Quebec French phonology

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Quebec French has more phonemes than Parisian French as it retains phonemic distinctions between /a/ and /ɑ/, /ɛ/ and /ɛː/, /ø/ and /ə/, /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ whereas the latter of each pair has disappeared in Parisian French, though the /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ distinction is upheld in Meridional French.


Quebec French replaces tense vowels (/i, y, u/) with their lax ([ɪ, ʏ, ʊ]) equivalents when the vowels are both short (e.g. except before /ʁ/, /ʒ/, /z/ and /v/, but the vowel /y/ is pronounced [ʏː] before /ʁ/) and only in closed syllables. This means that the masculine and feminine adjectives petit and petite ([pøti] and [pøtit] in France) are [pœ̈t͡si] and [pœ̈t͡sɪt] in Quebec. The same goes with /y/[ʏ] and /u/[ʊ]. In some areas, notably Beauce, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and (to a lesser extent) Quebec City and the surrounding region, even long tense vowels may be laxed.

This laxing of the high vowels /i/, /u/ and /y/, in the specified context is compulsory in stressed syllables, e.g. lutte [lʏt], but it is optional in unstressed syllables, e.g., vulgaire can be [vylɡaɛ̯ʁ] or [vʏlɡaɛ̯ʁ]. The lax allophone of a high vowel may also appear in open syllables by assimilation to a lax vowel in a following syllable, e.g., musique can be either [myzɪk] or [mʏzɪk]. The lax vowel may even be retained in derived words where the original stressed lax vowel has disappeared, e.g. musical can be [myzikal] or [mʏzikal]. Also, the lax allophone may arise optionally in open syllables through dissimilation as in toupie [tupi] or [tʊpi], especially in reduplicative forms such as pipi [pipi] or [pɪpi]. These phenomena are conditioned lexically and regionally. For example, for the word difficile, the standard pronunciation [d͡zifisɪl] is found throughout Quebec, but the alternative pronunciations [d͡zifɪsɪl], [d͡zɪfɪsɪl] and [d͡zɪfsɪl] are also used.

One distinct pronunciation in Quebec French is the vowel a, /a/ and /ɑ/ are pronounced differently. The general realization in final open syllables is [ɑ] or [ɔ] (Canada [kanadɑ] or [kanadɔ]), but [ɔ] is nowadays strongly marked as informal. There are some exceptions, the words la, ma, ta, sa, fa, papa and caca are always pronounced with the sound [a], as in French of France. In internal open syllables, some Quebecers pronounce the vowel /ɑ/ as [ɒː] or [ɔː] (gâteau [ɡɒːto] or [ɡɔːto]), this is considered to be informal. Some Quebecers diphthongize the vowel /ɑ/ as [ɑʊ̯] in final closed syllables (pâte [pɑʊ̯t]).

The vowel /ə/ is pronounced [œ̈] in Quebec French.

Metropolitan French's [wa] (represented by <oi>) can be only pronounced [wa] or [wɑ(ː)] in standard Quebec French, but it can also be realized in some additional different ways ([we, wɛ, waɛ̯, waɪ̯, wei̯, wɔ, wɒː, wɑɔ̯]) in Joual, including [ɛ] found (exclusively) in droit, froid, flexions of noyer and croire, and soit. These pronunciations are remnants from one of the founding French dialects.

Another informal archaic trait from 17th century Parisian popular French is the tendency to open [ɛ] into [æ] in a final open syllable. On the other hand, in grammatical word endings, as well as in the indicative forms of verb être (es and est), the [ɛ] is tensed into [e]. This is also common in France, but the failure to tense the [ɛ] in Quebec is usually perceived as quite formal, Quebecers pronounce [ɛ] when they are reading.

