French for France vs. French for Canada

May 25, 2016 Fotini Limes

Translators need to be careful when working with languages used in different countries and cultures. The French language is used in 29 countries, including Canada. According to a demographic report by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l'Agence universitaire de la francophonie, French speakers will account for approximately 500 million people in 2025 and 650 million people by 2050. Depending on the location, lifestyle and social status, French is spoken and used differently.

As a Canadian professional in the localization industry, I grew up learning French in the Middle East, lived in the French side of Switzerland, in the capital of Canada, and spent a lot of time in Paris. I have come to find that some knowledge of the French language is very important when traveling in French speaking countries. In this blog I will explain the difference between Canadian French and Parisian French.

History

gpi-french differences-home

To understand why one language can be spoken differently, one must study the history of the regions it comes from. In the 17th century, French explorers arrived in North America and formed two French speaking colonies: Acadia, which is now called Nova Scotia, and New France, which is now Québec. When they settled in New France they brought with them the classical French language. In 1780, the British came in to rule this new world and in turn isolated the French colonies in Canada. This is why European French continued to develop in European countries, while Canadian French stayed in its 17th century form. Here are some 17th century phrases that are still being used today in Canada:

European French                             Canadian French                              English Translation

parce que                                        À cause que                                     because

faire du shopping                             magasiner                                        to go shopping

Later, the increase in industrialization caused an interaction between Canada and the United States and business was handled in English. This transition forced French speaking Canadians to adopt some English words into their vocabulary.

Written French

When I lived in Ottawa, I was exposed to French on a daily basis yet I barely used it, it got worse when I moved to Toronto where I only spoke English. The difference in written French in Canada is found in the grammar.  For example, in France many professions have the feminine form, in Québec professions are written universally. Such as:

European French                             Canadian French                              English Translation

une chercheur                                   un chercheuse                               a researcher

Spoken French

In Canada, the dialect is very distinct and any French speaker could easily identify the difference. Canadian French is informal and this is generally noticeable in the pronunciation. The usage of idioms, grammar, words, cultural references and expressions is what makes Canadian French stand out to the European speaker.

Most Canadians are exposed to English as it is bordered by the U.S., and English influenced the way French is spoken through the grammar and terminology used as you can tell from some of these expressions:

European French                             Canadian French                              English Translation

aller se promener                            prendre une marche                         to take a walk

une boisson                                    un breuvage                                     a drink/beverage

While Canada tends to be influenced by the English language; European French tends to accept English words such as:

European French                             Canadian French                              English Translation

parking                                            stationnement                                 parking

e-mail or mél                                   courriel                                            e-mail

chatter                                            clavarder                                          to chat

When focusing on Canada as a target audience, an understanding of the locations French is being used is essential. For example, other than the use of Anglicism, some Canadian words are taken from indigenous languages such as:

European French                             Canadian French                              English Translation

les sandales                                     les babiches                                     sandals

un tabac                                          une tabagie                                     corner store

As any other language, translation services should always consider the area and culture they are targeting to avoid misunderstandings and issues with the target audience. An example of a common issue that can arise is found in restaurant menus. The word 'dinner' is 'dîner' in France, but in Canada, it means 'lunch' and their dinner is 'souper', this may confuse some tourists.

Conclusion

The French language is very complex depending on the location it is being used in. If your target audience is Canada then localization for Canadian French is necessary to get the right communication across especially if you are in the advertising business where culture appropriation is very important. However, if your target is Europe then standard French is the right option.

Translation and Localization Resources

You may gain further insights into global e-business, global SEO, website translation, country specific cultural facts and related topics by reviewing some previous blogs and resources written by GPI:

Please feel free to contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com with any questions about our language and technology services.  Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in our future blogs.  You may request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.

Sources

http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/the-difference-between-quebec-french-and-metropolitan-french-sam-gendreau/

http://www.republiquelibre.org/cousture/EXPRES.HTM

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/french-language/

http://www.listlanguage.com/french-written-language.html

https://www.talkinfrench.com/canadian-french-difference/

 

 

 

About the Author

Fotini Limes

Fluent in German, Greek, French and Italian (as well as English), Fotini has over 15 years of localization industry experience serving in a multitude of operational and sales roles. She has extensive experience in document, software, website and multimedia localization and day-to-day global production for GPI's project management and translation teams. She has lived and worked in Germany, Greece, France and the USA.

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