Franglais freaks Quebec

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Language remains a hot button across Canada:

Quebec’s ‘Language Police’ Take Aim at Sneaky English Slang

Authorities fret over ‘Franglais,’ the creep of words like ‘cool’ or ‘email’ into French discourse; even elevator music is scrutinized.

By Vipal Monga, WSJ (12/13/23)

Although French is the official language of Quebec’s government, education, courts and commerce, provincial authorities are alarmed by what they see as the waning of French in workplaces and homes.

A particular concern is the creep of “Franglais,” the mixing of French with English slang. In an ad campaign launched earlier this year, on TV and social media, authorities warned of the pernicious spread of lingo such as “cool” and “chill”—even “email.” 

A provincial ad parodying Franglais also threw in the English words “sick,” “insane” and “sketch.” 

Longtime Montreal residents readily cop to committing Franglais. Kristian Gravenor, a 60-year-old journalist, peppers his French with bilingual flourishes such as “field trip,” to indicate an outing.

“People find it spicy and delightful,” said Gravenor, who takes a Darwinian attitude toward the matter. “It’s survival of the best words, as far as I’m concerned.”

The article recounts many horror stories about the zeal of French enforcers, such as the sign in a provincial government office for renewing health insurance which indicates that service is available in English for those who qualify.  It is in French.

…nous sommes ravis de vous servir en français

I love the adjective "ravis" (tiré du participe passé du verbe ravir).

In Quebec, KFC is PFK, leaving the Colonel in the dust.


Selected readings

[h.t. Mark Metcalf]


  1. Joe Fineman said,

    December 13, 2023 @ 9:53 pm

    On a visit to Quebec, I enjoyed seeing PFK, and hoped, in vain, for a Roi-Bourgeois.

  2. rt said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 8:00 am

    But French is actually threatened in Quebec. Forecasts are pessimistic about the language's survival in the region over the coming 30-50 years

  3. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 9:11 am

    Hmm? You mean that a prestige language threatens to overlay the substrate language with new vocabulary and grammar, thereby creolizing the host language and, over a period of about 300 years, transforming that language into a tangled mess with an overabundant word-horde? Æghwæt sceal wé geþéon? — 1066: Næfre forġietaþ!

  4. Alyssa said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 9:19 am

    This sort of slang-policing is silly, and widely ignored. It's frustrating that it gets attention outside of Canada in place of the much more sweeping (and much more effective) policies like requiring French-language schooling for the children of immigrants.

  5. jin defang said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 9:28 am

    may the best language win.

    my best guess, is that au contraire to the pessimist prognosis, a Creole-like hybrid will evolve in which Quebecois, including those whose backgrounds are Anglo, French, and immigrants from sundry countries, will choose whatever words seem best express their moods. Vive l'internet et l'email!

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 10:08 am

    Québécois is, in my somewhat limited experience (a single geology field trip from Ontario to Matagami), a somewhat strange language — the vocabulary is seemingly French, yet the accent, phonology, etc., are seemingly Gen.Am. I can't see that the intrusion of a few English (or Franglais) words or phrases is going to seriously disrupt the status quo.

  7. Coby said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 12:17 pm

    Funny about "email". As far as I remember, courriel was coined in Quebec before being taken up in France.
    Do they pronounce it like émail ('enamel') or like imel?

    Philip Taylor: the phonetics (not phonology) of Quebec French is indeed different from that of France, but in my experience the intonation is quite similar.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 1:08 pm

    France has mostly moved on to the backronym mél – which of course gets pronounced mèl.

  9. Etienne said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 5:52 pm

    Philip Taylor: the notion that Québec French is English-like in its phonology is something my (mostly anglophone) students REALLY wish were true. Alas, not only is it not, its phonology is substantially more difficult than that of most French varieties, and in ways which make it quite difficult to acquire, even as a second dialect by L1 French speakers (Québec French probably has one of the richest inventories of vowel phonemes of any Romance variety. Many such vowel phonemes have variable realization according to phonetic environment: for example, we have allophonic lowering of high vowel phonemes in syllables closed by a consonant other than a voiced fricative, which -for the most part- remain distinct from the corresponding mid-high vowel phonemes. This yields something of a challenge to the learner, not least because of the complex interaction between more local and more European phonologies, something which phonological theorists and sociolinguists alike have studied and doubtless still are).