As well, the phoneme /a/ can be also pronounced [æ], as it is generally pronounced further front and more closed than the Parisian /a/. Quebec French /a/ approaches [æ] even more when it is located in a closed syllable or an unstressed open syllable.[1]

Nasal vowels

The nasal vowels are very different: /ɛ̃/[ẽɪ̯̃], /ɑ̃/[ã], /ɔ̃/[ɒ̃ʊ̯̃],[2] and /œ̃/ is generally pronounced [ɚ̃] or [ʌ̃ɹ].[3] Some speakers pronounce /ɑ̃/ as [æ̃] in open syllables. /ɛ̃/ and /ɔ̃/ are always diphthongized.


Long and nasalized vowels are generally diphthongized when stressed, except the [aː] vowel. The phoneme /ɛː/ is also diphthongized to [ɛɪ̯] in unstressed syllables. For instance, the word neige ('snow') is pronounced [nɛːʒ] in French of France, but [naɪ̯ʒ] ~ [næɪ̯ʒ] in Quebec French. Other cases include:

  • [ɛː][aɪ̯] ~ [æɪ̯]; [aɛ̯] ~ [æɛ̯] before /ʁ/; [ɛɪ̯] (unstressed), as in fête [faɪ̯t] ~ [fæɪ̯t], Eng. "party"; père [paɛ̯ʁ] ~ [pæɛ̯ʁ], Eng. "father"; fêter [fɛɪ̯te], Eng. "celebrate";
  • [øː][øʏ̯], as in neutre [nøʏ̯tʁ̥], Eng. "neutral";
  • [oː][oʊ̯], as in cause [koʊ̯z], Eng. "cause";
  • [ɑː][ɑʊ̯]; [ɑɔ̯] (before /ʁ/), as in pâte [pɑʊ̯t], Eng. "paste"; bar [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "bar";
  • [ɔː][ɑɔ̯] (only diphthongized before /ʁ/), as in bord [bɑɔ̯ʁ], Eng. "side";
  • [œː][aœ̯] ~ [ɶœ̯], as in cœur [kaœ̯ʁ] ~ [kɶœ̯ʁ], Eng. "heart";
  • [iː][ɪi̯], as in livre [lɪi̯vʁ], Eng. "book/pound";
  • [uː][ʊu̯], as in four [fʊu̯ʁ], Eng. "oven";
  • [yː][ʏy̯], as in cure [kʏy̯ʁ], Eng. "treatment";
  • [ãː][ãʊ̯̃], as in banque [bãʊ̯̃k], Eng. "bank";
  • [ẽː][ẽɪ̯̃] ~ [ãɪ̯̃], as in quinze [kẽɪ̯̃z] ~ [kãɪ̯̃z], Eng. "fifteen";
  • [õː][ɒ̃ʊ̯̃], as in son [sɒ̃ʊ̯̃], Eng. "sound";

The diphthongs [ɑɔ̯], [ɑʊ̯], [aɛ̯], [aɪ̯], [aœ̯], [ãʊ̯̃] and [ãɪ̯̃] are considered informal and rarely used in formal contexts, although some Québécois teachers use them, but the diphthongs [æɪ̯], [æɛ̯], [ɶœ̯], [oʊ̯], [øʏ̯], [ɪi̯], [ʊu̯], [ʏy̯], [ẽɪ̯̃] and [ɒ̃ʊ̯̃] are not considered informal, and usually go unnoticed by most speakers. The vowel [ɑː] is not diphthongized by some speakers, and [ãː] is only diphthongized in Joual.

Phonological feminine

Metonymies provide interesting evidence of a phonological feminine. For instance, although most adults would probably say that autobus is masculine if they were given reflection time, specific bus routes defined by their number are always feminine. Bus No. 10 is known as l'autobus 10, or more often la 10. Using le 10 in this context, although normal in France, would be strikingly odd in Quebec (especially Montreal), except in some regions, particularly the Outaouais, where it is the standard. (An alternative explanation for this, however, is that bus routes in Montreal are called "lines", and therefore "la 10" is short for "la ligne 10", and not "l'autobus 10", since it is the route being referred to, and not an individual bus.)

