French in Canada: Some interesting facts you may not know

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Posted: 
February 19, 2018
Written by: Katharine Snider McNair , Canadian Language Museum

Did you know that Canada is the country with the largest number of native French speakers after France? From coast to coast, French has played an important role in the linguistic landscape of Canada for over 400 years. Many of us speak or read French, some of us fluently, but how much do we actually know about this language as it is spoken in Canada?

Dialects of French in Canada

There are about 10 million French speakers in Canada, and they’re found in every province and territory! When travelling, you may have noticed that the French you hear sounds different from one location to the next. There are 2 main dialects you’re most likely to hear: Laurentian and Acadian.  

Acadian French originated in Nova Scotia but is common today across the Maritime provinces, particularly in New Brunswick. Acadian French is also the basis of Cajun French, spoken all the way down in Louisiana. Laurentian French is spoken primarily in Quebec. It originated in the St. Lawrence River Valley and spread westward across Canada.

More recently, immigrants from Francophone countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Haiti are calling Canada home. They bring with them their own French dialects from around the world, which reflect their histories and cultures.

Canadian French and Michif

Canadian French contributed to the creation of a unique language: Michif. The Métis people developed this language, which combines features from French and Indigenous languages, primarily Cree. Michif is unusual in that the nouns are generally derived from French and the verbs are derived, for the most part, from Cree.

Michif is spoken today in small communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Want to hear how Michif sounds or learn a few phrases? Check out the LearnMichif website!

Borrowings from other languages

When 2 languages meet, we call it language contact. Evidence of language contact can be seen in the French language spoken by Canadians today. Many commonly used French words derive from First Nations languages. For example, “achigan” (fish) is of Algonquin origin and “atoca” (cranberry) is of Iroquois origin.

Likewise, many English words have been borrowed into Canadian French. For example, “pinotte” (peanut) is used in expressions such as “être rien que sur une pinotte” (to be very busy or in a great hurry).

Le français au Canada: d’un océan à l’autre”: a travelling exhibit

My colleagues and I hope that initiatives like the Canadian Language Museum and the Language Portal will increase knowledge of and interest in the unique dialects heard throughout Canadian communities.

For that reason, the Canadian Language Museum has produced a travelling exhibit about the French language titled “Le français au Canada: d’un océan à l’autre,” to celebrate the history and unique linguistic qualities of French dialects in Canada. You can find out more about our travelling exhibits on the Canadian Language Museum website. You can also learn about the French language by visiting the website of our project partner, Le français à la mesure d’un continent (in French only).

Do you know of any other interesting facts about Canadian French? Have you visited Canada from another French-speaking country and been surprised by what you heard? Let us know in the comments section!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

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About the author

Katharine Snider McNair

Katharine Snider McNair sits on the board of directors of the Canadian Language Museum and holds a master's degree in museum studies from the University of Toronto. Katharine believes our languages contain amazing knowledge and history that is too often taken for granted. She is passionate about supporting the Canadian Language Museum in building awareness about language facts, history and critical issues, especially surrounding language endangerment and revitalization.

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