In Quebec, English Speakers Sprinkle in a Little French

Quebec-English, a separate dialect, embraces hundreds of new words

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Why would you go to a dpanneur and what subject would you discuss with an agronome? (By the way, that rhymes with metronome.)

To the people of this English-speaking village in rural Quebec, a dpanneur is a convenience store (a 7-11), and an agronome is what Quebec's 7,000 English-speaking farmers call an agronomist.

Those are just two of hundreds of new words used by Quebec's English population, a little less than a million of Quebec's 7 million people.

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While English creeping into French is something that outrages Gallic purists in Paris and Quebec City, English seems to embrace new words and new meanings from French.

Quebec-English is now classified a separate dialect, according to the "Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage" (Oxford University Press) published in August.

"I certainly think Quebec-English is as distinct from English in the rest of Canada as Canadian English is from American English," says Margery Fee, English professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the two editors of the guide.

Though many people from outside North America find it difficult to tell Americans and Canadians apart, each can spot the other's accent and different use of words. And English Canadians from outside Quebec can't understand many of the words used in the province.

"It is a regional variety. You could quite quickly determine whether someone has spent time in English Quebec," says Ms. Fee.

Studies of the English dialect in Quebec look only at the written word, so far. There are at least three different accents in English Quebec: standard Canadian English; a working-class accent with crisply pronounced consonants; and rural twang in the Eastern Townships, south of Montreal, where the accent mimics the American sounds just over the line in Vermont.

But all three accents would use the distinctive words of Quebec-English. In addition, two types of words have slipped from French into English. The first are words borrowed straight from French, such as autoroute (highway) or regie (a government department). Both are used every day in English, as in: "I'm going to the regie to get my driver's license so I can drive on the autoroute."

Other words already exist in English, but people in Quebec use them with the French meaning. For instance, animator, means cartoonist in most of the English speaking world. In French, animateur is someone who organizes a conference, so English Quebecers use animator with the English pronunciation but the French meaning.

Many of the words have come into use in the past 20 years, since Quebec's separatists government banned the use of English in public. In government offices and even English-language schools, people learn to use the French words, though they anglicize the pronunciation.

"The most striking characteristic is the influence of French on English," says Pamela Grant-Russell, an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Sherbrooke, a French-language university about 100 miles southeast of Montreal.

"Words are borrowed from French into English. There are also words which exist in English that are used with the French meaning,"

She is part way through a three-year study of Quebec-English. "One example is the word coordinates. In French, you often talk of vos coordonns, that's your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address. In English coordinates doesn't have that meaning but it's used in Quebec by English-speaking people. It's such a handy word, 'Give me your coordinates.' It sums up that essential data."

There are archaic words, such as fte, which is seldom used in Canada or the United States to mean a celebration. In Quebec-English, it is even used as a verb, as in: "We'll fte his retirement."

Using the wrong word in English caused one small businesswoman a legal problem.

"Several years ago a woman put an ad in a newspaper offering her services as a 'Landlord-Tenant Advocate,' " recalls Ms. Grant-Russell. "While the meaning of advocate is clear in English, the court found her guilty of fraudulent advertising because it ruled that in Quebec, the word avocat, lawyer in French, also meant lawyer in English [advocate]."

Some borrowed words have political meanings. Sovereigntist is used in English-language newspapers instead of the more direct separatist, for fear of offending Quebec nationalists who soft-pedal secession with the more fuzzy term.

And where 25 years ago the population was divided into English or French, today they are Anglophones or Francophones (the preferred French-language term). There is even a third category, allophones, which means an immigrant who is neither French nor English, a term that baffles people from the rest of the English-speaking world.

A Short Glossary Of Quebec English

Ameliorate. A rather formal word in word English, but in Quebec-English, it is used as a general synonym for improve.

Congress and conference. These two words have similar spellings in French but congrs in French is a meeting and confrence is a lecture. A Quebec-English speaker might cause confusion by saying: "I'm giving a conference at a congress," instead of "I'm giving a lecture at a conference."

Deputy. From the French, dput. or one who is elected of the provincial legislature, know as the National Assembly, or the federal House of Commons.

Population. This word is used in Quebec-English as a substitute for the noun public, a borrowed meaning from the French as in: "They admitted to the population that the oil supply has diminished."

Verify. In French, the verb vrifier has a broader meaning than the English verb, to verify. So in English-Quebec, people speak of verifying the brakes on the car

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