There are many differences in informal grammar: for instance, some words have a different gender from in standard French (une job rather than un job). This is partially systematic. For example, just as the difference in pronunciation between chien [ʃjẽɪ̯̃] (masc.) and chienne [ʃjɛn] (fem.) is the presence or absence of a final consonant, likewise ambiguous words ending in a consonant (such as job (/dʒɔb/)) are often assigned to the feminine. Also, vowel-initial words that in standard grammar are masculine, are sometimes patterned as feminine; since preceding masculine adjectives are homophonous to feminine adjectives (un bel avion; bel /bɛl/ = belle fem.), the word is patterned as feminine (une belle avion). Another explanation would be that many other words ending in -ion are feminine (nation, élection, mission, etc) and that the grammatical gender of avion is made to conform to this pattern, but the number of "-ion" words that are masculine ("lion, pion, camion, lampion," etc.) weakens this explanation.


Around twelve different rhotics are used in Quebec, depending on region, age and education among other things. The uvular trill [ʀ] has lately been emerging as a provincial standard, whereas the alveolar trill [r] was used before in and around Montreal. In modern Quebec French, the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] is more common. As a matter of comparison, the voiced velar fricative [ɣ] or voiceless uvular fricative [χ] is more generally used in France.

The velar nasal [ŋ] is often found as an allophone of the palatal nasal [ɲ][citation needed], the word ligne may be pronounced [lɪŋ].

In colloquial speech, the glottal fricatives [h]/[ɦ] are found as allophones of /ʃ/ and /ʒ/, respectively. They can also be pronounced as [ʃʰ] and [ʒʰ] if the original fricatives aren't entirely relaxed. This is particularly found in the Beauce region, to the point where the pronunciation is frequently stereotyped, but can be found throughout Quebec, as well as other French-speaking areas in Canada.[4]

Dental stops are very often affricated before high front vowels and semivowels: in other words, /ty/, /ti/, /tɥ/, /tj/, /dy/, /di/, /dɥ/, /dj/ are then pronounced [t͡sy], [t͡si], [t͡sɥ], [t͡sj], [d͡zy], [d͡zi], [d͡zɥ], [d͡zj] (e.g. except in Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Côte-Nord) . Depending on the speaker, the fricative may be more or less strong or sometimes even assimilate the stop in informal speech. For example, constitution could have any of the following pronunciations: /kɔ̃stitysjɔ̃/[kɒ̃ʊ̯̃st͡sit͡sysjɒ̃ʊ̯̃][kɒ̃ʊ̯̃ssisysjɒ̃ʊ̯̃].

In Joual, some final mute t's may be pronounced:

lit /li/[lɪt].

There is also the special case of "debout" [dœ̈bʊt] and "ici" [isɪt] (sometimes actually written icitte). On the other hand, the t in but and août are not pronounced in Quebec, but they are pronounced in France (decreasingly for but). These often reflect centuries-old variation or constitute archaisms.

Many of the features of Quebec French are mistakenly attributed to English influence; however, the historical evidence shows that most of them either descend from earlier forms from specific dialects and are forms that have since changed in France, or internal developments (changes that have occurred in Canada alone but not necessarily in all parts).

Consonant reduction

It has been postulated that the frequency of consonant reduction in Quebec French is due to a tendency to pronounce vowels with more "strength" than consonants, a pattern reversing that of European French.

Consonant clusters finishing a word are reduced, often losing altogether the last or two last consonants, in both formal and informal Quebec French. It seems that the liquids /ʁ/ and /l/ are especially likely to get dropped, as in table, /tabl/[tab], or astre, /astʁ/[ast][as].

The phone /l/ in article determiners and even more in personal pronouns in most dialects does not exist in the mental representation of these words. As a matter of fact, pronouncing il and elle as [ɪl] and [ɛl] is seen as very formal and by some pedantic. Elle is further modified into [aː] in informal speech, a sound change similar to that of [ɛ] into [a] before /ʁ/.

