Eduard Selleslagh edsel at
Thu Aug 19 10:06:23 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

-----Original Message-----
From: s455152 at <s455152 at>
Date: Thursday, August 19, 1999 8:35 AM

>"Cent" and "sans" are homophonous in Quebec French (as indeed in all
>overseas varieties of French), so that there is no need on the part of
>Rick Mc Callister to assume us to have better auditory perception than the
>rest of humanity, flattering though the idea might be to some of us.

>Stephane Goyette
>University of Ottawa

[Ed Selleslagh]
As the original culprit I'm responding to this.

With all due respect, I can testify from my repeated experience that people in
shops in Quebec (and I heard the same pronunciation in TV messages) clearly
distinguish the nasalized e and a in words like 'cent' and 'sans', both when
speaking and when listening. When I asked a shop attendant for a film of 100
ASA ('cent ASA', pronounced /sa~/), she thought I said 'sans ASA' and replied :
'c'est toujours avec'; when I pointed to the 100 on the package, she said: 'Oh,
vous voulez dire /se~ng/!' [or something like Fr. 'saint' with a vaguely
English -ng sounding ending]. I heard these pronunciations over and over again.

I don't know if this is uneducated speech, or whether the Quebecois actually
think they pronounce it the same way even if they actually pronounce it
differently. To my European ears, Quebec French 'cent' and 'sans' (and similar
words) sound differently, and apparently to the Quebecois themselves too,
otherwise the type of misunderstandings I mentioned couldn't have happened. In
France they wouldn't.

As Larry Trask mentioned, this is original and authentic (but archaeic) French
pronunciation that got lost by convergence elsewhere.

Sometimes people make distinctions they don't perceive consciously, often as a
consequence of school indoctrination.  In Spanish Castilian, e.g., I often hear
people insert very short vowels in consonant clusters, but they all deny doing
so, because of the written image they learned at school. E.g. I recently heard
'equilipse' for 'eclipse'.  All Spanish speakers (like the 'Afrae aures') think
all vowels, and in all positions, have the same length, but in actual speech
this manifestly not so; on the other hand, they find it very hard to hear vowel
length differences in other languages (shit/sheet!).


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