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7 Très Interesting Facts about Canadian French

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Most Americans don’t need to fly across an ocean to immerse themselves in the French language. There are millions of French speakers just to our north in Canada.

1. CANADA IS OFFICIALLY BILINGUAL (AND THE ONLY NAFTA COUNTRY WITH ANY OFFICIAL LANGUAGE AT ALL).

Not every country in North America has an official language, but Canada has two. The U.S. and Mexico don’t have official languages, meaning that while everyone realizes that English and Spanish, respectively, are the de facto languages of the countries, there are no government edicts declaring any particular language official. Canada has declared both English and French official, which does not mean that all citizens must speak English and French, but official government documents and services must be available in both English and French.

2. CANADIAN OFFICIAL BILINGUALISM IS WHY COMPUTER TRANSLATION OF FRENCH IS SO GOOD.

Automatic translation tools like Google Translate perform much better on some pairs of languages than others. For example, translations between Chinese and Spanish are less smooth and accurate than those between French and English. Part of the reason for this is that the algorithms that support automatic translation are created by training on large collections of already translated texts. One of the biggest such collections is the Hansard French/English Corpus. It contains over 1 million matched French/English pairs of text passages from Canadian parliament records.

3. THE WORST POSSIBLE SWEARS IN CANADIAN FRENCH ARE INNOCENT-SEEMING RELIGIOUS WORDS.

The most offensive swear words in languages are usually drawn from the domains of sex and bodily excretions. Swears from the domain of religion, like hell and damn, once had stronger force, but are now considered pretty mild. Not so in Canadian French, where the most offensively profane words are tabarnack (tabernacle), calvaire (Calvary), and calisse (chalice). Use with caution.

4. THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT MAIN DIALECTS OF CANADIAN FRENCH.

When you think of French in Canada you probably think of Quebec, and most of the French speakers in Canada do live there and speak what is known as Quebecois. But there is another dialect, Acadian French, which is largely spoken in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The two varieties differ in accent and certain words and phrases. Acadian French uses more terms derived from seafaring, and a number of old words now obsolete in France. The two varieties developed differently as the languages of separate 17th century French colonies (Canada and Acadia) with separate administrations.

5. CANADIAN FRENCH IS LESS ACCEPTING OF ENGLISH BORROWING THAN FRANCE FRENCH.

Both France and Quebec have institutions dedicated to encouraging the use of French words instead of borrowed English expressions. For example, instead of du snowboard, the Académie Française recommends de la planche de neige. Instead of le binge drinking, the Office Quebecois de la Langue Française recommends l’hyperalcoolisation rapide. According to a study by Olivia Walsh, the French versions are much more likely to be actually adopted by French speakers in Quebec than they are in France. Language purism is stronger in Quebec than it is in France—so much so that, while in France stop signs say STOP, in much of Quebec they say ARRÊT.

6. THERE ARE STRONG PROTECTIONS FOR FRENCH IN QUEBEC THAT SOMETIMES GO OVERBOARD.

While all federal proceedings are mandated to be bilingual in Canada, provinces can set their own language rules. The official language of Quebec is French, and the Office Quebecois de la Langue Française can enforce the use of French in public institutions and businesses. In 2013, the OQLF warned an Italian restaurant in Montréal that their menu contained too many non-French words, such as … pasta. The restaurant owner posted the warning letter on social media, initiating a backlash of eye rolling, joking, and genuine frustration at overzealous language policing. The president of the OQLF was forced to resign, and pasta stayed on the menu.

7. FRENCH SPEAKERS IN NEW BRUNSWICK ARE CREATING A NEW FRENCH/ENGLISH HYBRID.

While there is a lot of English resistance in Quebec, some of the Acadian French speakers of New Brunswick mix English words into French syntax in a dialect known as Chiac. The dialect is looked down upon as bad French, but younger generations have begun to take pride in it, claiming it as a mark of a unique Acadian identity. See some of the musicians and artists working with dialect in their expression of this identity in this piece from Public Radio International.

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Beyond “Buffalo buffalo”: 9 Other Repetitive Sentences From Around The World
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Famously, in English, it’s possible to form a perfectly grammatical sentence by repeating the word buffalo (and every so often the place name Buffalo) a total of eight times: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo essentially means “buffalo from Buffalo, New York, who intimidate other buffalo from Buffalo, New York, are themselves intimidated by buffalo from Buffalo, New York.” But repetitive or so-called antanaclastic sentences and tongue twisters like these are by no means unique to English—here are a few in other languages that you might want to try.

