken in Quebec is anything but French. On the contrary, Quebec is a member of La Francophonie, has bilateral relations with French-speaking countries on the basis of the language commonality and the standard dialect of Quebec French is kept as close to the international standard of French as possible, to ensure mutual intelligibility. The same is true with the French dialects spoken in other Canadian provinces, which nobody has ever seriously claimed is not French.

I’d wonder what political point this person is trying to make. I don’t know any ideology that claims otherwise. The French spoken in Quebec is completely mutually intelligible with most other dialects of French, with most differences coming from accent.

In this case it may be politically motivated, but I will admit that from what I know of Chiac, it is quite different from standard varieties of (Acadian) French. I don’t think it’s merely French with many English loanwords.

Really? I had no idea. But I don’t know anyone who doesn’t pronounce the ‘s’ in French.

Denys Arcand’s films are pretty much the only Québécois movies I saw, and I never had (as far as I can remember) any problem following them.

How would you rate the “strength” of the accent in them ?

I agree completely with you about the French spoken in Quebec. As to a political point, I don’t really know. I know there are Quebec separatists, and perhaps someone would try to make a political point by emphasizing (if anyone really does) that Quebecois is a real language, not just the language of the former French colonial overlords, and the Quebecois are a separate ethnic and linguistic group who should be independent of Canada because they’re really separate, not just Canadians who are the descendants of French colonists rather than British colonists? Kind of like Basques, except without the actual different language. I don’t know. Just a stab in the dark.