Larry Trask larryt at
Thu Aug 12 09:07:19 UTC 1999

On Wed, 11 Aug 1999, Rick Mc Callister wrote:

[somebody else]

> What about the Quebecois? They
> >usually speak rather old-fashioned French (to European ears) (I've been
> >there twice, but didn't pay attention, probably because  I already had
> >enough trouble with 'cent' and 'sans', which sound the same to all but to
> >the Quebecois).

> 	What's the scoop on 'cent' and 'sans'. I thought both were /sa~/

In standard European French, yes.  But the nasalized counterparts of /e/
and /a/ were once distinguished in French.  Over the centuries, they
have tended to fall together, but the merger has not so far applied in
some varieties.

According to Glanville Price's history of French, the Chanson de Roland
shows evidence of the merger by the 12th century.  However, Henriette
Walter, in her book on contemporary French, reports that the two vowels
are still distinguished today by speakers in a sizeable region southwest
of Paris.  I know nothing about Quebecois, but I surmise that the merger
has not applied there either.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

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