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Fight for Standard French

French-Canadians petition for recognition of their language


French speakers on both sides of the Atlantic have long been defensive about their language. The incursion of English and the loss of importance of French in the world are both great sources of angst to Francophones. But French-Canadians face an additional challenge: their language is considered a dialect of French, which Québécois find extremely insulting. So-called standard French and the French spoken in Québec are about as different as British and American English. Differing vocabulary, pronunciation, and even grammar make Canadian French a dialect, linguistically speaking, but say that to a French-Canadian and you're likely to make a fast enemy. French-Canadians insist that their language is French, and this is true, of course, but there is no getting around the fact that it's quite different from French in France, and it's important for travelers to be aware of this.

But just what is standard French and where is it spoken? That honor is held by Parisian French as spoken by the middle classes, but not for long, if French-Canadians have anything to say about it.

Though the French complain about the incursion of English into their language, they don't fight it nearly as much as French-speaking Canadians do. Whereas stop signs in France say stop, their Québécois counterparts say arrêt. Le week-end in France is known as la fin de semaine in Québec. And of course, the word chosen to replace "email" in France was the Québécois term courriel. Thus Canadians feel that their French is actually better than that spoken in France and should be the standard. Therefore, French-Canadians have started a petition to have their French become the standard by which all other variations are measured.

Jean Charest, Premier of Québec, had this to say:
    Au Québec, on parle français. Notre langue n'est pas un petit dialecte « franco-canadien » et elle n'est pas remplie de franglais comme le français hexagonal. Nous insistons désormais que notre français, c'est la norme.

    (In Québec, we speak French. Our language is not some "French-Canadian" dialect, and it's not full of franglais like the French in France. We insist that from now on our French is the standard.)
The Académie française is astonished by their chutzpah:
    Le français, c'est la langue de la France. D'autres pays parlent français grâce à nous. Bien évidemment, notre « version » si vous voulez est l'originel, et c'est donc la norme.

    (French is the language of France. Other countries speak French thanks to us. Obviously, our "version," if you will, is the original, and therefore the standard.)
The petition needs at least 5,000 signatures from Canada and 5,000 from France. It will circulate for one year and be submitted on... April Fool's Day! Poisson d'avril ! There's no petition being circulated. (However, most of the first three paragraphs are true. While French-Canadians are very defensive about their language, I don't know of any effort to make theirs the standard, and I made up the quotations.) Happy April Fool's!

Previous April Fool's:  2004 | 2003
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