1. “LE VER VERT VA VERS LE VERRE VERT” // FRENCH

This sentence works less well in print than Buffalo buffalo, of course, but it’s all but impenetrable when read aloud. In French, le ver vert va vers le verre vert means “the green worm goes towards the green glass,” but the words ver (worm), vert (green), vers (towards), and verre (glass) are all homophones pronounced “vair,” with a vowel similar to the E in “bet” or “pet.” In fact, work the French heraldic word for squirrel fur, vair, in there somewhere and you’d have five completely different interpretations of the same sound to deal with.

2. “CUM EO EO EO EO QUOD EUM AMO” // LATIN

Eo can be interpreted as a verb (“I go”), an adverb ("there," "for that reason"), and an ablative pronoun (“with him” or “by him”) in Latin, each with an array of different shades of meaning. Put four of them in a row in the context cum eo eo eo eo quod eum amo, and you’ll have a sentence meaning “I am going there with him because I love him.”

3. “MALO MALO MALO MALO” // LATIN

An even more confusing Latin sentence is malo malo malo malo. On its own, malo can be a verb (meaning “I prefer,” or “I would rather”); an ablative form of the Latin word for an apple tree, malus (meaning “in an apple tree”); and two entirely different forms (essentially meaning “a bad man,” and “in trouble” or “in adversity”) of the adjective malus, meaning evil or wicked. Although the lengths of the vowels differ slightly when read aloud, put all that together and malo malo malo malo could be interpreted as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a wicked man in adversity.” (Given that the noun malus can also be used to mean “the mast of a ship,” however, this sentence could just as easily be interpreted as, “I would rather be a wicked man in an apple tree than a ship’s mast.”)

4. “FAR, FÅR FÅR FÅR?” // DANISH

Far (pronounced “fah”) is the Danish word for father, while får (pronounced like “for”) can be used both as a noun meaning "sheep" and as a form of the Danish verb , meaning "to have." Far får får får? ultimately means “father, do sheep have sheep?”—to which the reply could come, får får ikke får, får får lam, meaning “sheep do not have sheep, sheep have lambs.”

5. “EEEE EE EE” // MANX

Manx is the Celtic-origin language of the Isle of Man, which has close ties to Irish. In Manx, ee is both a pronoun (“she” or “it”) and a verb (“to eat”), a future tense form of which is eeee (“will eat”). Eight letter Es in a row ultimately can be divided up to mean “she will eat it.”

6. “COMO COMO? COMO COMO COMO COMO!” // SPANISH

Como can be a preposition (“like,” “such as”), an adverb (“as,” “how”), a conjunction (“as”), and a verb (a form of comer, “to eat”) in Spanish, which makes it possible to string together dialogues like this: Como como? Como como como como! Which means “How do I eat? I eat like I eat!”

7. “Á Á A Á Á Á Á.” // ICELANDIC

Á is the Icelandic word for river; a form of the Icelandic word for ewe, ær; a preposition essentially meaning “on” or “in;” and a derivative of the Icelandic verb eiga, meaning “to have,” or “to possess.” Should a person named River be standing beside a river and simultaneously own a sheep standing in or at the same river, then that situation could theoretically be described using the sentence Á á á á á á á in Icelandic.

8. “MAI MAI MAI MAI MAI” // THAI

Thai is a tonal language that uses five different tones or patterns of pronunciation (rising, falling, high, low, and mid or flat) to differentiate between the meanings of otherwise seemingly identical syllables and words: glai, for instance, can mean both “near” and “far” in Thai, just depending on what tone pattern it’s given. Likewise, the Thai equivalent of the sentence “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?” is mai mai mai mai mai—which might seem identical written down, but each syllable would be given a different tone when read aloud.

9. “THE LION-EATING POET IN THE STONE DEN” // MANDARIN CHINESE

Mandarin Chinese is another tonal language, the nuances of which were taken to an extreme level by Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese-born American linguist and writer renowned for composing a bizarre poem entitled "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den." When written in its original Classical Chinese script, the poem appears as a string of different characters. But when transliterated into the Roman alphabet, every one of those characters is nothing more than the syllable shi:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The only difference between each syllable is its intonation, which can be either flat (shī), rising (shí), falling (shì) or falling and rising (shǐ); you can hear the entire poem being read aloud here, along with its English translation.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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