It was a perfect summer afternoon basking in the sun as my mother and I strolled through the old town of Quebec City, stopping at Royal Place, a 400-year-old cobbled plaza of historic buildings in gray with dormer windows and pitched roofs in red, copper and slate. My mother was born and raised in this French-speaking city, so I knew that now, at the age of 80, it meant a lot to her to come back to visit.
As we remembered, the sound of the local dialect was floating around—and I thought of something I’ve heard recently: that while French speaking in Quebec might not ring as romantic or tender to the ear as contemporary Parisian French, now they are considered the gold standard, the way Quebec is spoken is in The reality is closer in pronunciation to the French used by 17th century aristocrats – and even the King.
I grew up in Montreal in the 1960s and ’70s, when English speakers, along with the French from France, mocked the harsh, faltering pronunciation of Quebec French, comparing it to the sound of a duck. I myself have always been deeply embarrassed in the company of my English-speaking classmates at the French Immersion School. The so-called critics and my teachers, who hailed from France and Morocco, said that the relaxed pronunciation of Quebec was shameful, and that Molière’s language was mocked.
As it turns out, the famous 17th-century playwright looked more like a modern-day Copenhagen—more a contemporary Parisian—than they knew.
I was frustrated when someone told me this a few weeks ago over lunch at a café in North Hatley, a quaint village in the gently mountainous eastern region, southeast of Montreal. I knew that Quebec French retained many remains of “le français du roy” or “the king’s French”, especially in its vocabulary, but I drew the line upon pronunciation. “There is no way Louis XIV said”claw, voile, or ‘toé et moé”Incredibly, you said it, comparing those words to the most common pronunciations Bass, voila, And the toi et moi.
But there are logical, linguistic and historical reasons why Quebec French is different from French French (what linguists call “normative” or “neutral” French).
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