Quebec French phonology
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Quebec French has more phonemes than Metropolitan French 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, but /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ is upheld in Meridional French.
Quebec French replaces tense vowels with their lax equivalents when the vowels are both short (e.g. not before /ʁ/, /ʒ/, /z/ and /v/) and in a closed syllable. This means that the masculine and feminine adjectives petit and petite ([pəti] and [pətit] in France) are [pət͡si] and [pət͡sɪt] 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 expected pronunciation [d͡zifisɪl] is found throughout Quebec, but the alternative pronunciation [d͡zifɪsɪl] is characteristic of the Beauce region, while [d͡zɪfisɪl] is characteristic of Montreal French.1
One distinct pronunciation in Quebec French is the vowel /a/. The general realization in final open syllables is [ɔ], which is nowadays strongly marked as nonstandard, but with [ɑ] is standard. Parisian [a] is often perceived as very standard. Word-internally, [aː] and [ɑː] often change into [ɑː] and [ɔː] respectively although this too is increasingly considered to be colloquial. These variations are also found in several European pronunciations.
Metropolitan French's [wa] (represented by <oi>) can be pronounced [wa] or [wɑ] in standard Quebec French. It can also be realized in some additional different ways in informal contexts ([we, wɛ, waɛ̯, waɪ̯, wei̯, wɔ, wɒː, wɑɔ̯]), 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, [æ] can be used to transcribe the Quebec French phoneme /a/, as it is generally pronounced further back and more closed than the European /a/. Quebec French /a/ approaches [æ] even more when it is located in a closed syllable or an internal open syllable.2
The nasal vowels are slightly different: /ɛ̃/ → [ẽ], /ɑ̃/ → [ã], /ɔ̃/ → [õ],3 and /œ̃/ is generally pronounced [œ̃˞] or [ʌɹ].4 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. For instance, the word neige ('snow') is pronounced [nɛːʒ] in French of France, but [naɪ̯ʒ] in Quebec French. Other cases include:
- [ɛː] → [aɛ̯], [aɪ̯] or [ɛi̯] (among older speakers)5
- [øː] → [øy̯]
- [oː] → [ou̯]
- [ɑː] → [ɑɔ̯] or [ɑʊ̯]
- [ɔː] → [ɑɔ̯] (only diphthongized before /ʁ/)
- [œː] → [aœ̯] or [œy̯] (among older speakers)6 (only diphthongized before /ʁ/)
- [iː] → [ɪi̯]
- [uː] → [ʊu̯]
- [yː] → [ʏy̯]
- [ãː] → [ãũ̯]
- [ẽː] → [ẽĩ̯] or [ãẽ̯]
- [õː] → [õũ̯]
- [œ̃ː] → [œ̃ỹ̯]
Diphthongization is considered a marker of less-educated speech and avoided in more formal contexts, although Quebecois teachers generally use the diphthongization. The diphthongization of close and close-mid vowels ([oː], [øː], [iː], [uː], [yː], [ẽː], [õː] and [œ̃ː]) is unaffected by this stigma, however, and usually goes unnoticed by most speakers. The diphthongization of [ɑː] and [ãː] is the most exaggerated.
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 [ʃjẽ] (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. Today, the voiced fricative [ʁ] is very 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 transcribed 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 Québec, as well as other French-speaking areas in Canada.7
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/ → [kõst͡sit͡sysjõ] → [kõssisysjõ].
In very informal speech, some final mute t's will sometimes be pronounced:
- lit /li/ → [lɪt].
There is also the special case of "debout" [dəbʊt] 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 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: [ɰœl] gueule (France, [ɡœl]), especially in the construction ta gueule [taɰœl], "shut up".
The high front vowels in Quebec French show a net tendency to be unvoiced or even disappear, as in municipalité, /mynisipalite/ → [myni̥si̥pali̥te], [mynspalte].8
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 ʒuːʁ] → [ʃak̬ ʒuːʁ]. Progressive assimilation, although limited to [ʃ] and [s] before [v] and [m], also exists: cheval [ʃval] → [ʃv̥al], semaine [smɛn] → [sm̥ɛn].10
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]), or 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, [syʁla] → [sya] → [saː] or dans la, [dãla] → [dãa] → [dãː] – or it can be partial, as in il lui a dit, [ɪllɥiɑd͡zi] → [ɪllɥiɔd͡zi] → [iɥiɔd͡zi] → [ijɔd͡zi]. Partial fusion can happen also in slow elocution.11
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 standard and Quebec French. The general belief among linguistswho? 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.
- Dumas (1987:94–99)
- "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.
- Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:19)
- Walker (1984:48)
- "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)
- 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