Prologue: we discuss a common translation debate: Canadian v. European French
While the question is uniquely British, the answer is not. In fact, the main influences over Canadian French developed in early Canada largely due to the massive influx of European explorers during the 1500s and 1600s. At the time, large groups of speakers (both French and English) were separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, two distinct versions of the French language grew and developed on their own. In the same way that American English differs from British English, so Canadian French differs from French in France and across Europe.
When translating into French, clarify your target audience. Do speakers/readers live in Canada or Europe? What, exactly distinguishes one from another? We break it down here:
Spoken Language and accent
Spoken language varies regardless of language. This affects English in the same way as it affects French – just as an English speaker from the rural south will speak differently than a speaker from from the Bronx. So too will a Frenchman from Paris speak differently from a native of Montreal.
French explorers settled in current day Quebec some 400 years ago. Among the many things they brought to the new world, their mix of Classical and Parisian French set the groundwork for modern Canadian French. Arriving in Canada in the 1500s during the reign of French King Francis I, the first French settlements 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.
Influences: Canadian v. European french
While both European and Canadian variants were influenced by (and an influencers of) English, close ties between the U.S. and Canada meant greater exposure of American English throughout Canada. The relationship notably influenced during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when both the United States and Canada established long standing 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? Its vocabulary and English influence. Anglicisms (when Québec French speakers use excessive Anglicisms) be referred to as ‘franglais’ – a derogatory term. The differences in vocabulary is not limited to English influence. Canadian French adopted from the myriad of native languages of its diverse settlers. Unique terms in Canada exist – such as the popular dish poutine, a combination of French fries, cheese curd, and brown gravy.
Examples of Canadian v. European French:
- Char refers to a car in Quebec, but a chariot in France
- Suçon in Quebec means lollipop, but a hickey in France
- The English word “boyfriend” could be translated as chum in Quebec (note the English influence), but means copain in France
- The verb “to cover” is abrier in Quebec, but is couvrir in France
- The word éventuellement means “eventually” in Quebec, but “possibly” in France.