Language Matters April 2010: Differences between European French and Canadian French

Dear Language Friend,

“One man’s frankness is another man’s vulgarity.” – Kevin Smith
Rest assured that LingoStar will help you find your way through the language jungle! Our example this month: French.

Contributed by Marie Springinsfeld. Thanks for reading.


French on both sides of the pond

Like English and Spanish, the French language is used in many different parts of the world: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Africa, the Caribbean, and of course, Canada, to name a few. These varieties of the same language, or dialects, are the result of cultural crossovers (migrations, influences from neighboring countries, colonization).

At LingoStar, we differentiate between ‘standard’ European French and Canadian French.  But what is the ‘standard’?

In Canada, there used to be a hierarchy that placed European French at the top, as the standard, and Canadian French somewhere below. However, since the 70’s, French Canadians have been more and more active in upholding and defending their distinct dialect.

For European French speakers, reading and most of all hearing Canadian French can be a bit strange. With a little patience, however, these two groups can come to understand each other.


‘Kids’ or ‘balls’? Well, it depends, but you’d better know the difference!

Some words refer to different things. For example, a European French speaker in Canada will be advised to be careful with the word ‘gosses’, as it means ‘kids’ in France, but ‘balls’ here!

Even though Canadian French has been strongly influenced by English in the past, it seldom borrows English words nowadays. French Canadians have come up with ingenious terms to counteract the use of English words. In France, borrowing from English remains far more common. See for example “Stop” road signs in France and in Quebec.

Pronunciation differs substantially. Subtitles are often added to French Canadian TV shows and films when they are broadcast in France!


Reader’s Discretion Advised! The following part was written from a French perspective…

Swear words are completely different! While European French people use words that refer to excrements or have sexual connotations (‘con’, ‘enculé’, ‘putain’, ‘merde’, ‘fait chier’), French Canadians use words related to religion (‘tabarnac’, ‘ostie’, ‘câlice’, ‘crisse’ [Christ]).

Of course these are just a few examples but let’s not forget that there are also sub-dialects within each dialect. It would probably be impossible to list all the differences!


The right language provider for the job

Such subtleties have an impact on marketing localization. Many global companies choose to address their clients in a ‘standard’ version of the language understandable by most speakers. But this approach does not take into account local specificities and the target reader may feel that the text, and therefore the product, has not been designed with him or her in mind.

At LingoStar, we differentiate between all varieties of French, as well as all other languages. We will take the reader into account, not only in terms of language but also in terms of geographical location.

Our database features a regional classification of our translators, interpreters and voiceover artists. We ask them many details about their origins, background and previous experience, in order to find the right person for each job.  If you have a language project on the go, contact us for a free quote!