French Language

Early French Settlers
In the early 17th century France founded two colonies in North America: Acadia (in what is now Nova Scotia) and New France (in what is now the Province of Québec). Between 1755 and 1763 the English deported more than 10 000 of the approximately 14 000 Acadians. Many of the exiles subsequently returned to settle in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI where they rejoined the Acadians who had escaped deportation. Today, in these three provinces, there are about 300 000 people who claim French as a mother tongue. They are, for the most part, descendants of the early Acadian settlers.

New France developed slowly; it had a population of less than 13 000 in 1695 and approximately 70 000 in 1763, when it became a British colony. After the British conquest of New France, immigration from France was drastically reduced. Francophone immigration has resumed again, since the turn of the 20th century. However, it has been too modest to alter the fact that most of the francophones who now live in Québec (5 600 000), and west of Québec, from Ontario to British Columbia (735 000), are descendants of these early French settlers (see also Franco-Americans).

If it can be safely assumed that a sizable Francophone community will survive in Québec in the future (notably as a result of recent legislation in favour of French), outside New Brunswick and Ontario, the survival of Francophone communities appears much less certain. Recent census returns indicate that, in at least three provinces (British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland), the French-speaking population is declining sharply, due to assimilation into the Anglophone majority.

Origins of Settlers in Acadia and New France

The early settlers of Acadia and New France came from various regions in Europe (mostly from France). In Acadia, according to records for 1707, well over half of the settlers came from provinces located in western France, south of the Loire River (primarily from Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge but also Guyenne and the Basque Country). The remainder of the settlers came from a variety of provinces located north of the Loire (Anjou/Maine/Touraine, Brittany, Normandy, Brie, Paris, Orléanais).

In contrast, in New France, in 1700, over half of the settlers had originated in provinces north of the Loire (mostly Normandy/Perche, Île-de-France and Anjou/Maine/Touraine but also Britanny, Champagne and Picardy) and about one third in provinces situated in the western half of France, south of the Loire (mostly Poitou, Aunis, Saintonge and Angoumois but also Guyenne and Limousin). The remainder of settlers came from a variety of other provinces which individually contributed only a small number of immigrants.

The colonists who settled in Canada reflected the linguistic situation prevailing in France in the 17th and 18th centuries, when French had not yet replaced the dialects of Gallo-Romance which were still flourishing. While many of the early settlers probably spoke French, their speech would have reflected the influence of the dialects which were spoken in their regions of origin. It is also likely that a good number of the early settlers who came from small French towns or villages spoke as their mother tongue a local dialect of Gallo-Romance in addition to French.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the different varieties of French and dialects spoken by the settlers gradually fused together into a common Canadian French tongue, which retained features that were common to all the varieties of French spoken during the colonial period as well as features that were typical of the varieties of French or dialects spoken in the provinces which exported many immigrants to New France, eg, Normandy/Perche, Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge.

Canadian French Today

Dialectologists and sociolinguists have conducted many studies of French, particularly since the 1960s, in the Maritimes, Newfoundland, Québec and Ontario, in both rural and urban areas, but the four western provinces have been relatively neglected up until recently.

Normally, Acadians and French-Canadian speakers understand one another easily. However, there are differences between Acadian French and Canadian French. The differential origins of settlers in Acadia and New France mentioned above are a key reason for these differences. Acadian French, spoken in the Maritimes and in parts of Québec (Magdalen Islands, southern Gaspé and certain villages on the north shore of the St Lawrence, including Havre-St-Pierre and Natashquan), is characterized by certain distinctive phonetic features, eg, retention of aspirated h as in en haut [ÿaho] "at the top"; use of the [u] vowel instead of the open [ø] one as in pomme [pum] "apple." It is also characterized by numerous words originating from regions south of the Loire; eg, éparer (Standard Fr. étendre, "to hang out [fishing nets] to dry"), charrette (tombereau, "cart"), remeuil (pis, "cow's udder"), coquemar (bouilloire de cuisiniére, "kettle"), lisse (perche de clôture, "fence post"), barge (meule de foin, "haystack") and bargou (gruau, "gruel") and by old French usages (archaisms) including some which did not survive in Canadian French, eg, je chantons/-tions (nous chantons/-tions, "we sing/sang"), ils chantont/chantiont (chantent/-taient, "they sing/sang"), bailler (donner, "give"), ne ... point (ne ... pas, "not)".

Canadian French, although spoken throughout an extensive geographic area, and having certain regional differences in vocabulary and pronunciation (Montréal, Québec City, central Québec, Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean, the Ottawa valley, northern Ontario, etc.), is considerably more homogeneous than European French, which displays variation from region to region over a smaller territory. Canadian French still includes many of the linguistic features which were retained during the stage of language fusion mentioned above, ie, archaisms and dialectalisms, but it also includes borrowings from the First Nations languages (see Aboriginal Languages of Canada), and from English (anglicisms), as well as French usages which were developed during later stages of the history of Canadian French (innovations).

