While the title is uniquely British, the answer is not. In fact, it comes about largely due to the massive influx of European explorers during the 1500s and 1600s when large groups of speakers (both French and English) were separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Two distinct versions of the language grew and developed on their own accord. In the same way that American and British English are treated as two distinct forms, so are French for Canada and French throughout Europe and Africa treated as unique sets as well. When translating for native French audiences, it’s important to clarify whether the target audience will be based in Canada or Europe, but why the distinction?
We break down the key drivers here:
Spoken Language and accent
Spoken language varies regardless of language. It’s the same in English as it is in French – just as an English speaker from rural Mississippi will sound substantially different than an English speaker from the Bronx. So will a Frenchman from Paris sound very different from the vineyards of southern France.
French explorers settled in what is now modern-day Quebec some 400 years ago. Among the many things they brought with them to the new world, their mix of Classical and Parisian French would lay the ground work for modern Canadian French. Explorers arrived in present day Canada in the 1500s during the reign of French King Francis I. The settlement especially excelled with the founding of Quebec City in 1608. When the dominant dialect in France shifted from its classical roots, speakers in North America did not evolve with their European counterparts and maintained a heavy influence of classical French.
While both European and Canadian variants were influenced by (and an influencer of) English, close ties between the U.S. and Canada meant greater exposure of American English terms throughout Canada. The relationship was notably influenced during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when both the United States and Canada established longstanding business relationships. The influence affected the areas of law, business, and government.
Similarities and Differences
Despite regional and dialectical differences, both written variants follow standard French grammar guidelines. French is an official language of 29 countries (including Canada). What distinguishes Canadian French from the other 28 is its vocabulary and English influence. Referred to as Anglicisms, when Québec French speakers use excessive Anglicisms, it may be referred to as ‘franglais’ which is considered a derogatory term. The differences in vocabulary is not limited to English influence. Canadian French has also adopted from the myriad of native languages of its diverse settlers. There are also terms that are unique to Canada such as the popular dish poutine, a combination of French fries, cheese curd, and brown gravy.
Examples of the differences between written French in Canada and France:
- The word “char” would refer to a car in Quebec, but to a chariot, in France.
- A “suçon” in Quebec is a lollipop, but a hickey in France!
- The English word “boyfriend” could be translated as “chum” in Quebec (note the English influence), but as “copain” in France.
- The verb “to cover” would be translated as “abrier” in Quebec, but as “couvrir” in France.
- The word “éventuellement” means “eventually” in Quebec, but “possibly” in France.
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