Comments From Our Readers


Petit Dictionnaire du JoualJosh writes:

Quebec French is a dialect (or rather a sprachbund of closely related dialects), much like Metropolitan French. The fact that the prescriptive norms of written French in Quebec, France, and everywhere else in the French speaking worlds are essentially identical and entirely mutually intelligible does not change the fact that the two places use difference expressions, have different slang, speak with different accents (though there is actually considerable accent diversity, even within Quebec and within France), and even get separate dubbings for some imported television programs. A speaker from Tours, France who has never heard a Quebecois speak French would have little trouble understanding a Radio Canada news broadcast or a speech by Jean Charest, but some Loco-Locass songs would be half-incomprehensible.


Julie answers:

Thanks for your comment Josh. About the French from Radio Canada vs Loco-Locass songs, the same could be said of CBC English and songs by the Barenaked Ladies (a Brit would understand the first, but probably be pretty mystified by a lot of the colloquial language of the second).

The problem is perhaps the definition of the word “dialect.” The intent of the original blog post is to deflate a persistent myth that Quebeckers actually speak a different language than the French. They don’t. They speak a variety of French with local inflections, but it’s not a different language, with a different grammar.

And the language Quebeckers use is often determined by context. In intimate social situations, people use familiar language – as they do in any language. Less educated folks perhaps use that language for most of their daily activities. But Quebec companies don’t carry out board meetings in joual. If they did they wouldn’t be able to do business with other French-speaking countries without interpreters, and that’s of course not the case.

That said, I agree that the difference between colloquial and standard spoken French in Quebec and, say, Metropolitan France, is probably a little more extreme than the difference between CBC English and the Barenaked Ladies. Centuries of cultural isolation from France certainly explain why Quebec French is so distinctive. But time and modern communications technology will very likely bring the two languages closer together, though maybe not in our lifetime…