The many archaic features of French (archaisms are also observable in other European languages spoken in the New World, including English) include retention of the 17th century [we] pronunciation in words like moi, toi, poil, "me", "you", "hair" (mod. French [mwa, twa, pwal]) and such expressions as mitan (modern Fr. milieu, "middle"), serrer (ranger, "to put in a safe place"), gager and gageure (parier and pari, "to bet" and "a bet"), noirceur (obscurité "darkness"), dalle (gouttiére d'un toit, "eavestrough"), menterie (mensonge, "lie"), à cause que (parce que, "because"), mais que (quand, dès que, "when, as soon as"), être après (être en train de, "to be in the process of") and preposition à to locate events in time, à soir, à matin, à tous les jours (ce soir, ce matin, tous les jours, "tonight,""this morning,""every day").

Dialectalisms, ie, usages which come from the dialects of Gallo-Romance, include words such as gadelle [from Norman] (Standard Fr. groseille à grappes "red/white currant"), garrocher [from Poitevin] (jeter, "throw"), barrer [from Norman and Poitevin] (fermer à clef, "to lock") and boucherie [from Poitevin] (abattage et préparation du porc "slaughtering and preparation of a pig").

Examples of French innovations include the development of a full-fledged system of diphthongized lengthened vowels, as in words like pâte ("paste" or "dough") or beurre ("butter") which can be pronounced as [paw:t] and [boew:R], and words like poudrerie [from poudre] ("powder") to refer to drifting blowing snow, pâté chinois (hachis parmentier, "shepherd's pie"), gardienne d'enfants and gardiennage, "baby sitter" and "baby sitting," vivoir "living room," notions which are designated by borrowings from English in European French: un baby sitter, le baby sitting, le living room.

The words from the First Nations languages which are still commonly used today are proof of a long history of contact between Francophones and Canada's indigenous peoples. They include babiche (mince lanière de cuir, "thin strip of leather"), boucane (fumée, "smoke"), atoca (canneberge, "cranberry"), pimbina (viorne trilobée, "cranberry tree"), achigan (perche noire, "black bass"), and ouaouaron ("bull frog").

English Influences

Anglicisms, whether taking the form of direct word borrowings from English, eg, le boss (patron) or of usages calqued on equivalent English expression, eg, prendre une marche (aller se promener) [from English "take a walk"], made their way into Canadian French notably during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. During that period French was dominated by English in many sectors of Canadian society. For example, the technical vocabulary of Francophone forest workers would include many English words, eg, de la "cull" (du bois de rebut), un "boom" (une estacade), un "skid" (un longeron ), un "cant-hook" (un levier; see Peavey).

Over the last 200 years, French Canadians who believe it is important to preserve the purity of Canadian French and to (re)instill a sense of pride within the French Canadian nation have advocated the eradication of anglicisms. Up until the late 1960s their efforts have not been very successful; however, recent legislation designed to make French the language of work in Québec (see Bill 101) has increased general awareness of French vocabulary on the part of workers and of the public at large and has brought a decline in the use of anglicisms. Anglicisms are also on the decline in the French of younger French-Canadian generations outside Québec due to the increased availability of French-medium schooling (see Language Policy).

Spoken Canadian French displays a considerable range of style and social variation. For instance, the informal speech of ordinary Canadians will differ markedly from the spoken French of announcers on the French CBC Radio and Television network. The former tends to include many of the distinctive features of Canadian French mentioned above, while the latter includes fewer such features and tends to align itself with International Standard French. Written Canadian French displays similar differences; however, they are not as sharp as those that are observable in spoken Canadian French. For instance, if the language of ads in flyers or in the Yellow Pages includes features of vernacular Canadian French, it also includes standard usages, and thus it shows some affinity with the more formal and markedly standard written registers, eg, the language of school textbooks or of official government documents.

The Quiet Revolution

One of the outcomes of the Quiet Revolution and of the concomitant upsurge in nationalism in Québec has been to trigger a debate over what should be the correct norm of Québec French. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, two groups held widely opposing views: (i) those (notably left-wing intellectuals) who rejected the idea that Québec French should be aligned with International Standard French and who demanded instead that vernacular Québecois French be recognized as an "official" language in Québec and (ii) those (notably officials from the Office de la langue française) who held the view that Québecois French should almost completely conform to International Standard French (except when the latter lacked terms to refer to specific aspects of the Canadian environment or culture). More recently the recognition that even the French of highly educated French Quebeckers can differ from International Standard French has led to the idea that Québec should develop its own norm of correct French and that the latter should be modelled on the French of educated Quebeckers.