In colloquial speech, the combination of the preposition sur + definite article is often abbreviated: sur + le = su'l; sur + la = su'a or sa; sur + les = ses. Sometimes dans + un and dans + les is abbreviated to just dun and dins. In the informal French of France, sur + le also becomes su'l, such as L'dimanche, i'est su'l pont dès 8 heures du mat ('On Sundays, he's hard at work from 8am'). No other contractions are used.

Some initial consonants are also reduced: [jœl] gueule (France, [ɡœl]), especially in the construction ta gueule [ta jœl] "shut up".

Combinatory phenomena

Vowel harmonization and consonant assimilation

The high front vowels in Quebec French show a net tendency to be unvoiced or even disappear, as in municipalité, /mynisipalite/[myni̥si̥pali̥te], [mynspalte].[5]

Much more generalized is the nasalization of some long vowels placed after (or occasionally before) a nasal consonant: même [mɛːm][mɛ̃ɪ̯̃m], jeûne [ʒøːn][ʒø̃ỹ̯n], jaune [ʒoːn][ʒõʊ̯̃n] etc.[6]

Similarly, consonants in clusters are often assimilated, usually with the consonant closer to the stress (that is, to the end of the word) transmitting its phonation (or its nasalization): demande [dmãːd][nmãːd], chaque jour [ʃak ʒʊu̯ʁ][ʃak̬ ʒʊu̯ʁ]. Progressive assimilation, although limited to [ʃ] and [s] before [v] and [m], also exists: cheval [ʃval][ʃv̥al], semaine [smɛn][sm̥ɛn].[7]

The drop of the /ə/, which is as usual in Quebec as it is in France (although it does not happen in the same places), creates consonant clusters, hence making a ground for assimilation to happen. For instance, the 1st person singular pronoun "je" may be devoiced before a verb with a voiceless consonant initial. This is most notable in verbs normally beginning with an [s], as the well-known example je suis 'I am' that is often realized as "chu" ([ʃy]), and je sais 'I know', realized as "ché" ([ʃe]). Since the drop of /ə/ is not exclusive to Quebec, this phenomenon is also seen in other dialects.

One extreme instance of assimilation in Quebec French is vocalic fusion, associated with informal speech, rapid elocution, and consonant drops. Vocalic fusion can be total – as in prepositional determiners sur la [sʏʁla][sya][saː] or dans la [dãla][dãa][dæ̃ː] – or it can be partial, as in il lui a dit, [ɪllɥiɑd͡zi][ɪllɥiɔd͡zi][iɥiɔd͡zi][ijɔd͡zi]. Partial fusion can happen also in slow elocution.[8]

Linking (liaison)

Linking (liaison) is a phenomenon found in spoken French where an otherwise mute final consonant is moved to the beginning of a following word beginning with a vowel.

The rules for linking are complex in both French of France and Quebec French. The general belief among linguists[who?] is that Quebecers link less frequently than their European counterparts (this is a feature also common in regional varieties of French in France). Linking is mandatory only if the first word is monosyllabic or is petit (normally monosyllabic anyway) or méchant and is usually avoided in all other cases.


File:Quebec French Sample.ogg
A young male speaker who reads a text with an accent of Quebec City.

From Les insolences du Frère Untel (1960), by Jean-Paul Desbiens, p. 27.[9]