    But, as I like telling my students, Québec has both the highest life expectancy in the Americas (I will tell them the secret on the last day of class: Actually, it isn't speaking French that prolongs life, it's eating poutine: it is in fact a health food. Err, don't tell them before I do, okay?) and a PISA score that would rank it in the world's top 10 countries if it were itself a separate country (The reason for this is no secret, of course: Our local craft beers).

    So: learning specifically *Québec* French is perhaps not as much of a waste of one's time as certain (especially North American) anglophones might be inclined to believe.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 7:03 pm

    Thank you for that, Etienne — extremely interesting. As I wrote above, my analysis was based on a single visit to a single locality (Matagami), but I still remember my reactions as we entered our hotel-to-be. The staff were chatting amongst themselves, and their accents appeared to be pure Gen.Am., but I could not understand a word they were saying. I continued to listen while they continued to speak, and I suddently realised that the vocabulary was French. But not the sound. I introduced myself and the other members of my party in standard Parisian French (with an English accent, of course), at which point they immediately code-switched to Parisian French and we were all able to understand each other. Had they continued in Québec French, I doubt whether I would have understood more than 5%.

  11. Circeus said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 9:18 am

    Various contexts are needed here:
    – The on-hold music thing is a national pride thing (Quebec has a THRIVING music industry of its own), not a language thing, and it was a single minister's whim. (see also federal Canadian content laws applicable to radio) There is no connection to any national debate or broader regulations such as the French Language Charter.
    – Right now there is NO big social debate on language in the public space. None whatsoever.
    – The only reason Roberge was harping on it is because the CAQ government has historically attempted to hit nationalist sore spots whenever they ere down in polls. And they have NOT been doing good recently. (Spoiler: he failed to ignite a debate)
    – Right now the ACTUAL language debate relates to the government suddenly attempting to strangle attendance from foreign students at English-speaking universities and cégeps, which everyone involved (except the government spokespersons) think is MASSIVELY misguided because it has no effects on the language spoken/learned by permanent residents of Quebec! If they actually wanted to protect French in any capacities and not do PR, there would be MANY better options ( Application of of the Language Charter to cégeps has been demanded for literally decades!

  12. Circeus said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 9:20 am

    (so basically the WSJ is, excuse my french, full of merde here.)

  13. Frederick J. Newmeyer said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 1:42 pm

    I find tr's and jin defang's prediction that Quebec French is threatened and has only 30-50 years to survive to be wildly pessimistic and almost surely untrue. Outside of the area around McGill and a lot of west Montreal, French predominates, and even in traditionally anglophone areas young people are becoming fluent in French. We spend a month per year in Montreal, usually renting an apartment in the northeast part of the Plateau area, ie, not in the heart of totally francophone east Montreal. Even there, French is pretty much the only language spoken on the street. We have a drink at a bar on the Avenue du Mont-Royal most days before dinner and it was only rarely that there was a table of English-speakers. It's true that a lot of Montrealers pepper their speech with English words and expressions, but nowhere near enough for there to be a danger of an English-French creole developing. Living in Vancouver, we get 10 or so French-language channels on TV. The realistic TV shows and movies show their characters throwing in a little English (this happens in France too), but nobody could claim that they are speaking anything but French.

    I certainly agree that the Quebec accent is no more like a North American English accent than the European French accent is. There is a certain 'twang' or 'drawl' to Quebec French, but very different from any kind of North American English twang or drawl.

  14. Alyssa said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 8:10 pm

    The first time I heard Quebec French, before I had much familiarity with it, I too thought the accent sounded a lot like American English. I think what had struck me, being used to European French, was two things: diphthongs, and the rhotic r. These are both also pretty characteristic of American English.

  15. Mark Metcalf said,

    December 16, 2023 @ 8:25 am

    Meanwhile, in Africa:
    "How Africans Are Changing French — One Joke, Rap and Book at a Time"

    More than 60 percent of French speakers now live in Africa. Despite growing resentment at France, Africans are contributing to the evolution and spread of the French language.

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