Un fruit typique de cette incompétence et de cette irresponsabilité,
[œ̃ fχɥi t͡sipɪk̚ | dœ sɛt‿ẽɪ̃kõʊ̃pɛtãːs | e dœ sɛt͡siʁɛspõʊ̃sabilite | ]
c'est le cours secondaire public.
[se lkʊu̯ʁ̞ | sœɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
Tout a été improvisé, de ce côté :
[tu t‿ɑ ete | ẽɪ̃pχɔvize | dœ s koːte | ]
les programmes, les manuels, les professeurs.
[lɛ pχɔɡʁam | lɛ manɥɛl | lɛ pχɔfɛsɑœ̯ʁ̞ ‖ ]
L'opinion réclamait un cours secondaire public.
[l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ | ʁeklɑːmɛ ɚ̃ kʊu̯ʁ sœɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
On lui a vendu l'étiquette,
[õʊ̃ lɥi | ʌ vãd͡zy | let͡sikɛt̚ | ]
mais l'étiquette était collée sur une bouteille vide.
[mɛ let͡sikɛt‿ɛtɛ kɔle sʏn butɛj vɪd ‖ ]
Le mal vient non pas de la mauvaise foi,
[lœ mal vjẽɪ̃ nõʊ̃ | pɔ dla mɔvaɛ̯z fwa | ]
mais du manque de lucidité et du porte-à-faux.
[mɛ d͡zy mãŋ | dœ lysid͡zite | e d͡zy pɔʁt‿a fo ‖ ]
Le mal vient de ce qu'on a voulu jouer sur deux tableaux,
[lœ mal vjẽɪ̃ | dœ sœ kõʊ̃ n‿ɑ vuly ʒwe | sʏʁ dø tablo | ]
sans jamais s'avouer qu'on jouait :
[sã ʒamɛ | s‿avwe k‿õʊ̃ ʒwɛ ‖ ]
d'une part, sauver le cours secondaire privé,
[d‿ʏn pɑ̯ɒʁ̞ | soːve lœ kʊu̯ʁ̞ sœɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pχive]
considéré en pratique comme la réserve nationale des vocations sacerdotales ;
[kõʊ̃sidɛʁe | ã pχat͡sɪk̚ | kɔm la ʁezɛʁv nasjɔnal | dɛ vɔkasjõʊ̃ sasɛʁdɔtal]
d'autre part, satisfaire l'opinion publique.
[d‿oʊ̃tχœ pɑ̯ɒʁ̞ | sat͡si̥sfaɛ̯ʁ̞ | l‿ʌpʰinjõʊ̃ pyblɪk ‖ ]
Le Département s'est occupé efficacement du plan institutionnel
[lœ depaχtœmã | sɛ t‿ɔkype | ɛfikasmã | d͡zy plã ẽɪ̃st͡sit͡sy̥sjɔnɛl | ]
(les collèges classiques privés) ;
[lɛ kɔlaɪ̯ʒ klasɪk pχive | ]
il a escamoté le plan académique (le cours secondaire public).
[il‿a ɛskamɔte | lœ plã akademɪk | lœ kʊu̯ʁ sœɡõʊ̃daɛ̯ʁ̞ pyblɪk ‖ ]
La solution virile, ici, exigeait que l'on distinguât
[la sʌlysjõʊ̃ viʁɪl | isi | ɛɡziʒɛ | kœ lõʊ̃ d͡zɪstẽɪ̃ɡɑ | ]
(voyez-moi cet imparfait du subjonctif, comme il a grand air.
[vwaje mwa | sɛ t‿ẽɪ̃paχfɛ | d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf | kɔm ɪl ɑ ɡʁã t‿aɛ̯ʁ̞ ‖ ]
Salut, imparfait du subjonctif) une fois pour toutes pour ces deux plans.
[saly | ẽɪ̃paʁfɛ d͡zy sʏbʒõʊ̃kt͡sɪf | ʏn fwa pʊχ tʊt | pʊχ sɛ dø˞ː plã ‖ ]


  1. "Antériorisation de /a/". Principales caractéristiques phonétiques du français québécois. CIRAL. Retrieved 30 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Oral articulation of nasal vowel in French
  3. Mielke, Jeff (2011). "An articulatory study of rhotic vowels in Canadian French." Proceedings of the Canadian Acoustical Association, Quebec.
  4. "Affaiblissement de /ʒ/ et de /ʃ/". Principales caractéristiques phonétiques du français québécois. CIRAL. Retrieved 30 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:59–61)
  6. Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:58–59)
  7. Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:139–145)
  8. Ostiguy & Tousignant (2008:125–130)
  9. Desbiens, Jean-Paul. "Les insolences du Frère Untel".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Ostiguy, Luc; Tousignant, Claude (2008), Les prononciations du français québécois, Montréal: Guérin universitaire<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading